New & Used Kia Soul: In Depth
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The Kia Soul is a tall, quirky hatchback—depending on your perspective—that provides a blend of functionality and economy for its price and size. It competes with the Nissan Cube, Scion xD, and the Honda Fit, all of which have edgy styling, too. See the Kia Soul compared to its competitors.
First shown in production form at the 2008 Paris auto show, the Soul was designed at the company's U.S. headquarters near Irvine, California, credited to Mike Torpey under the design leadership of Peter Schreyer. It's assembled in South Korea.
The Soul went on sale in 2009 with a Web-driven marketing campaign that featured hamsters driving, and borrowed characters from Nickelodeon's lineup of cartoons. But the Soul is a more serious effort than that all seems. The hatchback's pitched directly against the likes of the Toyota Matrix, Nissan Cube, Scion xB, Chevrolet HHR and Chrysler PT Cruiser, as Kia tries to establish a larger foothold among younger drivers looking for a dash of style.
Two engines and two transmissions were available in the 2010 and 2011 model years. A 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 122 horsepower was teamed with a five-speed manual in base models, and was rated at 26/31 mpg. More common was a version powered by a 2.0-liter four with 142 hp, which offered an optional four-speed automatic; the EPA rated this combination at 24/30 mpg.
For the 2012 model year, Kia replaced these drivetrains with a new 1.6-liter four-cylinder worth 135 horsepower and 121 pound-feet of torque, a boost of 11 percent. The upgrade is a 2.0-liter four with 164 hp and 143 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual is standard, a six-speed automatic an option--and both are rated at 26/34 mpg. Ride and handling on the Soul is predictable, if not exciting, even with the available 18-inch wheels.
The 2012-2013 Kia Soul is one of a set of vehicles found to have overstated fuel-economy numbers. Kia initially submitted figures of 27/35 mpg and 30 mpg combined (or 26/34/29 for the larger 2.0-liter engine) to the EPA, which allows automakers to self-certify fuel economy. On a confirmation check of several vehicles, the EPA found the Soul's actual tested fuel economy to be 25 mpg city, 30 highway with the 1.6-liter engine, or 23/28 (25 combined) with the 2.0-liter engine and automatic transmission or 24/29 mpg with the manual transmission. 2013 Kia Soul Eco models, which earned 29/36-mpg and 27/35-mpg ratings have been downgraded to 26/31 and 24/29, respectively. Owners can register with Kia to receive reimbursement for the gas consumed above and beyond expected levels; more details are found at KiaMPGInfo.com.
Four passengers have ample room in the Soul, while a fifth will be cramped. The second-row seats fold forward to boost cargo area over 53 cubic feet, and the cargo floor lifts to expose more storage area; a fitted cargo organizer separates the space into useful bins.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) hasn't yet updated its crash-test ratings for the Soul under its new formula, but it does assign a four-star rollover resistance rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awards it a "Top Safety Pick" designation, with "good" grades for front and side impact protection and standard stability control.
A 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty extends to the Soul, which also comes with power features, iPod connectivity and Bluetooth standard on most versions. A navigation system and the UVO system of voice controls for infotainment are available, although unfortunately you can't get both together as of yet. On the 2013 Soul, Kia improved gas mileage slightly by offering the ISG engine stop-start system as part of an Eco Package.
A redesigned version of the Soul is expected as soon as next year. Although we've caught a few hints and early spy pics of the 2014 Kia Soul, we're not yet sure how it will change mechanically. You can almost certainly bet, though, that the new model will improve in fuel economy and in power.