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2010 Kia Soul

By New Car Test Drive

On Sale: March 2009
Expected Pricing: $14,500-$19,500

The soon-to-be-released Soul wagon is the Kia for Generation Y.

When the 2010 Kia Soul debuts in the spring of 2009, Kia Motors will move into a market dominated by Japanese manufacturers, competing directly with the Scion xB and xD, the Honda Element and to a lesser extent the Honda Fit. The 2010 Soul is a value-priced, five-passenger five-door geared toward trend-conscious, 20-something buyers. With the typical price advantage Korean brands offer, it promises a lot of youth-oriented transportation for the money.

Like many of its established competitors, the Soul is a twist on basic, two-box automotive design, with a bit more adornment or body jewelry than either the Scion xB or Honda Element. It's appearance can change dramatically, depending on which wheels, color combos and dealer accessories an owner chooses.

By most exterior dimensions, Soul comes within an inch of both the xB and Element. It's built on the same basic underpinnings as the Kia Rio sedan and hatchback, but it's packaged more like Kia's Rondo mini-minivan. It's much taller and bit wider than the typical subcompact sedan, and it delivers an impressive amount of interior volume for the footprint it makes in a parking space.

Soul's back seat provides ample room for six-foot passengers, even when the front seats are positioned for occupants of equal stature. There's decent cargo space behind the back seat, too, and the seat folds flat quickly for expanded hauling capacity, accessible though both the rear side doors and the rear hatch.

Overall, the interior is one of Soul's strengths. The dashboard features a prominent center pod with large knobs for the climate controls and audio system, and there are several storage spots available to front-seat passengers. The finish doesn't seem cheap, either. In general, the plastics and fabrics look good.

The Soul will be offered with two engines. The base model comes with a 1.6-liter inline four generating 122 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque, while three upgrade trim levels feature a 2.0-liter four delivering 142 hp and 137 lb-ft. Both engines have continuously variable valve timing, and they come standard with a five-speed manual transmission. An automatic will be optional with the 2.0-liter engine.

Soul's front suspension applies an independent strut design, like virtually every small, front-drive vehicle built today, while the rear uses a solid, torsion-beam axle. This design keeps the rear suspension mounts from seriously encroaching on interior space, but it typically means at least a slight decrease in ride comfort compared to an independent rear suspension.

A test drive in a pre-production Soul provided some predictive impressions. The 2.0-liter engine is neither the smoothest nor the crudest four-cylinder currently sold. It delivers torque evenly across its rev range and pulls strong up to its 6,000-rpm power peak. The Soul accelerates with as much verve as any of its competitors, at least with the manual transmission, and Kia predicts class-leading EPA mileage ratings.

The test drive didn't include an automatic-equipped Soul, but experience does not bode well. The optional automatic is a four-speed, rather than the five-speed offered in some competitors, and it could work to zap some of the engine's energy. It's no accident that the automatic will not be offered with the smaller Soul engine.

When in goes on sale in March 2009, the base Soul will come with 15-inch steel wheels, plastic wheel covers, a standard USB connection and power points inside. More expensive variants will offer alloy wheels up to 18 inches in diameter. Specific content for the four trim levels is still being sorted, but Kia says all but the base model will come with features like Bluetooth connectivity and dark-tinted solar glass. The 325-watt audio upgrade sounds like it belongs in a more expensive car.

Exact prices are expected in December 2008. Meantime, Kia executives say the Soul will start in the "low teens," and it "won't break 20" with all the factory options. The company promises a host of dealer-installed accessories, including body kits, stick-on graphics and snazzy, aftermarket-style wheels, as soon as the car debuts.

Nothing about the Soul suggests it can't hold its own with more familiar competitors for even less cash. Considering Kia's lengthy warranty, Soul could hit spot-on its Gen-Y target.


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