2013 Kia SoulPosted on January 14th, 2013
Compact crossover for active urbanites
By Nina Russin
The 2009 Kia Soul was one of several box-shaped crossovers that hit the market in the wake of the Honda Element. Following both the Element and equally successful Scion xB, one had to question Kia’s potential for success in what seemed a very narrow niche.
However Kia was never a name to dismiss, having demonstrated on numerous occasions its talent for conquest in the US market. Perhaps it was the fact that the Soul had Soul, or at least dancing hamsters that accounted for its initial success.
More likely, it was Kia’s ability to offer significant value. With a starting price under $14,000, the Soul combined interior versatility with a high level of standard safety and convenience features, and a face that stood out from the crowd.
The Soul was also authentically youthful. When my neighbor bought one, she instantly became the cool mom among her eight-year-old daughter’s friends.
New model builds on the original formula
When Kia updated the Soul for the 2013 model year, it improved on the original formula with a more distinctive exterior and refined interior. Fit and finish throughout the vehicle was significantly better.
Engineers enhanced the Soul’s fuel economy with an available idle stop-and-go feature, paired with low rolling resistance tires.
None of these improvements resulted in significant cost increases to the customer. The base model starts at $14,400, excluding the $775 delivery charge.
The test car is the upscale Soul! (exclaim), priced from $19,900. Power comes from a 164-horsepower two-liter engine and six-speed automatic transmission. While not quite as thrifty as the available 1.6-liter direct injection engine, the larger block offers 24 more horsepower and an additional 25 foot-pounds of torque.
Base price is $19,900. Standard comfort and convenience features include remote keyless entry, air conditioning, 60/40 split folding rear seats, Bluetooth interface, UVO infotainment system, Infinity audio system with satellite radio, sunroof, fog lamps and rear LED tail lamps.
A premium package on the test car adds navigation with Sirius real-time traffic updates, push button start, leather upholstery, heated front seats and automatic climate control ($2500). Other options include a rear bumper applique ($75), cargo net ($50) and electro chromatic rearview mirror with built-in compass ($275), bringing the final MSRP to $23,575.
Test drive in Southern Arizona
This week I drove the Soul throughout the Phoenix metro area, as well as on some rural two-lane roads in the foothills of the Superstition Mountains. With Phoenix tourist season in full swing, major thoroughfares were at capacity, including a high percentage of vehicles from out of town.
Watching surrounding vehicles dip and weave in increasingly creative fashion made me grateful for the Soul’s five star safety rating for side impact collisions.
The Soul is a relatively light car, weighing in at 2,778 pounds for the two-liter automatic model. The light curb weight makes for a decent power-to-weight ratio, despite the car’s rather small engine. A manual gear select feature enables the driver to keep the engine in its sweet spot, though that costs a bit of gas mileage.
The six-speed automatic transmission is surprisingly smooth. I was surprised to experience no shift shock when I accelerated on an uphill highway entrance ramp at wide-open throttle.
Despite its short wheelbase and front-wheel drive configuration, the Soul is also quite stable on the highway. Gas-filled shock absorbers and front stabilizer bars keep the chassis from pushing during aggressive cornering.
The torsion beam rear end makes the ride a little harsher than a four-wheel independent suspension might, especially with 18-inch wheels that come on the upscale model.
A wide greenhouse provides good visibility to the front and sides. Thick rear pillars create some rather large blind spots in back, which the side mirrors do a decent job of compensating for. The optional rearview camera eliminates these blind spots when the drive shifts into reverse and makes it easier to monitor cross traffic.
Kia engineers have always prided themselves on good steering response. The Soul follows suit with positive on-center response on the highway, and ample assist at lower speeds. The Soul’s compact dimensions make it easy to park on the street: a boon for urbanites living in congested areas.
While I tend to prefer cloth upholstery to leather during the hot Phoenix summers, the optional seat heaters that come with the same option package were a nice feature to have on an unusually cold January morning.
Keyless entry and start saves the driver for fumbling for the key fob after dark. A button on the door handles unlocks and locks the doors as long as the driver has the fob in his pocket.
A tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel enables smaller drivers to maintain a safe distance from the front airbag and a clear forward view. Redundant audio, Bluetooth and cruise controls minimize driver distraction.
A digital display in the gauge cluster shows trip meter and odometer readings, as well as gear selections in manual mode. While the red-on-black figures are easy to read at night, they all but disappeared in bright sunlight, when I was wearing polarized lenses.
The center stack screen is easy to read in all lighting conditions, with controls that are easy to reach from either front seating position.
The second-row seat holds three adults. Designers pushed the seats back to increase legroom. As a result the cargo area, with the seats in place is fairly small. Buttons on the top of the seatbacks fold the seats flat to extend the cargo floor. A second storage area under the cargo floor is great for stashing smaller items.
The Kia Soul comes with front, side and side curtain airbags, active front headrests, antilock brakes, traction control, stability control and hill start assist.
Kia’s ten-year/100,000 mile factory warranty includes complimentary roadside assistance for up to five years or 60,000 miles.
The 2013 Soul is on display at Kia dealerships nationwide.
Like: The Kia Soul is an affordable, versatile crossover for buyers with active lifestyles. The roomy interior meets our bicycle friendly standards, while the car’s small footprint is ideal for urbanites living in congested areas.
Dislike: Digital information display in the gauge cluster is hard to read in bright sunlight.
Model: Soul! (Exclaim)
Base price: $19,900
As tested: $23,575
Horsepower: 164 Hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 148 lbs.-ft. @ 4800 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 23/28 mpg city/highway
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