The quirky Kia Soul has grown up, as have those furry little hamsters. However, even grownups get to be eccentric and a little off-center, again just like those hamsters. The 2014 Kia Soul retains its off-kilter personality, while adding in a good bit of refinement deserving of a vehicle that attracts such a wide audience to the Kia brand.
Refinement comes in the form of heavy use of soft touch surfaces in areas on which driver and passenger lay their hands. Fit and finish of quality materials transform the Soul to new heights in value. Even the large, 8-inch infotainment display in the center dash exhibits refinement not found in the previous edition or some competitors.
Quirkiness remains in the form of features such as the color light rings surrounding the door speakers and highlights under dash and center console. Added are more color schemes to match owners moods. Even the window sticker is a bit whimsical with the listed option, The Whole Shabang package.
Idiosyncratic exterior design remains, yet with a more aggressive appearance that expresses just a touch of sophistication. It is both quirkiness and refinement that make the new Soul attractive to a wide range of buyers, both in age and lifestyle. Though Kia targets 18 to 29 year olds with hip, edgy, hamster filled advertising, they accept that average Soul buyer is 48.
According to Kia Chief U.S. Designer, Tom Kearns it is a difficult project to redesign what is basically a box. But they pull it off by giving the Kia Soul, well soul. The front end is more aggressive, yet not so much so as to not be quirky. The rear has character even though it is cutoff and square. The Soul makes the box stylish.
The upright stance, squared shoulders and fender flares, the wraparound window area (greenhouse) the high-mounted tail lights and upright stance are all hallmark design elements that are instantly recognizable as Soul. New for 2014 are available LED front positioning lights and rear LED “halo” lights, which add premium touches.
Kia reevaluated the changes for the new Soul and for safety and dynamic improvement incorporated more high stretch steel in the platform. I noticed a major improvement in ride and handling. The steering is tighter and crisper on tight twisting back country roads. Which also demonstrated the vast improvement in handling, though the suspension is not so taut that road imperfections are jarring to passengers.
Two engine choices are available the base Soul is outfitted with a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 130 horsepower and 118 lb-ft. of torque. I, however, spent all my time in the updated 2.0-liter engine coupled to a six-speed automatic transmission. A six-speed manual is only available with the smaller engine. Automatic transmissions are much more popular, which is the reasoning behind that decision.
I was quite satisfied with the combination I drove because Kia equipped their automatic with a manual mode that is responsive to the driver’s wants rather than a computer controlling shifts. Moving up and down through the gears I was in control of gearing not the car, and that is what is needed in a manual mode automatic. Through congested traffic, in automatic mode the shifting was seamless and unobtrusive.
Granted the new Soul isn’t a powerhouse and certainly will not displace Porsche as a leader in sports car performance, however the Soul didn’t leave me with regrets. Considering the Soul is meant to provide comfortable transportation in a quirky, even eccentric manner the performance this car exhibits is a bit unexpected and welcomed
Though their attempt to remain trendy might be questionable, Kia’s execution in making the new Soul attractive to a wide range is quite clever, though perhaps accidental. As drivers scan the horizon for budget friendly vehicles they also want their creature comforts. These buyers also do not want to feel as though they are running in that emblematic hamster wheel of the typical econo-box. That’s the big appeal of the Kia Soul, trendy, cool with plenty to offer.