The 2014 Kia Soul is an adequate—even somewhat athletic—performer all-around, but it needs to be taken in context. If you’re out to satisfy a performance craving or tend to attack curvy canyon roads as if you were driving against a stopwatch, the Kia Soul isn’t for you; but if you plan to zip along city streets and maneuver out to stock up at big-box stores in the burbs, the Soul likely has all the performance you’d expect to find in this kind of vehicle.
That said, we have a sneaking suspicion that the 1.6-liter in-line four-cylinder engine that’s standard on the 2014 Soul (making 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque) might not be quite enough if your routine regularly includes hills or high-speed expressway driving with a full load. We thought the last generation felt a bit winded with the 1.6, so considering this new model’s nearly 100-pound weight gain in base form, we’d advise against it, at least until we can get a drive in one. One plus for choosing the 1.6-liter is that you can get it with a six-speed manual gearbox as well as an available six-speed automatic, while the larger 2.0-liter four is only offered with the automatic.
Models with the 2.0, which makes 164 hp and 151 lb-ft, have performance that most drivers will find perfectly adequate. They move reasonably quickly around town, and the transmission is quick to respond with downshifts when needed, out of corners or when accelerating from traffic snarls. Unfortunately, this downshift eagerness gets a bit out of hand on the highway, where a very tall sixth gear has the transmission bouncing back and forth between fifth and sixth with very slight tips into the accelerator, or very slight uphills. This type of ‘hunting’ behavior is relatively rare today, and most automakers have tuned it out with transmission programming (having it just hold the lower gear for an extended time). A manual gate, however, lets you lock in a particular gear, only forcing an upshift near redline (not for full throttle).
Steering is much-improved in the new Soul; in addition to some hardware changes that bring better steering feel, a better sense of center, and better weighting off-center, the 2014 Soul includes a system called Flex-Steer. Toggle with a steering-wheel button between Comfort, Normal, and Sport, and you can change the amount of steering effort on the fly. It’s no novelty, but we do wish there would be a wider difference between modes—it’s all quite subtle.
The 2014 Soul is built on a new, much stiffer structure than before, and that’s allowed engineers to add more suspension travel overall while more closely tuning handling and ride characteristics. But what makes the biggest difference is that it’s using new twin-path dampers—essentially allowing better body control and a more reassuring feel when you push it hard into corners, while also offering better isolation from the smaller bumps when you’re pointed straight ahead.
All three trim levels of the Soul include four-wheel disc brakes—a noteworthy upgrade versus the rear drums you get in many other econo-sedans in the Soul’s price range.