By Micah Muzio
KBB Expert Rating: 8.1
When it launched in 2009 the Kia Soul joined the Nissan Cube and Scion xB in a hip class of vehicles defined by low prices, funky styling and youthful verve. Radical! Five years later the Cube and xB are sailing towards oblivion like the Honda Element before them, while the Kia Soul basks in unforeseen sales success. To maintain that momentum Kia has introduced a new Soul for the 2014 model year, complete with a fresh exterior, upgraded interior and an impressively expanded roster of standard and optional equipment. The Mini Countryman, Fiat 500L and Nissan Juke slot in as possible Soul alternatives, but the Kia's competitive price, cheerful styling and radically improved interior make it a standout in the cute, cheap, compact-box family of vehicles.
Kia has nailed the daring-but-darling design aesthetic with the 2014 Soul. People love the look of the Soul, and we're guessing you might too. As a bonus that cute exterior houses a surprisingly plush interior for the price and more passenger space than you might imagine.
Cool looks and fun-to-drive don't always align. Though greatly enhanced versus the original iteration, the 2014 Kia Soul isn't particularly satisfying to steer and lacks the gutsy acceleration found in its quicker competitors.
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For 2014, the Kia Soul has been heavily redesigned. That means a new, more rigid chassis, a reworked suspension, updated styling inside and out, and a host of new features. The only major carryover is the engine lineup, which sees slight modifications for 2014.
Driving Impressions Thanks to a nearly 29-percent stiffer chassis, expandable foam body sealing and a reworked suspension, the new 2014 Kia Soul interfaces with the road far more gracefully than the 2013...... model. In-motion noise levels are well controlled and the suspension absorbs, with dignity, all but the largest road imperfections. Regardless of which "Flex Steer" resistance setting you choose, the steering wheel remains a poor conduit of information between the driver and the front tires. Even so, the Soul steers predictably and corners with a level confidence unseen in the old Soul, which tended to skitter over less than pristine roadways. Acceleration is merely adequate when overtaking traffic or merging on the freeway, even with the more powerful 2.0-liter engine, making the Soul feel better suited to urban adventures than highway excursions.
For most situations, the quickest way to add fun is to add sun. That's why we dig the positively-huge, optional panoramic sunroof. Just as important, the sunroof includes a totally opaque sunscreen, for when you need a little privacy or just want to cool down.
VENTILATED FRONT SEATS
A sweat-free posterior is a wonderful thing. How cool is it, then, that the glorious comfort of ventilated front seats is available in the Kia Soul – a car with a sub-$16,000 base price? Sure, the ventilated seats cost extra but man – are they worth it.
The Kia's interior hasn't grown by much, but passenger space was never really a Soul shortcoming – material quality is what needed improving. For 2014, that's exactly where Kia focused their efforts. Feel your way through the interior and you'll notice softer surfaces, more comfortable seats and window switches that operate with a decidedly un-cheap feel. Besides feeling better, the cabin also looks better with an expressive, upscale design that refines the previous car's circular theme. With a 24.2 cubic foot cargo area, expandable via split/fold-down seats, the Kia Soul is a surprisingly adept cargo carrier.Exterior
From some angles the new Kia Soul looks a lot like the old Kia Soul, but that's ok, we liked the original design. The new car retains what we liked, just in modernized fashion. The Soul's tall profile isn't strictly about fashion, it's also about function. Along with abundant head and luggage space, the high roof allows for raised seating positions, providing good visibility for all inside. Offered in a variety of fun colors the top-line Exclaim (!) trim is distinguished by body-color bumper accents and 18-inch wheels, while 16- and 17-inch units come fitted on the base and Plus (+) trims respectively.
Buy a base level Kia Soul and you'll be treated to a 6-speaker audio system with USB and auxiliary inputs, power windows, mirrors and door locks, Bluetooth, air conditioning and a 6-speed manual transmission. Cloth seats come standard as do 60/40 split folding rear seats, but a nifty rear center armrest is optional on the base trim. On the safety front, the Kia Soul boasts six airbags, stability and traction control and, for all the Soul fans in San Francisco, hill-start assist.
If you're willing to throw extra funds at your Soul, there are plenty of enticing options to choose from. Standouts include heated and ventilated leather seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, push-button engine start/stop, automatic climate control, and a backup camera. Those purchasing a mid- or top-level Soul can add a package that bundles an Infinity premium audio system with an intuitive navigation system featuring an 8-inch capacitive touch screen.
The 4-cylinder engines of the previous Kia Soul carry over to the 2014 model and include a 1.6-liter in the base trim and a 2.0-liter for the higher Plus and Exclaim trims. Maximum horsepower for the 2.0-liter engine remains flat at 164, while the base 1.6-liter actually loses eight horsepower in the model changeover. Those underwhelming peak numbers resulted from a tuning effort that increased torque in each engine's lower rpm range. Having driving the 2.0-liter we can say that it's still no rocket ship, but at maximum acceleration the engine did seem less buzzy and strained. Handling gearchange duties are a 6-speed automatic and a 6-speed manual that's only offered with the base engine.
130 horsepower @ 6,300 rpm
118 lb-ft of torque @ 4,850 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: NA mpg (manual), NA mpg (automatic)
164 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm
151 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: NA mpg (automatic)
Pricing for the 2014 Kia Soul starts at $15,495 ($795 destination charge included). Fling caution to the wind and you'll pay a touch over $26,000 for a fully loaded Soul Exclaim trim. Compared to its fun-loving and wide-ranging competitors, including the Nissan Cube, Scion xB, Fiat 500L and Mini Countryman, the Kia Soul is less expensive by varying degrees, making it the bargain of the funky compact pack. When it comes to resale values, Kia's numbers have climbed steadily in recent years, with the Soul standing out as one of the brand's top performers. That's a trend we expect to continue with the 2014 Kia Soul.