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The Kia Soul is a clever hatchback that plays up style while it delivers a healthy dose of functionality and safety. It continues for 2015 with only a handful of changes, after last year receiving its first complete redesign since its original introduction. The redesign was evolutionary, building on the Soul's unique place in the market. Kia also managed to address some of the boxy car's flaws in the process. Ride, handling, and comfort have been improved, there are more standard and available features, and the space-efficient design saw enhancements.
The Soul defies categorization to some degree. It's a small hatchback, but it doesn't share the same swept-back profile that most small five-doors do. Instead, the Soul has a boxy profile and embraces its different look while capitalizing on it by providing more space for people and cargo. The design has a blunt front end, with a roof that appears to float over a blacked-out greenhouse. The rear end is dominated by tall taillamps, while the front end uses bug-eye headlights. The Soul's interior has a somewhat funky design, with grown-up soft-touch materials. Ambient lighting from LEDs throughout the cabin provide mood lighting, if that's your thing.
Kia used high-strength steel to create a stronger structure for the latest Soul. Its suspension was also reworked for 2014, and it provides a smooth, comfortable ride, but it's taut enough to lend a feeling of security. The electric power steering system provides limited feedback, but offers three levels of weight—comfort, normal, and sport—that don't add much to the driving experience.
Two engines are available in the 2015 Soul. We’d probably recommend against the base 1.6-liter four and its 130-horsepower, 118-pound-feet output unless you’re getting the six-speed manual transmission. Soul Plus and Soul Exclaim hatchbacks are fitted with a 2.0-liter, direct-injection four-cylinder that produces 164 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, paired only with a six-speed automatic (optional on the base). The Soul isn't a downright sporty car in any of its combinations; but with the larger engine you’ll find the Soul quick enough—although tall gearing leads to frequent downshifts on the highway, and the transmission tends to hunt on long grades.
The Soul's interior is relatively comfortable, with dual-density foam and somewhat extended seat cushions helping in front. It features a complement of steering-wheel controls, and the center-console controls canted slightly toward the driver. It’s very easy to get in and out, in front or in back. The only caution is that the Soul has the width of a small car, so even though there’s plenty of headroom and legroom, fitting three adults across in back is a no-go. The rear hatch opening is wide, and seats fold forward easily. Although Kia has made attempts to reduce interior noise, engine sound is still present, a reminder of the Soul's status as an economy car.
The NHTSA rates the Soul as five stars, giving it five stars in each category save for rollover resistance, where it scores four stars. The IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick. All models include a total of six airbags, with dual front airbags, seat-mounted side bags, and full-length side curtain bags. Also worth noting that even the base Soul includes superior four-wheel disc brakes, while many other inexpensive small sedans include just drum brakes in back.
There are three different trim levels: base Soul, Soul Plus (+), and Soul Exclaim (!). Prices start at just $15,495 for a reasonably well-equipped base model with a six-speed manual gearbox and the 1.6-liter engine. But if you’re willing to add a four-figure sum to that modest bottom line, you can load up a Soul to include things that are unusual in a mainstream model--like a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and cooled/ventilated front seats. What’s more, connectivity and infotainment—and the optional navigation system—are fully up to snuff with the systems available in much more expensive, premium vehicles.
The UVO eServices infotainment system uses an excellent new eight-inch capacitive screen and, with navigation, and based on a quick first introduction in a pre-production Soul, it looks like one of the better systems on the market, even casting upward to luxury brands. Based on an Android linux operating system, it doesn’t suffer from the lagginess that plagues some such systems, and with plenty of apps planned for the future (Pandora and others are just the start) plus potentially easy upgrades through the SD card slot.