I keep on saying this and I’m gonna say it again: With all the doom and gloom in the auto industry these days, we all need to have a little bit of fun with our cars!
The Kia Soul might just be one of the most fun vehicles I’ve driven. Ever. Why? Because it makes people smile!
Few cars have had this universal effect: Everyone loves an original Mini. It is tough not to love the Bugeye Sprite’s smiling face. Is there anyone who doesn’t feel a bit happier when they see an original Beetle? Of course each of these cars broke new ground and made people think of transportation in a new way.
The Kia Soul makes people think of transportation in a new way.
From a style standpoint, the box on wheels is not a new concept but hip and boxy is definitely new. Sure, the old volvo 240 was boxy but it never drew admiring stares from North American teenagers. In recent years, we have seen the little shoebox concept work for Scion south of the border but those cars still haven’t made it to Canada. Kia has launched the Soul at absolutely the right time for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is the first wave of wickedly fun little boxes that combine hip style, functionality and economy. Scion Xb and Cube might just seem like copycats to the general public when they arrive.
Our tester was the Soul 4U model with 2.0 liter 4 cylinder and a 4 speed automatic transmission. It was shod with the optional 18″ alloy wheels which give it a more aggressive visual. Out on the road, the 4U has a good solid feel at city and highway speeds. With P225/45R18 boots, it handles the twisty stuff more than respectably with crisp turn in and surprisingly little body roll. Decent handling is a key element here as my only complaint is that the 142 horsepower on tap is far too little. I have to say that the Soul’s forte (pun intended) is making people smile, not making people grimace from launch velocity. Speed is not a factor in the Soul, as occupants are likely having too much fun grooving to the pulse of the mood lighting.
During our week with the Soul, we had a bunch of kid stuff going on that meant a lot of running around and being late, so the Soul saw highway speeds that were a bit beyond optimal for fuel economy testing. Even still, we managed a combined city & highway average of 8.5 l/100 km (or roughly 33 mpg) proving that the practical utility
a family needs doesn’t have to come with fuel economy derived from the military.
Which brings us to the great indoors. The bucket front seats sport a cool insert with Soul and are comfy. The optional driver’s armrest could be a tad wider for a big guy like me, though Joe Average will likely find it just right. The back seats are unbelievably roomy. With the driver’s seat in the fully aft position, a 5′ 10″ passenger had close to 5 inches between his knees and the front seat back and had miles of headroom. This guy was in the market for a fun car to replace his big sedan and was impressed that he could comfortably fit clients in the back seat of such a small car. With all that rear seat legroom, one might think the cargo area would suffer but that is far from true. The rear area is close to 2 feet deep and nice & wide too. Fold down the rear seats and you have a giant storage space.
As one might expect of a vehicle that has a focus on fun, the techno goodies are here in full force. The usual am/fm/cd suspects are joined by Sirius satellite radio, aux in jack and even a usb port for your iPod. Bluetooth keeps driver’s hands on the wheel and not on the phone. A neat feature here allows an iPhone to connect with the stereo via Bluetooth, eliminating the need for cables if you rock the iPhone. Sadly, my iPod Touch is not a supported device and I had to use the aux in jack which is great unless your battery is dead! Also, it seems the Bluetooth function of my Sanyo Katana phone is giving up the ghost and did not want to connect. Hmmm. New phone in a few weeks! The young at heart seems to have been taken with the colour changing interior lights that Ford has been using, so Kia has taken that concept and kicked it up a notch. The front door speakers house lights that turn the interior into your very own dance hall, complete with driver controllable frequency. They can be set to pump with the beat of your fave tunes or to create a soothing mood. I sat a bunch of different people from toddlers to 50 somethings and everyone had a big smile when they saw the lighting effects. Little box, big fun!
Part of the fun with the Soul is that Kia recognizes how easy it can be for drivers to personalize their car and how well the package responds to individual tweaks. They are offering fun colours, striping & sticker packages and all sorts of accessories to help buyers express themselves.
With an entry price of just over $15,000 for a 1.6 2U model, there is some serious price incentive for families on a budget. Even our tricked out 4U tester still only just breaks the $21,000 mark while the most expensive Retro model is $22,195. That is an absolute tonne of vehicle for the money, proving that Kia has their finger on the pulse of today’s market. Offer a quality vehicle that looks cool, offers real world utility and economy at a price that doesn’t break the bank. They even managed to jam all of that in a package that makes people smile.