I spent five days with a rented a 2014 Kia Soul. Roxy was having some cooling problems and I decided to let Volkswagen take care of it. At Enterprise I was given the option of two cars in my price range: a Kia Soul or a Nissan Versa Note. When I interviewed Ezra Dyer a few months ago, he called out the Versa Note as one of the worst cars on the market today. While I thought about choosing it anyway, I’ve always kind of liked the Soul, so I figured I would give the new one a try.
My base Soul came in Kale Green with black interior. I was rather smitten with the exterior color. I’m usually not a fan of green cars, but that’s because I always picture a ’90s Buick LeSabre. Jeep, Volkswagen and Kia have recently been offering a range of flat colors that I find to be really appealing. This was no exception.
The exterior of the second generation Soul is more of an overall update than a clean-sheet design. It keeps the look fresh while maintaining the not-quite CUV proportions. The ride hight is higher than most cars, but it also doesn’t feel truck like.
I was worried the black interior on the Soul was going to bake me in the August hear, but the dark tint on the rear windows managed to keep the interior relatively cool. This was aided by a wonderful A/C system that far surpasses the system in my GTI, though that’s not saying much.
I liked the layout of the interior, though the dash was filled with OK but cheap feeling plastics. I’ve heard it was an upgrade over the previous model, but my eight-year old GTI has a better interior. The Soul does get it right on all of the major touch points, so I can’t complain too much. Fit and finish was great, while ample sound deadening kept the car quiet unless the engine decided it needed to drop down a gear or two.
The base sound system was OK and I liked having the auxiliary input right in the bottom of the dash with space to hold a device or two. The Kia also featured two 12V ports on either side of the auxiliary inputs, a 120W and a 180W.
The manual seats had a lot of room for adjustment and combined with the tilt and telescope wheel, I easily found a comfortable driving position. I prefer to sit low in a car, with a slightly upright seat and the steering wheel close. I wasn’t a fan of the fabric used for the seats. They felt cheap to the touch and I would worry about wear after a few years. They also didn’t feature much in the way of bolstering, though I never felt like I was sliding around in them either.
The hatch of the Soul was relatively roomy, with 24.2 cubic feet of room with the seats up and 61.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. My biggest complaint was the high load floor. It’s fine for light items, but I would worry about lifting heavier items and not scratching the bumper.
The biggest surprise of all was how much I enjoyed driving the Soul. The ride was smooth without being bouncy and I could take a corner at speed without the fear of rolling over. It’s no hot hatch, but neither is it a wallowing SUV. The car I drove rode on 16″ alloys with 205/60R16 tires, an upgrade from the full-face hub caps standard on the base car. Higher trim levels have optional 17″ and 18″ wheels, though I wonder how much the ride would be compromised with a smaller, stiffer sidewall.
The steering featured three setting for effort. Comfort was far to soft, and while normal was fine, I kept it in sport mode most of the time. The steering wheel itself was just the right size and featured all the typical controls you would expect on a modern car.
Power was an adequate 130 hp, plenty enough to move around a surprisingly light vehicle. Kia lists the curb weight at 2784 lb., and the engine only ever seemed strained while passing at highway speeds. I hate a touchy accelerator, and I found the tip-in on the Soul to be just right. I’ve driven cars that make up for their lack of power with an accelerator that throws you back as soon as you even think about pushing it. The six-speed transmission shifted smoothly, and I never felt like it was hunting for the proper gear.
Over my five days I achieved 26 mpg combined. I typically do a lot of highway driving, so I was a little disappointed, but I admit that I fall in the aggressive side of the camp when it comes to driving style.
Overall, I quite enjoyed my time with the Soul. It competes in a weird, not-quite CUV segment that was previously filled by the Honda Element and Nissan Cube. This segment banks just as much on style as it does substance, and I feel like the Soul has both. It’s a surprisingly refined vehicle with surprisingly good driving dynamics, and I have no doubt that Kia will equal the great success of the original Soul.