Thumbs Up: Great value for the money
Thumbs Down: A little heavy on the bling for some
Buy This Car If: You’re looking for affordable and stylish basic transportation
The all-important Millennial age group is the auto industry’s equivalent to Captain Ahab’s vexing white whale. Try though they might, automakers just can’t seem to pen a ride that’s universally loved by the under-30 crowd. The automotive landscape is littered with failed attempts to lure young buyers, including the now discontinued Honda Element (much beloved by those over 50), the underselling Nissan cube and the cancelled-at-the-end-of-current-production Scion xB.
The exception to this rule appears to be the Kia Soul. It’s the second-best selling vehicle in Kia’s U.S. lineup, behind only the Optima sedan. Through April of this year, the Soul accounted for an impressive 23.3-percent of Kia’s sales in the U.S., and sales are up over 33-percent compared to last year, a testament to the car’s ongoing appeal. The Soul-pitching hamsters, while memorable, don’t account for the Soul’s success. Instead, it seems to offer up just the right blend of features, value and style to lure buyers across a wide range of demographics.
Outside, the Soul serves up its box-on-box styling with a bit of flair not seen in the competition. Up front, Kia’s diminutive wing-shaped grille is trimmed with just a splash of chrome, and the combination of wide-mouth lower fascia and large headlights (accented by turn signals directly below) give the Soul kind of an angry bulldog look. That’s not a bad thing, since the frontal styling just contributes to the Soul’s vibrant personality.
From the side, the highlights are a steeply raked windshield, blacked-out A and B pillars, a rising beltline and a slightly sloped roof. The styling elements combine to convey a sense of speed, even when the Soul is parked. There’s very little chrome to be seen in profile, and we like the look of the black door guards and black fender vent, especially on our Moss-painted tester.
Out back, the rear is dominated by tall, vertical taillights, which make the Soul appear to be a bit larger than it really is. As with the rest of the mini-crossover, black trim is used for accent. By comparison, the exterior styling of the Scion xB is bland, while the asymmetrical look of the Nissan cube is just plain weird.
Inside, the Soul delivers a surprising amount of room for four passengers, and carries on with the same funky attitude seen on the outside. The deep dash is split by a large center stack, which houses the HVAC and infotainment systems, yet still delivers storage aplenty. While the dash doesn’t offer much in terms of contrasting colors or materials, it’s both functional and easy on the eyes.
We’re fans of the Soul’s three-pod instrument cluster design, too. Front and center is a speedometer, trimmed in metallic paint, surrounded by a separate tachometer and fuel gauge / coolant temperature gauge. There isn’t much of a driver information display, but what data there is can be seen beneath the speedometer.
Front seats are comfortable enough for the Soul’s urban-cruising mission, but we’re not fans of the Soul-logo lettering on seat backs (front and rear) and door panels. Even on our worst days, we can pretty well remember the name of the vehicle we’re driving, but maybe this is meant to appeal to a different demographic. That gripe aside, we salute Kia for using decent fabric to wrap the Soul’s passenger accommodations, and wish more automakers would do the same.
Rear seats deliver a reasonable amount of legroom and plenty of headroom, making them suitable for more than just cross-town trips. Like the front seats, rears are covered in a durable-looking fabric, also festooned with Soul logos. Rear seats fold in a 60/40 split, giving Soul buyers maximum flexibility for carrying both passengers and cargo.
The Soul + comes with a 2.0-liter engine, good for 164 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque and mated to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. Base Soul models come with a 1.6-liter engine, which is reason enough to upgrade to a Soul + or Soul ! model. We liked the 2.0-liter four, which produced a reasonable amount of power, even from low engine speeds. That said, acceleration feels far more brisk at city speeds than on the highway, where passing slower cars can require a bit of patience. Expect the 2.0-liter equipped Soul to dash from 0 – 60 mph in less than nine seconds, while returning an EPA-estimated 26 mpg in the city and 34 mpg on the highway. In a relatively even split of city and highway driving, we saw an average of 28.7 mpg.
On the road, the Soul delivers more entertainment value that you’d expect from a car with zero sporting intentions. The upright seating position gives drivers a good view of traffic ahead, and the Soul’s relatively short wheelbase serves up some fairly nimble handling. It wouldn’t be our first choice for an autocross or a track day, but as an urban commuter the Soul is right in its element. While the steering is a little on the light side and there’s noticeable body roll in corners, we’d describe the Soul’s handling as safe and predictable, and the four-wheel disc brakes produced confident stops from any velocity we were willing to test.
The Soul is more about attitude than acceleration, and its designers really have done a great job of hitting their mark. There are a significant number of available options, including an upgraded audio package (which also includes Kia’s UVO voice command system), an ECO Package (on automatic transmission models) that includes an auto stop / start function for maximum fuel economy, a power moonroof and even a navigation system with SiriusXM Traffic (though this last item is only available on range-topping Soul ! models).
The price is right, too. You can order up a base Soul, sans options, for as little as $14,650. Go all-in, and a Soul ! with every option box checked will sticker at $24,455, which certainly isn’t a lot of money for content like heated leather seats and a nav system with real time traffic alerts. If you’re in the market for a solid four-passenger (five in a pinch) commuter car, the Soul is a very good option to shop. Of course if you’re in the intended demographic, you probably already knew this.
Kia supplied the 2012 Soul + for our evaluation. Base price on the Soul + is $18,050, including destination charge of $750, and our press fleet tester included the $900 Audio Upgrade Package (UVO voice command infotainment system, HD radio, automatic headlights, rearview camera, Infinity audio system, center speaker, subwoofer, amplifier, illuminated speaker trim rings), the $800 Power Sunroof / Foglamp Package and the $95 Floor Mat Package for a total sticker price of $19,845.
A comparably-equipped Nissan cube SL would sticker at $21,350, while a similar (but soon to be discontinued) Scion xB would list for $19,778.