2010 Kia Soul SportPosted on May 18th, 2009
New crossover is a super-value for buyers with active lifestyles
By Nina Russin
The Soul is Kia’s newest five-passenger crossover vehicle, aimed at urban denizens with active lifestyles. Pricing for the base model starts at $13,300: well below the $16,000 cap for our super-value category.
Kia is appealing to millennial buyers by positioning the car left of center. That’s wishful thinking. The Soul isn’t the first funky box to roll out on American roads, nor will it be the last.
While it’s no trend setter, the Soul has a lot to offer the budget-minded buyer. All grades come with an unusually high level of standard safety features, including front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes and vehicle stability control. Kia’s ten year/100,000 mile warranty is an industry leader, including five years or 60,000 miles of complimentary roadside assistance.
Standard comfort and convenience features include an AM/FM/CD/MP3 compatible audio system, air conditioning, tilt steering column, power windows and door locks and a rear window defroster. All models but the base grade come with remote keyless entry.
Sport grade adds style and performance
I drove the mid-grade Soul! (exclaim) at a media program in Miami last March. This week I had a chance to drive the upscale Sport.
The Sport is Soul’s performance model, with ground effects, larger wheels, unique fascias and a five-speed manual transmission. Inside, the Sport features a two-tone red and black interior, satellite radio, Bluetooth connectivity, and an upgraded six-speaker audio system with available iPod interface.
Power comes from a 2-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 142 horsepower. As with any small, high-revving engine, having a manual gearbox makes all the difference in the world.
When mated to the four-speed automatic transmission, the engine feels adequate but anemic. With the five-speed manual, it’s a lot more peppy.
Although manuals have their disadvantages in urban traffic, this one is easy to live with. The clutch pedal is light enough avoid leg fatigue, and gears have plenty of range for stop-and-go driving. A standard reverse lockout ring is a feature usually reserved for more expensive cars.
Taking Kia’s value heritage to the next level
In some ways, the Soul reminds be of the original Kia Sportage, but a whole lot better. When Kia introduced the first Sportage in the mid-1990’s, it was by far the most affordable sport-utility vehicle on the market. People who would normally be forced to buy a used car could get a new Sportage for about the same price.
Unfortunately, value pricing was the only thing the Sportage had going for it. On the highway, it shook like a banshee on steroids. In comparison, the Soul is a solid little car that can hold its own on the highway or urban traffic. Its independent front and solid rear suspension is compliant enough to absorb a few chatter bumps, while a standard front stabilizer bar keeps the chassis flat in the corners.
The power rack-and-pinion steering system provides plenty of assist at low speeds, with decent feedback on the highway. Eighteen-inch wheels and tires on the Sport give the car much better handling at speed.
Standard antilock braking and electronic stability program help the driver to maintain directional control in wet and snowy weather. Its front-wheel drive configuration improves the Soul’s traction in snow, though not as much as all-wheel drive. Ground clearance is 6.5 inches: enough to clear a few inches of snow, but not enough to take the car off-road.
Variable valve timing enhances engine power and fuel economy: the 2-liter engine averages thirty miles-per-gallon on the highway. The manual transmission significantly improves acceleration in the critical 20-to-50 mile-per-hour range. Passing other vehicles on the highway is a non-issue. On-center feel is positive enough for quick lane changes and the occasional emergency maneuver.
The Soul has a rather small rear window, as well as thick B and D pillars. Over-the-shoulder visibility isn’t particularly good, and there are some large blind spots to the rear corners. A standard rear wiper keeps the glass clear in wet weather.
The Soul’s box shape creates a surprisingly spacious interior. Despite its compact dimensions, the car can accommodate five adults. Legroom in the center rear position is somewhat limited by the center console, but average size adults should be fine on trips around town. Both rows of passengers have ample head, shoulder and hip room.
An optional sunroof on the test car brings a welcome dose of sunlight inside. Both rows of passengers have access to bottle holders in the doors. A large glovebox with a shelf can easily fit a small purse or pack. Front-row passengers also have access to two 12-volt outlets and a USB port. There are plenty of small cubbies for stories portable electronic devices.
Gauges are easy to read in any light. Redundant audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel minimize driver distraction. A dead pedal reduces leg fatigue on longer drives.
Designers positioned the rear seats at the wheels to maximize legroom. The wheel arches protrude into the door openings, limiting access and egress. I was surprised to find no rear vents behind the center console or in the ceiling.
Configurable cargo area
With the rear seats in place, there’s enough room in back for groceries or some small duffel bags. Releases on the outboard edges of the seatbacks fold the rear seats flat without removing the headrests. With the rear seats folded flat, the Soul meets our bicycle-friendly standards.
An under-floor storage area has compartments to keep small items from sliding around. Unlike the clear glass on the original Sportage, privacy glass in the back of the Soul makes cargo stored in back much harder to see.
Pricing for the Soul Sport begins at $16,950, not including a $695 destination charge. The user-friendly Soul Sport is on display at Kia dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A versatile crossover vehicle with seating for up to five passengers and a configurable cargo area. Value-conscious buyers will appreciate the Soul’s high level of standard convenience and safety features. Kia’s 10-year/100,000 mile factory warranty is an industry leader.
Dislikes: Unattractive exterior styling. Thick B and D pillars create large blind spots to the sides and rear of the car.
Model: Soul Sport
Base price: $16,950
As tested: $18,345
Horsepower: 142 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 137 lbs.-ft @ 4600 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 24/30 mpg city/highway
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