Dozens of cars compare to the 2010-2013 Kia Soul, but very few can fill its shoes. The reason is that the Soul is more than just an economy-minded box on wheels; it actually exudes a sense of styling and originality so lacking in today's small cars. Kia created the Soul to compete against other 5-door hatchbacks -- namely, the Scion xB, Nissan Cube and, to a lesser degree, highly stylized hatchbacks such as the MINI Cooper and Honda Fit. While the Soul isn't the most powerful vehicle in its class, it does offer two engine and transmission choices, as well as a long list of standard and optional equipment that leaves the competition looking rather soulless.

Why You Want It

If you're looking for inexpensive, fuel-efficient transportation, there are plenty of choices. But, try to find an economy car that turns heads like a show car, offers such cool amenities as pulsing back-lit speaker grilles, houndstooth-pattern cloth seats and a trio of giant dancing rodents as its pitchmen, and there is only one choice: the Kia Soul. The Soul succeeds on a number of fronts. With its generous head and legroom, it can comfortably carry four adults -- though the cargo space with the rear seat in place is rather small. The Soul gets great gas mileage, can be had with a manual or automatic transmission and comes in four unique trims that pop with wild colors both inside and out. Noteworthy features include available 2-tone leather seating, 350-watt Infinity audio system (2012 and newer), Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and a USB/iPod interface. The Soul isn't the quickest, quietest or most fuel-efficient 5-door compact you can buy, but it certainly ranks high in visual appeal, long-term reliability and bang for the buck.

Notable Features & Options

There are four trims for the Soul: base, Plus (+), Exclaim (!) and Sport. What makes the Soul such a catch is its impressive list of standard features, many of which are only offered on its competitors most expensive trim levels. The base Soul includes air conditioning, a tilt steering column, power windows and locks, rear defrost, a cargo area light and an AM/FM/CD stereo with USB/iPod connectivity. The Soul (+) adds cruise control, rear privacy glass, power mirrors, steering wheel controls for audio and Bluetooth and alloy wheels. The Soul (!) ups the ante with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, power sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps, heated side mirrors, sand and black cloth interior with houndstooth print and a 315-watt audio with subwoofer and pulsing speaker lights (changes to 350 watts in 2012). To this, the Sport adds a sport suspension, red and black interior and unique wheels. Options for the Soul (+) include a sunroof, fog lights and the 315-watt audio system. The Soul (!) and Sport can be equipped with heated front seats and leather seating surfaces. There are also a few special edition Souls that vary by year.

Standard safety equipment includes six airbags (front, front side and side curtain), electronic traction and stability control, ABS and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Model Milestones

2011 -- Two special-edition models are offered featuring unique paint and wheels, and automatic climate control.

2012 -- The Soul receives a minor face freshening and a major change under the hood. The improved 2.0-liter engine gains 22 additional horsepower, while the standard 1.6-liter gains Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) technology. Both engines can be mated to a new pair of 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic transmissions. The Sport trim is dropped from the lineup.

2013 -- Minor changes include the addition of Bluetooth and steering-wheel controls to the base model. A new ECO package is offered on the Soul (+), adding Idle Stop Go (IDS) and low-rolling-resistance tires.

Engines and Performance

The base Soul is powered by a 1.6-liter engine that makes a mere 122 hp and 115 lb-ft of torque. Mated to either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic, this engine delivers fuel economy estimates of 26 miles per gallon city and 31 mpg highway, regardless of transmission choice. In 2012, Kia improved the 1.6-liter by adding Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) technology, boosting output to 138 hp and 123 lb-ft of torque. However, even with the new 6-speed manual and 6-speed automatic, fuel economy drops to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates of 25 miles per gallon city/30 mpg highway. The ECO package increases fuel economy to 26 mpg city/31 mpg highway with the automatic transmission.

The Soul (+), (!) and Sport trims all come with a 2.0-liter engine that makes 142 hp and 137 lb-ft of torque. EPA estimates for this engine are 24 mpg city/30 mpg highway regardless of transmission. In 2012, the 2.0-liter's output increases to 164 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. The same new 6-speed transmissions are offered as on the base, and fuel economy estimates are 24 mpg city/29 mpg highway with the manual and 23 mpg city/28 mpg highway with the automatic. The ECO option ups fuel economy to 24 mpg city/29 mpg highway with the automatic transmission.

Recalls, Safety Ratings and Warranties

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued the following recalls for the 2010-2013 Kia Soul:

  • 2010 -- A recall was issued for a possible defective wiring harness in the back-lit front speaker panels that could short out, potentially leading to a fire.
  • 2010-2011 -- Recalls were issued for a possible defective stop light switch that could cause the brake lights to not illuminate.

Recall repairs are required by law even if the vehicle is out of warranty. Your dealer can check to see if the repairs were performed. If they have not been, your dealer will fix the car at no charge to you.

As for the Soul's safety record, it receives good marks from NHTSA, earning four out of five stars in the front-end crash test, five stars in the side impact test and four stars in the rollover test. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Soul its highest rating of Good in the moderate overlap front crash, side impact and roof strength tests, and lists the 2013 Soul as a Top Safety Pick.

The Soul has a 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty and a 5-year/60,000-mile transferable powertrain warranty. The 10-year/100,000-mile original powertrain warranty is not transferable and applies only to the original owner. However, it is possible to get a better warranty by buying a certified pre-owned (CPO) car. A Soul sold through Kia's CPO program includes a 150-point inspection, a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty from the original date the car was placed into service (basically giving you the original owner's warranty) and the remainder of the original bumper-to-bumper warranty. Also included in the CPO package is 24-hour roadside assistance, a free CARFAX report and travel breakdown coverage that includes limited reimbursement for hotel, car rental and food.

Word on the Web

A quick check of the Internet shows the Kia Soul to be a likeable vehicle. Consumer Reports gives it good marks in almost every category, except for some less-than-average scores for audio, power equipment, and squeaks and rattles. We can attest to the squeaks and rattles, having found our 2010 and 2011 test cars to be noisy inside -- with one test car having its center console come loose due to not being properly bolted down at the factory. Owners generally like their Soul for its looks, the way it rides and handles and the cool features. However, we did find more than a few complaints about little electrical failures, such as the power mirrors, audio system and other minor bits breaking down. Fortunately, all were covered by the 5/60 warranty, and improvements were made to the 2012 and 2013 models. We also found many manual transmission owners regretting their purchase, as the manual is not very enjoyable, with lots of gear grinding and a sloppy, loose feel when shifting.

Competitive Set

Nissan Cube: The cube offers more interior space, gets slightly better fuel mileage and has better interior quality and build. The Cube's styling, however, is definitely polarizing, and it doesn't offer as many features for the money.

Scion xB: The xB may be a bit bland compared to the Soul, but its build quality is above reproach -- as is its resale and reliability ratings. The xB offers much more interior space, a better ride and better manual transmission. However, the xB can't match the Soul for features and standard equipment, and its standard warranty is only 3 years/36,000 miles.

Honda Fit: The Fit is the odd man out here, but its boxy shape and 5-door configuration make it a viable option. Its fuel economy, resale and reliability ratings are better than the Soul's, and it can be outfitted with navigation -- a feature not offered by Kia.

AutoTrader Recommendations

We think the extra power afforded by the 2012 upgrade is worth the extra money. A nice Soul (+) or (!) would be our choice, as we prefer the 2.0-liter engine to the base model's 1.6-liter unit. Avoid the 18-in wheels, as they make the car's ride harsh. But do try to get one with the cool upgraded audio. The only problem we see is deciding on which color best suits you.

author photo

Joe Tralongo started in the industry writing competitive comparison books for a number of manufacturers, before moving on in 2000 to become a freelance automotive journalist. He's well regarded for his keen eye for detail, as well as his ability to communicate complex mechanical terminology into user-friendly explanations.

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