By Frank S. Washington
MINNEAPOLIS – Sitting outside the entrance to the Graves 601 Hotel here, the 2014 Kia Soul looked the same as the old model – almost.
You couldn’t tell with the naked eye but the new Soul was a little bit longer, a little bit lower and a little bit wider.
By far, the most successful of all the automotive box-cars, the 2014 Kia Soul still had its wrap around greenhouse, high mounted tail lights and its raked upright stance. But its sheet metal was pulled tighter over the frame, the tires looked beefier and the car looked more athletic.
Just like its iconic hamsters, which, in the most recent TV ads, have slimmed down and dumped their sweatpants and hoodies for black ties and tuxedos, the new Soul looked like it too has spent some time in the gym, it was sleeker and slicker.
Even though the new Soul weighed a few pounds more than the car it replaced, it looked a little leaner and definitely more muscular.
The Soul’s new chassis was 29 percent stiffer. Connecting points like the upper and lower B-pillars, cross members and the C-pillar were strengthened. And adhesives around the door openings and along the roof improved torsional rigidity. Two-thirds of the new chassis used either ultra-high strength steel or high strength steel.
What’s more, the 2014 Kia Soul’s front and rear suspensions were redesigned to improve its ride. The stabilizer bar was moved rearward on the MacPherson strut front suspension and the steering box was moved forward to improve handling.
Unless it is winter, the roads here are just not that challenging. Still, Kia did an admirable job of finding a bunch of curves and a few ascents to test the new Soul’s torsional stiffness and handling. The car did well.
Road noise was minimal. Wind noise was unobtrusive and that’s saying something because of the Soul’s boxy shape. Overall, the car was pretty quiet. We briefly tested an old (2013) model and found the new model more hushed than the outgoing Soul.
The sight lines were great in the new Soul, even from the rear seat. The A-pillar was also narrower than the old model. It was just 0.8-inches thinner but that made a big difference in terms of sight lines.
The expansion joints on the Interstate and the many bridges, the Mississippi River is the border between southern Minnesota and central Wisconsin, tested the improvements made in the 2014 Kia Soul’s suspension. The compression on the redesigned shocks was a reserved motion that signals a quality build. It mimicked an air suspension. That was really impressive for a car that started at less than $15,000.
A new one piece steering gear improved response to driver input and reduced road vibrations coming through the steering wheel, though we still felt some. The car was really easy to drive. The Flex Steer™ system had three settings: comfort, normal and sport.
Improvements to the new Soul didn’t stop with the mechanics of the car. The interior had been upgraded too. The materials were better, soft touch points were employed everywhere. The seats were outstanding. Kia designers used a circular theme on the interior that was found in the Kia Track’ster concept car that was unveiled last year.
The instrument cluster had deeply recessed gauges, the door panels’ sculpted circles housed the power windows and door locks. The gear shifter had a round knob; the push button start obviously conveyed the circular theme and the steering wheel mounted controls were housed in circular groupings.
The 300 watt, 10-speaker Infinity audio system featured round speakers, subwoofer and an external (round) amplifier and its own ambient lights around the base speakers in the front doors. The increased weight of the Soul comes not from ultra or high strength steel, which is stronger but lighter than regularly steel; it comes from the increase in available equipment.
First, the 2014 Kia Soul can be equipped with a panoramic (glass) roof. Front as well as rear seats can be heated. The front pair can also be cooled. An available rearview camera is also a part of the Soul’s creature comforts. Of course, there is satellite radio, Bluetooth, auxiliary and USB jacks, and a navigation system with an eight-inch screen is just some of the 2014 Soul’s available equipment.
The base engine is a 1.6-liter direct injected four-cylinder mated to a six speed manual transmission. It makes 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque. Kia didn’t bring any of these base-engine cars here.
Both the Plus and the Exclaim trim lines can be equipped with a direct injected 2.0-liter four cylinder engine that made 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is the only gear box available. The Plus starts at $18,995 while the top of the line Exclaim starts at $21,095.
With the 2014 Soul, Kia continues the tradition that has made it one of the fastest growing brands in the market: offering a high quality product at a reasonable cost. Prices start at $15,495 including freight charges for the base model.
Frank S. Washington is editor of AboutThatCar.com.