2014 Kia Soul: First Drive Page 2

August 31, 2013
Like many other Hyundai and Kia products of the past couple years, the Soul gets a new three-stage Flex-Steer system. Hit a button on the steering-wheel spoke and you simply cycle through three different modes—Comfort, Normal, and Sport. While there is a modest difference in effort between the three, we considered the difference quite subtle. Comfort called up an almost disconcertingly light on-center feel, and we found ourselves making too many small adjustments, but the system feels just fine in the other two modes, loading up a bit off-center, and with a better sense of center than former Kia systems (thanks in part to a relocated steering box and new one-piece steering gear).

Kia has also made the rear torsion-beam tube itself thicker—now 76.0 mm, up from 70.2 mm. Then it added a rear subframe and specially tuned bushings to help filter out, as Kia’s executive director of product planning, Orth Hedrick, called the “moan noise”—the constant awareness of road coarseness. In addition there’s double-layer sealing (expansion foam, and a reinforced isolation pad for the cargo area) throughout to keep the road noise at bay.

Noise kept at bay...um, except from the engine bay

Considering all this work done to seal out road noise, we’re surprised that more work wasn’t done at the firewall. The engine still booms obtrusively whenever the transmission brings it above about 3,500 rpm. Push deeper with your right foot and even if you have the sound system cranked up you’ll definitely know when you’re in the engine’s upper ranges; it's not uncharacteristic for this price class, just a question of why did they stop there?

Both engines now incorporate direct injection, as well as roller-type lifters and dual-phase continuously variable valve timing. Engine output is virtually unchanged, at 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque for the 2.0-liter, and 130 hp and 118 lb-ft for the 1.6-liter. With those improvements and new engine tuning, torque at 1,500 rpm has been increased by five percent in the 1.6-liter and nine percent in the 2.0-liter.

While versions of the 2014 Soul exist with the 1.6-liter and either a manual or automatic transmission, we sampled only the 2.0-liter four and automatic transmission—the most common iteration in the lineup. Most are going to find this combination to be just fine; it feels perky around town and out on the highway, although tall gearing and an especially tall sixth gear can leave the transmission downshifting frequently—and even ‘hunting’ on long grades. It’s an efficient combination, nevertheless; over several hours and about 140 miles, we saw nearly 25 mpg.

Perfect packaging, again—now with better seats

The perches in the former Soul felt a little like barstools at times, but oh what a difference a mild design tweak can make for seats. The front seats in the 2014 Soul adopt a new dual-density foam construction, and they’re just a bit longer in the lower cushions; altogether, the Soul now has much better support for longer-legged folks on longer drives.

As before, the hip point on the Soul is quite high, which means that you have a rather commanding driving position and a great view out ahead and to the side. Entry and exit feel natural and involve minimal ducking of heads, in front or in back. Cargo versatility is awesome, too, with the rear seatbacks flipping forward, almost flat, and a very low cargo floor. Just don’t, by the way, try to fit three adults across in the back seat.

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