MIAMI, Florida - With four crossover wagons and SUVs already on the market, Kia might have elected to stand pat for the 2010 model year. Instead, the South Korean automaker is unleashing a brand-new model dubbed the Soul, aiming to entice those highly coveted young buyers.
Originally developed as a concept vehicle for Detroit's North American International Auto Show, in January 2006, the Soul appeared in production form at the Los Angeles Auto Show in November 2008. Described by Kia as "edgy and confident" in appearance, the Soul features a rounded nose and flared-back headlamps, in an overall design that emphasizes coasting and cruising.
"We purposely went beyond the box with the Soul," said sales vice-president Tom Loveless. Though it's a global vehicle, the Soul features suspension tuning specifically designed for an American audience. That audience is expected to be primarily Generation Y folks, in their 20s and likely to be just entering the workforce. To develop the Soul, Kia needed "the ability to stand out in a sea of sameness," added marketing vice-president Michael Sprague.
Four trim levels are offered: base Soul, Soul+ (Plus), Soul! (Exclaim), and Soul sport. Two four-cylinder engines are available. A 120-horspower 1.6-liter, offered only with five-speed manual shift, goes into the base model. All other versions get a 2.0-liter that makes 142 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 137 pound-feet of torque at 4600 rpm, driving either a manual gearbox or four-speed automatic transmission. Kia estimates fuel economy at 26 mpg city/31 mpg highway with the smaller engine. A 2.0-liter Soul with an automatic transmission earns an estimate of 24 mpg city/30 mpg highway.
Built on a 100.4-inch wheelbase, the Soul measures 161.6 inches long overall and stands 63.4 inches tall. Its platform is unique, though derived from that of the subcompact Rio. Kia says the Soul weighs more than 300 pounds less than a Scion x B, which is the Soul's chief competitor. Cargo space measures 19.3 cubic feet, which is close to the xB's capacity. According to Kia, the Soul is larger and more powerful than the forthcoming Nissan Cube. Full roof crossfails are said to reduce "booming."
Base models get 15-inch steel wheels, while the Soul+ rides on 16-inch aluminum alloy rims, and upper models include 18-inch alloy wheels. Standard equipment includes a tilt steering colulmn, power door locks and windows, cloth seats with a 60/40 split-folding rear seat, air conditioning, and a CD/MP3 player. The Soul+ includes Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, power mirrors, and privacy glass. A moonroof, foglamps, and upgraded audio system are installed on the Exclaim edition. The Soul sport contains a sport-tuned suspension, side sills, rear spoiler, and red/black interior trim. All models include Sirius satellite radio and a bi-level glovebox. An undertray stores items beneath the cargo floor.
Six airbags are standard, along with antilock braking that includes electronic brake-force distribution and Brake Assist. Electronic Stability Control also is standard. Soul models are offered in eight body colors, with three more to be added later. Kia currently offers more than 50 accessories for the Soul, emphasizing the trend toward personalization.
Appealing road manners complement the Soul's youthful appearance and easygoing nature
Through urban byways and along the Florida Interstate, the Exclaim edition of Kia's Soul proved to be agile and maneuverable, as well as easy to drive. Although the Soul takes some bumps with an unexpected touch of harshness, as the suspension appears to overreact a bit at times, this wagon rides quite comfortably on relatively smooth pavement.
Especially easy to enter, the Soul yields typical small-car feel and sound. Only a hint of correction is required on straightaways, and Kia's little wagon is quite stable for a light compact.
Even with the bigger engine, there's no abundance of power, yet performance is clearly adequate. In fact, the Soul responds with modest enthusiasm, though you may have to push harder on the gas than expected to achieve needed action when merging. Typical small-car engine noise occurs when accelerating harder.
Front occupants get tons of headroom, accompanied by good elbow space. Leg space in the backseat is better than might be expected. Seats aren't the classiest-looking, but they're undeniably colorful and cushioned well. Side bolstering isn't bad, either. Sizable mirrors help visibility.
Soul prices start at $13,300 (plus $695 destination charge) for the base model. Topping the line, the Soul! and Soul sport each sticker for $16,950 (plus the destination charge). An automatic transmission adds $950 to the price of any of the upper three models.
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