2010 Kia SoulPosted on March 13th, 2009
Hip to be square
By Nina Russin
Box-shaped crossovers seem to be on every automaker‘s short list. The Kia Soul is one of two such vehicles rolling out this spring: the other being the Nissan Cube. Kia is positioning the Soul as a value-packed alternative to the Cube and Scion xB. With a starting price of $13,300 for the base model, the Soul appeals to young college grads who want an affordable vehicle with enough versatility for active lifestyles.
The Soul progressed from the drawing board to the showroom quickly. Kia unveiled the prototype at the 2006 North American Auto Show in Detroit. Production models are currently rolling into dealerships.
At the 2009 Detroit auto show, Kia unveiled the Soul’ster: an open-air version of the Soul with seating for four. If it goes into production, the Soul’ster will be a sporty alternative to the five-passenger car, similar to the convertible version of the first-generation Sportage.
The Soul’s value pricing gives Kia dealers the chance to conquest used car buyers. Kia also expects conquest sales from buyers moving out of small and mid-sized cars, looking for a fuel-efficient vehicle with more versatility.
The automaker’s 100,000 mile/ten year warranty is powerful bait. Not only does the warranty cover all repairs due to manufacturing defects for up to ten years, buyers also get twenty-four hour roadside assistance for the first five years or 60,000 miles.
A car that looks and thinks young
Although empty nesters comprise as much of the Scion xB’s market as college kids, Kia expects the Soul to skew younger. Tom Kearns headed up Kia’s styling team at the southern California design center. The box-shaped car has wheels pushed to the corners to give it a planted stance, with a reverse-wedge greenhouse that looks like a pair of wrap-around sunglasses.
Buyers who want a more aggressive look can upgrade from fifteen-inch wheels to eighteen-inch rims on two upscale models: the Kia Soul! (pronounced “Soul exclaim”), and the Soul Sport. The Sport adds a rear spoiler, red and black cloth interior, leather steering wheel and shift knob, and metal pedals.
All grades come with a standard AM/FM/CD player with iPod and MP3 connectivity. Cars are pre-wired for Sirius satellite radio: Kia throws in three months of free service.
All but the base model have Bluetooth connectivity. An audio upgrade available in the Soul! and Soul Sport adds a 315-watt amplifier and speaker lights that pulse in time with the music.
A 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission give the base model 122 horsepower and 115 ft.-lbs. of torque. While it’s no powerhouse, the base Soul is fuel thrifty, with EPA mileage ratings of 26/31 mpg city/highway.
The other three grades come with a two-liter engine and choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The bigger engine has less fuel economy, but makes up for it with twenty more horsepower. Keeping with its value pricing, the car only comes with front-wheel drive. Kia has no plans for introducing an all-wheel drive Soul into the mix.
Four-wheel disc brakes with four-channel antilock braking make the Soul easy to service. All grades share a MacPherson independent front suspension with a stabilizer bar and torsion beam rear suspension. Rack-and-pinion steering has pretty good on-center feel, but a rather large turning radius, considering the car’s 100-inch wheelbase.
Test drive in south Florida
At a recent media event in Miami, I had the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the Soul! MSRP on the test car is $17,900. A $695 delivery charge brings the price as tested up to $18,595. The upscale grade comes with eighteen-inch wheels, a tilt steering wheel, the upgraded audio system, and a moonroof.
Our route ran through the streets of South Beach, giving us a chance to evaluate the car’s maneuverability in thick traffic. A section of freeway driving was a good test of acceleration. Since many of the drivers around us had an aversion to turn signals, we made several evasive maneuvers.
The two-liter engine has enough power for day-to-day driving. The four-speed automatic transmission downshifts hard and lets out a roar during hard acceleration, but I had no problems merging onto the highway or passing other vehicles at speed.
The large wheels and solid rear axle give the Soul a harsher ride than some of its competitors. On a positive note, the chassis feels very solid on the highway. Four wheel discs are a bit grabby during a hard stop, but the car tracks and stops straight.
The Soul has a thick D pillar that gives the driver a bad case of tunnel vision to the rear. Over-the-shoulder visibility is also rather limited. Side mirrors do an acceptable job of eliminating blind spots to the side.
Temperature and audio controls in the center stack are easy to reach from either front seating position. A special cable allows the driver to hook up his iPod and control playlists using the car audio controls. A separate control changes light patterns from the speakers to one of three programs, or turns the lights off. Personally, the speaker lights struck me as cheesy, but I’m not the target demographic for the car.
Redundant audio controls on the steering wheel lets the driver make selections without taking his eyes off the road. The steering wheel also houses cruise and Bluetooth interface controls.
Engineers did a good job of minimizing wind noise around the windshield and side mirrors. The cabin is quiet enough to make it easy for passengers to converse.
Since the car has a narrow greenhouse, the moonroof adds a welcome dose of sunlight to the interior. A standard rear wiper keeps the rear glass clear of rain and snow in bad weather.
All but the base model have two power points up front so the driver and passenger can plug in their portable electronic devices. There is a third twelve-volt powerpoint in the cargo area.
Kia has not made a navigation system available for the car, figuring most of the buyers will opt for less expensive aftermarket products.
All four doors have bottle holders that are big enough for water bottles. A two-piece glovebox includes a slot large enough for a small laptop computer.
The center stack also has large cupholders, as well as additional storage bins. There is enough room in the second row to seat three across, though two will be more comfortable on long trips. The 60/40 split seats fold flat to lengthen the cargo floor.
With the second row seats folded down, the Soul has enough room for a road bike with the wheels removed. It’s a tight squeeze though. Fortunately, Kia is making a variety of roof racks and attachments available for stowing bicycles, kayaks, skis and other large equipment.
An under-floor storage area contains a tray with compartments to keep small items from shifting around.
All cars come with front, side and side curtain airbags, antilock brakes, traction and stability control, and active front headrests.
The Soul is the first of three new models that Kia is rolling out in 2009. The Forte, which replaces the Spectra arrives this summer, followed by a crossover replacement for the Sorento at the end of the year. The new midsized crossover will be the first car produced at Kia’s new West Point, Georgia assembly plant.
Although I’m not as big a fan of the Soul as other Kia products such as the Sportage, the car is a good opportunity for first-time new car buyers to get a quality vehicle with a high level of standard safety.
The 2010 Kia Soul is rolling into dealerships nationwide.
Likes: A value-packed model with a versatile interior, high level of standard safety as well as comfort and convenience features. Kia’s 100,000-mile warranty is an industry leader.
Dislikes: Thick rear pillar limits visibility to the back. The brakes can be grabby during hard stops.
Base price: $16,950
As tested: $18,595
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
Comments: Base price does not include a $695 delivery charge.
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