At first glance, the redesigned 2014 Kia Soul looks a lot like last year's model. Remember the "doo, dah, dippity" hamsters from Kia's popular commercials? We doubt even they could tell the difference without squinting. Although Kia tends to push the envelope with its new models, this one initially appears to be more of an evolutionary effort.
But then you hop into the driver seat and there's suddenly a revolution afoot. Kia didn't need to mess with the Soul's funky shape, you see -- it was the rest of the car that required attention. Accordingly, the chintzy interior materials have been banished in favor of supple, high-quality surfaces, and the ride quality has gone from firm and noisy to gentle and hushed. The 2014 Soul is still a head-turner, to be sure, but it also cultivates a premium vibe for those inside, and that's sure to broaden its appeal.
The new Soul additionally offers an expanded cargo bay with a crossover-like 61 cu ft of maximum space, and its technology options have improved, as well, including a brilliant 8-inch touchscreen with navigation. Don't be fooled by its familiar form, because the 2014 Soul is no longer just a cool-looking economy car. It's one of the best affordable hatchbacks you can buy.
What's New for 2014?
The 2014 Soul is fully redesigned.
What We Like
Premium interior look and feel; refined ride; ample cargo space; rich feature content; distinctive styling; still a great value
What We Don't
Mediocre fuel economy; uninspired acceleration
The base Soul is powered by a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 130 horsepower and 118 lb-ft of torque. Whether you choose the standard 6-speed manual transmission or the optional 6-speed automatic, the Environmental Protection Agency says you'll get the same 24 miles per gallon city/30 mpg hwy.
The other Soul models feature a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder that generates 164 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. The 6-speed automatic is the only transmission offered. Fuel economy is essentially unchanged at 23 mpg city/31 mpg hwy.
Standard Features & Options
The 2014 Kia Soul 5-passenger hatchback is offered in base, Plus (+) and Exclaim (!) trim levels.
The base Soul ($15,495) starts with the manual transmission, the smaller 1.6-liter engine, 16-in steel wheels, power accessories, variable intermittent wipers, cloth upholstery, a height-adjustable driver seat, a tilt-telescopic steering wheel, driver-selectable steering feel, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, a trip computer, manual air conditioning and a 6-speaker audio system with satellite radio and USB and auxiliary audio jacks.
The Soul Plus ($18,995) adds the automatic transmission, the larger 2.0-liter engine, 17-in alloy wheels, turn-signal indicators on the exterior mirrors, cruise control, keyless entry, a front center console with an armrest, a rear center armrest with cup holders and 12-volt power outlets in the cargo area (the base model only has them in the main cabin).
The Soul Exclaim ($21,095) boasts 18-in alloy wheels, LED running lights and taillights, fog lights, automatic headlights, power-folding exterior mirrors, UVO voice-command functionality, a rearview camera, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a refrigerated glove compartment, a 10-way power driver seat and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
Options on the base model include the automatic transmission, automatic engine stop/start, 16-in alloy wheels, cruise control, keyless entry and the rear center armrest with cup holders.
The Plus model offers the UVO eServices package (automatic headlights, voice-command functionality and a rearview camera), the action-packed Audio package (leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, upgraded dashboard and door trim, automatic climate control, a navigation system with an 8-in touchscreen and an Infinity sound system with a subwoofer and pulsating speaker illumination) and the Primo package (panoramic sunroof, fog lights, keyless entry with push-button start, a heated steering wheel, a 10-way power driver seat, heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats and leather upholstery).
Note that the Plus can also be equipped with the ECO package (automatic engine stop/start and smaller 16-in alloy wheels with low-rolling-resistance tires), but only if you forego the three packages described above.
The Exclaim, meanwhile, is eligible for the Sun and Sound package (panoramic sunroof, navigation with touchscreen, Infinity audio, speaker illumination and automatic climate control) as well as the memorably named Whole Shabang package (xenon low-beam headlights with auto leveling, LED running lights, keyless entry with push-button start, an upgraded 4.3-in color driver information screen, a heated steering wheel, heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats and leather upholstery).
The 2014 Soul comes standard with stability control, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, height-adjustable front seat belts and six airbags (front, front side, full-length side curtain).
The government had not crash-tested the Soul as of this writing, but the independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the Soul its highest rating of Good in all applicable crash-test categories.
Behind the Wheel
The 2014 Soul's refinement on the road is a revelation. Previously, we thought of the Soul as just an economy car with a funky wrapper, but this redesigned model is actually a respectable high-speed cruiser, remaining quiet and composed in the fast lane. The suspension's compliance over bumps is likewise greatly improved, ranking up there with the best at this price -- even with the Exclaim model's low-profile 18-in tires. We find the 3-level adjustable steering gimmicky, but it's nice that Kia gives you the option.
Given these great strides in driving dynamics, we're disappointed in what's under the hood. The base 1.6-liter engine is weaker than the Kia Rio subcompact's similar unit for some reason, and it delivers meager acceleration in the larger Soul. As for the 2.0-liter engine, Kia trumpets its direct-injection technology and improved low-end torque, but it still feels soft, and it sends a fair amount of racket into the otherwise hushed cabin at full throttle.
What's more, the Soul's maximum of 31 mpg is unimpressive by current standards. Expect progress before long, perhaps including an optional turbocharged engine with superior power and fuel economy.
Other Cars to Consider
Honda Fit -- The Fit's amazingly capacious interior is great for hauling stuff, and it gets better fuel economy, to boot. Its loud, chintzy interior pales in comparison, however.
Mazda CX-5 -- If you're looking at a Soul Plus or Exclaim with some options, stop by your Mazda dealer and see if there's a CX-5 for about the same price. We really like the Mazda's mix of style, performance, space and efficiency.
Toyota Prius -- You might not think of the Soul and Prius as rivals, but the Prius is likewise a roomy hatchback that's not too expensive, and it offers the added benefit of incredible fuel economy.
The Exclaim's Whole Shabang package is tempting, but it results in a pricey Soul, so we suggest looking at the Plus model with the Audio package. The UVO eServices package is part of the deal, as well, so you get voice-command functions, the big touchscreen with navigation, Infinity sound, upgraded interior trim and automatic climate control, all for about $21,000.