2010 Kia Soul Sport Review
By Kevin Miller
The Soul is Kia’s newest vehicle; a small, boxy runabout with a unique style. While it’s in the same basic vehicle class as the Scion xB, it sports a style all its own. The Korean company chose the name Soul for its little boxy vehicle. Not Seoul, like the capital of its homeland, nor Sole, like the bottom of a shoe or boot (which the little vehicle resembles from certain angles), or a bottom-feeder (which the Soul will be in the market).
When I first sat in the Soul in Detroit last January, I was intrigued. It appeared to be a stylish little box, with a better-looking-than-expected interior and an aggressive stance thanks to its wheels-at-the-corners design. At the Detroit show, the Soul begat the Soul’Ster Concept, and my article about that concept was written in an optimistic, upbeat voice. I eagerly anticipated the opportunity to review the little vehicle, which I’ve finally had the chance to do. Unfortunately, the more time I spent in the Soul, the less optimistic I felt.
In any case, the Soul has a distinctive look. I like certain features (the 18” wheels, wheels-at-the-corners look in the back, the tail lamp design) and dislike other features (shape of the hatchback, look of the ‘nose”). Did you ever have one of those mornings when you woke up, looked in the mirror, and realized that your had dark-colored skin under your eyes, ostensibly because you didn’t get enough rest? The Soul wakes up looking like that every morning. After a week spent looking at the Soul from all angles, I was not sad to see the awkward-looking car go back to Kia’s press representatives.
The vehicle I drove was a color Kia calls “Molten”, and the rest of the world calls “red”. The Soul’s interior was red and black, and they didn’t go light on the red. The molded dashboard was red, as were upper parts of the seat upholstery as well as major parts of the door inserts. While I appreciated the red interior’s unique appearance at first, I soon found it to be obnoxious, and certain lighting conditions on my daily commute (driving on the lower level of an elevated freeway in late afternoon) produced an incredible glare of the red dashboard color onto the windshield. In overcast and lower light conditions, the silver bezel of the speaker in the center of the dashboard reflected in the windshield.
From the driver’s seat, forward visibility is good, though there is a big blind spot over the driver’s left shoulder on the highway, and a bigger one created by the large D-pillar when reversing out of parking spots. The steering wheel was pleasant to the touch: thick, not too big, and covered in leather. The electroluminescent gauges were clear, and controls were straightforward to understand and operate. The surfaces under each elbow were hard plastic; there was no padding whatsoever on the door’s armrest or the center console’s cover/armrest. My wife felt that the Soul’s active front headrests pushed her head forward; I didn’t feel that was the case in the Soul (though I did have that comment about the head restraints in Kia’s Borrego SUV). My wife also found that the Soul’s seatbelt webbing collected “fuzz” from her fleece sweatshirt, which rubbed off on a cotton shirt she wore the next time she rode in the car.
While I considered the Soul to be a small car that would compete with the likes of the Suzuki SX4 and the Scion XB, most people I talked to put it in the same vehicle class as a Honda CR-V thanks to its tall stance. The Soul has a “WARNING- High Rollover Risk” label on the sun visor like you find in an SUV, so perhaps its identity as an SUV-ish car is justified. When I was driving it, I came upon an Audi Q5 in traffic, and I was at the same height in the Soul as was the driver of the Q5. The Soul does feature upright, chair-like seating with loads of headroom, but unfortunately it also features a too-high load floor. While the load floor has a deep Styrofoam tray under it for hidden storage (with no good way to stow its cover, the trunk floor), the boot would be much more useful if the back door’s opening and the entire trunk floor were lower.
The high load floor and the short overall length conspire to make the cargo area of the Soul pretty minimal; only one of my two standard equipment cases would fit with the rear seats in place. The rear seatbacks do fold forward to make a not-completely-flat load floor. With the seats raised, there is adequate legroom for people who aren’t over 6 feet tall, though installing a rear-facing convertible carseat meant moving the front passenger seat so far forward that it was not spacious enough to be used by people over 5’ 6” tall.
The Soul I tested had just 800 miles on it when it arrived, and it had a very Korean new-car smell stench. A week and 250 miles later, the odor was just as strong. It is certainly the aroma of a new Korean car; I’ve smelled the same scent in new Hyundais. Evidently the smell of Korean petrochemicals cannot be easily covered up with standard new-car scents.
The Soul is available with two different four-cylinder engines: a 122 HP, 1.6 liter in the
entry-level car, and a 142 HP, 2.0 liter in the upper 3 trim levels. My top-of-the-line Soul Sport had that two liter engine mated to a five-speed manual transmission which was not particularly precise nor smooth-shifting, but which was also not difficult to use. The four cylinder engine runs out of breath quickly, so while the Soul has good torque off the line, it really has to be flogged to pick up speed on the highway. I had to shift down a couple of gears to find the meager power band at highway speeds. I imagine the four-ratio automatic would make the Soul less enjoyable to drive. In wet weather, the low-end torque made it easy to spin the front tires of the Soul when setting off. Stability control is standard, and it cuts in somewhat obtrusively, yet effectively. The Soul has heavy-yet-direct steering and a noisy ride on most road surfaces. The Soul with manual transmission has an EPA fuel economy rating of 24/30 MPG city/highway. I drove about 250 miles, not enough to burn through a whole tank of fuel.
The Soul’s stereo head unit was functional and well-equipped, featuring CD/MP3 disc player, Sirius Satellite radio, iPod connectivity, and Bluetooth telephone functionality. The car has stereo controls on the steering wheel and a large display for title/track info, time, and temperature display. The iPod interface works similarly to the system found in BMW and MINI vehicles, which is to say it works quite well, and displays scrolling track information about whatever is playing on its very-legible screen.
While the Bluetooth phone system was nicely integrated, I had to turn the volume all the way up when driving at freeway speeds to hear callers over the road noise, though they indicated they could hear me clearly. Also, about a minute after each time I restarted the car, the Bluetooth system’s disembodied voice interrupted the music to announce “transfer complete”; not a horrible inconvenience, but I rolled my eyes every time the automated voice announced it. The Bluetooth system was straightforward to pair, and incorporated a voice command system which allowed voice dialing from my iPhone just like Ford’s Sync system, right down to the out-of-order name requirement (Call Miller, Kevin, rather than Call Kevin Miller). There is no way to manually input a phone number.
In the past year, I’ve reviewed a few cars with thoughtful ambient lighting; the Ford Focus and the Mazda 6 come to mind. The Soul’s engineers chose to go a different route, fitting some red light sources in each front-door-mounted speaker. A control allows the user to toggle the system’s brightness and its functionality (OFF, steady ON, MOOD (slowly fade dim to bright), and MUSIC (pulse with the beat of the music playing on the stereo). The system is incredibly distracting and doesn’t provide good ambient lighting.
The Soul is available in Base, Soul+, Soul!, and Soul sport trim levels. The Soul sport I tested has a base price of $16,950, plus $700 for a power sunroof and $695 destination fee, for a total MSRP of $18, 345. Included in the base price of my top-of-the-line Soul sport is a lot of equipment: 18” alloy wheels, front and rear disc brakes, ABS, Electronic stability control, front, side, and side curtain airbags, front active headrests, TPMS, front seatbelt pre-tensioners, Air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3/Sirius head unit with AUX input, Bluetooth phone connectivity and iPod interface, power windows, power door locks with keyless entry, power mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, fog lights, side sills, intermittent wipers, rear washer, and privacy glass.
My Soul had one quality problem; when I first went to adjust the rear-view mirror, it came off in my hand. I merely needed to clip the mirror back onto it’s holder on the windshield and I was good to go for the rest of the week, but it certainly did not leave a good first impression.
Overall I found the Soul sport to be nicely equipped, though niggles like the lack of padding on armrests and a small trunk would make it tough for me to live with on a daily basis. Its distinctive appearance alone would be enough to keep me from buying one, but some people really like to drive odd-looking cars (for example, there are people who actually chose to buy the Pontiac Aztek for its looks), so the unique exterior styling will be a draw for some buyers. For less than $19,000, the Soul sport with Kia’s 10 year, 100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty represents a good value in today’s tough automotive marketplace.
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