It's easy to take cheap shots at an outgoing model once its successor arrives, so we'll try to avoid this trap in assessing the redesigned 2014 Kia Soul. Nonetheless, the previous Soul really was a disappointing car in some respects, despite its popularity among both car shoppers and rappers in hamster costumes. The funky styling, of course, was a big plus, giving the Soul an aesthetic edge over rival hatchbacks such as the Honda Fit. But the interior always struck us as cheap and basic, even with the upgrades for 2012, and the firm, noisy ride was a letdown, as well.
In short, looking at the original Soul was generally more satisfying than driving it. But that's no cheap shot, because Kia evidently agreed. For the 2014 Soul, they've left well enough alone with the styling. You'll be hard-pressed to tell new from old at a glance (watch for the revised headlights). The all-new cabin, however, is a revolutionary step forward, and the driving character is much more refined.
Suffice it to say, as we guided our 2014 Soul through San Diego County's hills and plains at Kia's introductory press event, we found ourselves wondering whether a turbocharged version -- it's rumored to be in the works -- might give the premium Volkswagen Tiguan crossover something to worry about. That should give you an idea of just how much the second-generation Soul has improved.
The 2014 Soul's interior is just plain nice. Not nice for a Kia, or nice for an affordable runabout. Nice, period. We dare you to compare it with the Tiguan or the related Golf hatchback and show us where Kia comes up short. The dashboard is slathered with the supple, richly grained material that used to be a German exclusive, and the tasteful stitching on the dashboard serves as a welcome complement. We were also struck by the silver-trimmed dash-top corner speakers, which poke slightly upward in a manner that recalls Audi's power-actuated Bang & Olufsen tweeters. And if you're concerned that the Soul has lost its, er, soul, we should add that, yes, you can still specify door speaker surrounds that blink colorfully in time with the beat.
Features and Technology
If you're going to buy a 2014 Soul, do yourself a favor and get the Audio package, because it includes an 8-inch touchscreen that's one of the best displays in any affordable car. The colors are brilliant, the resolution is crisp and the interface is iPad-intuitive. This touchscreen alone scores major "premium points" for the Soul. You also can get Kia's UVO voice-command functionality, an enormous panoramic sunroof, upgraded Infinity sound and automatic climate control. But if you're feeling frugal, even the base Soul comes with power accessories, air conditioning, Bluetooth and iPod/USB connectivity.
The new Soul's engines basically carry over from last year, so you can choose from two 4-cylinder designs: a 1.6-liter rated at 130 horsepower and 118 lb-ft of torque (base model only) or a 2.0-liter that makes 164 hp and 151 lb-ft. We were only able to sample the latter in San Diego. Frankly, it's hardly a quick car, even with the 2.0's extra punch and the standard 6-speed automatic transmission's responsive shifts. An available turbo upgrade -- for example, the 1.6-liter from the Veloster Turbo -- would be most welcome, and it would incidentally make the Soul a legitimate rival to a wide range of pricier models. The Environmental Protection Agency had not announced fuel economy as of this writing, but based on last year's numbers, you can expect a maximum of around 30 miles per gallon.
On the road, it's the Soul's newfound peacefulness that leaves the strongest impression. Where the outgoing model was loud and bouncy, the new one remains quiet and composed, soaking up road imperfections and holding road and wind noise to a minimum. Indeed, the 2014 Soul isn't just more refined than its predecessor in this regard; it also beats out a Kia Forte sedan we drove recently. Provided you're pleased with what's under the hood, a test-drive in the 2014 Soul is bound to leave a favorable impression.
Much more than just a styling exercise, the redesigned 2014 Kia Soul is one of the most pleasant affordable hatchbacks we've driven. Kia generally fixed what needed fixing, and you're going to like the result.