Pros: Hip styling; Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick; great fuel economy; excellent audio and communication technology; 10-year/100,000-mile warranty
Cons: Weak base engine; noisy at highway speeds; rubbery manual transmission; no AWD option
What's New: The 2013 Kia Soul receives more standard equipment this year, gaining Bluetooth connectivity and cruise control for the Plus model with the manual transmission. The Exclaim trim gets power folding side mirrors, while Kia's Idle Stop and Go (ISG) debuts on the ECO package.
The Soul is the car that launched Kia's revolutionary styling barrage while simultaneously making rodent pitchmen (computer-generated hip-hop hamsters) socially acceptable. The 2013 Kia Soul continues to stand far above the common commuter wagon, offering head turning good looks, a great roster of standard and available equipment and a price that has the competition scratching its head in bewilderment.
Straddling the line between commuter car and compact SUV, the Soul provides plenty of interior space for crew or cargo, but not both at the same time. Wild colors both inside and out, along with sporty wheels and a one-of-kind look place the Soul in easy competition with more expensive cars such as the MINI Clubman, Nissan Cube and Scion xB. And, even though it doesn't offer the option of AWD, many will likely cross-shop the Soul against the Nissan Juke and Suzuki SX4. Available in three trims--Soul, Soul+ (Plus) and Soul! (Exclaim)--there is a Soul to satisfy every taste, from the simple to the sophisticated.
With a base price starting just over $15,000 (including destination charges), the Soul easily undercuts other visually underwhelming and less well-equipped cars. Coupled with Kia's impressive list of standard and available equipment, the Soul is anything but bargain basement. Among features it calls standard are power windows and locks, Bluetooth, a 4-speaker stereo with USB audio input, a tilt-telescoping steering wheel and air conditioning. Offered as trim specific equipment is an Infinity sound system, UVO infotainment, leather seating and on-board navigation.
However you choose to classify the Soul, there is no arguing that it is a highly attractive, highly youth-oriented 5-passenger vehicle with a reputation for value, fuel economy and the best standard powertrain warranty in the business (10 years/100,000 miles).
Comfort & Utility
For such an inexpensive little wagon, the Kia Soul makes the most of what it has. The interior plastics on the dash and doors are rather hard to the touch, but their handsome shapes are pleasing to the eye, as are the clever fabric choices adorning the seats. The Plus has black cloth covered with the Soul logo. The Soul Exclaim offers a choice of black with black-and-white houndstooth print, tan and black leather or cocoa cloth trim. One objection to the Exclaim's interior is its light tan-colored dash pad, which casts a noticeable reflection onto the windshield.
In addition to the dual glove compartment and individual iPod bins, the Soul includes a dedicated iPod/USB port allowing full control of the device via steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. Models equipped with the Infinity sound system include lighted speaker trim rings.
The Soul can comfortably accommodate four average-size adults, with headroom more generous than rear-seat legroom. Don't look for much in the way of cargo space, at least with the rear seat up. There is some additional storage space in a small compartment located beneath the rear cargo shelf. When not carrying additional passengers, the Soul's rear seats can be folded flush, expanding cargo space from 19.3 cu-ft to a generous 53.4 cu-ft.
Kia aims to be a technology leader, and the Soul's impressive list of available equipment reaffirms the company's commitment. Standard on the Exclaim and available on the Plus is the UVO system designed for Kia by Microsoft. Similar to Ford's SYNC, UVO allows voice activation and control of a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone, as well as streaming music or apps from a smartphone and control of a music storage device such as an iPod or a Zune. UVO-equipped Souls also include a 4.3-inch LCD screen and a backup camera. Exclaim trim includes a 350-watt Infinity audio system (optional on the Plus) with a dash-mounted subwoofer and lighted speakers.
Exclusive to the Exclaim is the Premium Package, which includes navigation, heated front seats, leather seat trim, automatic climate control and push-button start with Smart Key keyless entry.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Soul offers two engine choices. The base model employs a 1.6-liter GDI 4-cylinder producing 138 horsepower and 123 lb-ft of torque. While fuel economy figures of 27 mpg city and 35 mpg highway are exceptionally good, we found this engine lacking in passing power, especially with four people on board. We prefer the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine in the Plus and Exclaim models that increases power to 164 hp and torque to 148 lb-ft. Fuel economy for the larger engine is rated at 26/34 mpg, almost identical to the less powerful 1.6-liter. Both engines can be mated to a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic; both choices produce identical city/highway fuel economy.
The newest edition the Soul line is the ECO Package that features Kia's ISG (Ignition Stop-Go). The ISG system turns off the engine when the vehicle is not in motion, such as at a stoplight or in stop-and-go traffic. Combined with low-rolling-resistance tires, the ISG-equipped engines increase fuel economy on the 1.6-liter to 29/36 mpg, while the 2.0-liter moves up to 27/35 mpg.
Standard safety equipment for the 2013 Kia Soul includes front side-impact airbags, side curtain airbags, electronic traction and stability control and Hill Start Assist. A backup camera is available on UVO and navigation-equipped models.
The Soul did very well in the IIHS's offset, roof, rear and side-impact crash tests, earning it a Top Safety Pick award for 2012.
Just because a car looks racy on the outside doesn't mean it's going to perform to that standard. That's the case with the Kia Soul. Even with the larger 2.0-liter engine, acceleration and passing power are modest, with the engine making lots of noise as it struggles to get up to speed. The 6-speed manual feels rubbery and vague, leaving us to recommend the all-new 6-speed automatic.
Things improve mightily when it comes to ride and handling, where the Soul exceeded our expectations. The ride is smooth and well controlled, although we did notice a bit more bounce and bobbing than in other vehicles of similar size. There's a lot of interior noise as well, especially on models with the larger wheel and tire packages. However, the Soul's steering response is quick, with no noticeable play or overassist, and the brakes feel strong even after repeated downhill use. For the most part, we found the Soul a bit sportier than the Nissan Cube or the Scion xB, but it's no match for the Nissan Juke.
Other Cars to Consider
Scion xB: The xB offers better resale value than the Soul, but it doesn't have as many cool features, nor does it offer the same great warranty or stylish interior.
Nissan Cube: Visually, the Cube is a love-it-or-leave-it prospect, and although it does offer many of the same high-tech features as the Soul, its ride and handling are not as sporty.
Suzuki SX4: The SX4 offers the availability of 4-wheel drive, and it has a similar low price point even when fully loaded. But the Soul holds its value better; the Soul also scored higher in the IIHS roof strength test.
Given the improved performance of the 2.0-liter engine, we'd say go for the Plus model with the 6-speed automatic. You can add in the cool UVO and Infinity sound systems and still wind up with a very reasonable monthly payment.