Just when it seemed boxy cars were going away, the new 2014 Kia Soul not only carries on, but is redesigned and better than ever.
Riding on an all-new platform, the 2014 Kia Soul is longer, wider and more rigid than its predecessor, making for a more comfortable and safer ride. New sound insulation and improved acoustic engineering makes the cabin much quieter.
Perhaps most significant, though, is the improvement in the interior quality and design. Flat, hard plastics have been replaced with curved, soft-touch materials. The Soul has a unique circular theme throughout the cabin, which can be seen in the center stack and echoed in the air vents (with nifty round speakers that sit on top), the driver instrument cluster and the gearshift surround.
On the outside, the most noticeable difference is a more softened shape, compared to the upright cracker box of the past. There's no question the new Soul is still a box; it keeps the same proportions but sports more sophisticated lines, incorporating bends and curves into a still-unmistakable square silhouette.
The front end's tiny upper grille and a giant, mesh-covered lower grille make the Soul look grounded and hunkered down. Round accents, like foglights, contrast with the Soul's boxy shape.
Two direct-injected, four-cylinder engines carry over from the previous-generation Kia Soul. The base 1.6-liter makes a modest 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque, available with a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is an EPA-estimated 24/30 mpg City/Highway, or 26 mpg Combined, regardless of transmission.
Most will want to opt for the 2.0-liter inline-4, which is good for 164 hp and 151 lb.-ft. of torque and is available only with the 6-speed automatic. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 23/31 mpg City/Highway, or 26 mpg Combined, showing the more powerful 2.0-liter engine neck-and-neck with the standard 1.6-iter. Of note, all versions of the 2014 Kia Soul run on Regular gasoline, while the Fiat 500L and Mini Cooper Countryman require Premium.
In-car technology has also been updated in the 2014 Soul. Cars equipped with navigation use a new system powered by Android, replacing the old Microsoft system. Cars without nav continue to use the Microsoft-powered UVO voice-recognition and handsfree system.
We found the 2014 Kia Soul to be a fun car, great for tooling around in the city, and on mid-range road trips. There's plenty of room to carry gear, and the back seat will fit two or three in relative comfort for a compact vehicle. Driving dynamics are improved, but with its moderate acceleration, numb steering and relatively harsh ride, the Soul isn't a vehicle you get for its performance.
Although it starts in the reasonable sub-$15,000 category, don't expect much at the entry-level price. Options such as navigation, the premium Infinity audio system and other goodies are expensive and add up fast. So expect a well-equipped 2014 Kia Soul to come closer to the $20,000 mark.
More people are cross-shopping Kia Soul with other compact cars. In fact, in a time when more people are looking for what they can get for their money, instead of shopping in a traditional segment, the Kia is a unique player in a price range that includes not only more direct wagon-type competitors such as the Fiat 500L, Nissan Cube and Mini Cooper Countryman, it also is a potential contender space-wise for those shopping for compact SUVs such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4, as well as sub-compact hatchbacks including the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit and Mazda2.
The 2014 Kia Soul comes with a choice of two engines and three trim levels. Trim levels are written as symbols; one step up from the base model is the Soul + (Plus). Top-of-the-line models are the Soul ! (Exclaim).
The base Soul comes only with the 1.6-liter engine and can be fitted with a 6-speed manual ($14,700) or 6-speed automatic ($16,700). Standard features include manually operated air conditioning, fabric upholstery, power windows and door locks, a six-way manually adjustable driver's seat, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, a trip computer, Bluetooth, a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio capability and three-month subscription, auxiliary audio jack, USB port, a 60/40 folding rear seat, 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers.
Soul Plus models ($18,200) are powered by the 2.0-liter engine and come with the 6-speed automatic transmission only. Added features include remote keyless entry, cruise control, a center console with storage box and integrated armrest, rear seat center armrest, outside mirror turn-signal indicators, unique exterior trim and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Options for the Soul Plus include the Audio Package ($1,400) which includes navigation and 8-inch touch screen, Infinity audio system with center speaker, subwoofer and external amplifier, HD radio, multi-colored speaker lights, automatic climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, leatherette (vinyl) interior trim and piano black accents. The Eco Package ($400.00) adds an engine stop/start feature and low rolling resistance tires on 16-inch alloy wheels. The Primo Package (3,000) includes leather upholstery, heated and ventilated from seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, pushbutton start, 10-way power driver's seat with lumbar, panoramic sunroof and fog lights. The UVO eServices Package ($500.00) adds the UVO telematics services, rearview camera and automatic headlights.
Soul Exclaim models ($20,300) are fitted with the 2.0-liter engine and automatic transmission and add leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob, 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat with lumbar adjustment, high-gloss piano-black center console, cooled glove box, auto-dimming rearview mirror, fog lights, projector headlights, front and rear LED accent lights, unique exterior trim and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Options for the Soul Exclaim include a Sun and Sound Package ($2,600) with navigation, the Infinity audio system described above, speaker lights, automatic climate control and panoramic sunroof. The Whole Shebang Package ($2,500) adds everything found on the Primo Package for the Soul +, plus a TFT color LCD driver's display and HID headlights with LED accent lights. The Sun and Sound Package is required to add this package.
Safety features on all 2014 Kia Soul models include dual front advanced airbags, dual front seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, electronic stability control, traction control, ABS, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist and hill-start assist.