2013 Kia Soul ! Review By Carey Russ


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 Kia Soul!


DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2013 Kia Soul!

Has the car-as-box fad run its course? Maybe for some manufacturers, but definitely not for Kia. The Soul, it's entry in the class, is one of its best-selling vehicles.

It's not hard to see why. Small enough on the outside for easy maneuverability in crowded streets and parking spaces but roomy enough inside for four or even five people and stuff, in multiple combinations, the Soul is a fine example of space efficiency -- with style. It's still fun to look at, and still very functional. New engines and transmissions last year improved both performance and efficiency, and there were interior and safety equipment upgrades as well. Unsurprisingly, changes for 2013 are minor, with new badging, a dark chrome accent ring around the grille, Bluetooth and steering wheel-mounted audio controls on the Base manual model (meaning that all trim levels are so-equipped, even the least-expensive), and variations in color choices.

Which means that the Soul is as it always has been, but with improvements to keep it current. Its soul is unchanged, to use the obvious pun‚€¶ Trim levels are the familiar Base, + (Plus) and ! (Exclaim). Base means a 1.6-liter, 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine with manual or automatic transmission, both six-speed. Upgrade to + and you get a 2.0-liter engine with 164 hp, either transmission, and more option possibilities. ! means top of the line, automatic-only, and the possibility of electronic infotainment and safety goodies that used to be strictly for the luxury class.

And ! with Premium Package means press fleet spec, with pushbutton start-stop and lock/unlock, leather seats, heated in front, automatic climate control, and navigation with SiriusXM Traffic (all models have SiriusXM satellite radio standard). So equipped, it's more comfortable than the average compact hatchback or crossover while still being reasonably priced ($23,575 for this, base Base 6M starts at $15,175 including a $775 destination charge) and having only a moderate appetite for regular unleaded at 25 mpg overall. There is the logical appeal; the emotional appeal comes from its style and character.

Is the Soul a five-door hatchback or a mini-crossover? Kia calls it an "urban crossover"‚€¶ anything to circumvent the dreaded "hatchback"! Ground clearance is normal car, 6.5 inches, and there is no "rugged outdoors" styling, so I'd call it a hatchback. The people to whom the word "hatchback" has negative connotations aren't the Soul's intended market anyway. Call it what you want, it works. And well.

APPEARANCE: Kia wasn't going to mess with a good thing, so the Soul's refresh last year was to details only. Meaning minor changes to bumper fascias, headlights, taillights, mirrors, and wheels. The Soul ! got the most change, with projector headlights with LED accent lights and LED taillights, which do give an upscale presence. The Soul is arguably the best implementation of the "box it came in" school of design, with its tall stance visually lowered by the bulging fenders and lower body sides. There's a definite face at the front, from the large, bright headlights, small upper grille and hood badge, with the dark trim around the lower intake acting as a goatee. It's pugnacious but cute, and not annoyingly cute. Character lines that rise toward the rear, and the slight slope of the roof give a jaunty appearance. It still looks fresh, and the styling should wear well.

COMFORT: "Fun" is part of "function", and there's plenty of both, plus space galore, inside the Soul. Inside is where the Soul is the most like a comparably-sized crossover, thanks to the height. It is as visually interesting inside as out, with a variety of shapes and materials and even, in the !, color-changing rings of light around the speakers in the doors. It's also completely functional, with no lack of head and leg room, even in the rear seat, and a good amount of storage even with the 60/40 rear seat in place. Brightly-backlit instruments are visible in all lighting, and windshield glare is a non-issue. The front seats are better than the norm for the class, and driver's cushion height and the tilt-and-telescope steering wheel (all manual) are bonuses that add to both comfort and safety. All models have connections for external audio players by jack or USB, with AM/FM/SiriusXM radio, CD, and MP3CD capability. Higher-spec models get a rear-view camera. There is no shortage of storage, with pockets with bottle holders in all doors, a huge glovebox, moderate console box, and other small spaces. There is even a bit of compartmented space under the rear load floor. Under that, in my test car, was a fix-a-flat inflation kit but there is space for a spare tire, which would be a much better solution.

SAFETY: All Soul models have active front headrests, seat-mounted front side, and full-length head curtain airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, hill-start assist, vehicle stability management, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. The unibody structure features a central safety cage with front and rear crumple zones and side-impact door beams.

RIDE AND HANDLING: It's not a sports car, nor is it meant to be, and the high stance and center of gravity emphasize that. But that shouldn't be a problem, as the Soul is more about style and space than high performance. Its MacPherson strut front, torsion beam axle rear suspension is typical for the compact sedan and hatchback classes and takes up minimal cabin space. It's tuned for comfort, so moderately soft but well-damped. Electrically-assisted power steering means light but not too light steering effort, and the Soul's compact size and short overhangs mean easy parking.

PERFORMANCE: You were expecting hamsters on a wheel? The 2.0-liter engine found in the + and ! is much better than that, with 164 horsepower (at 6500 rpm) and 148 lb-ft of torque (at 4800 rpm). Continuously-variable phasing on both the intake and exhaust camshafts means good low- and mid-range torque and improved fuel efficiency. The six-speed transmission further improves both economy and performance with lower low gears for acceleration, especially at the low and moderate speeds common in city driving and commuting, and a high overdrive for highway economy. It shifts smoothly and quickly, and the Soul has no problem keeping up with traffic or merging into highway traffic. As is increasingly common, there is an "Eco" mode that remaps the electronic throttle response to require more foot travel for acceleration. So it also improves fuel economy a bit. I use that most of the time, and turn it off when maximum acceleration is necessary. EPA mileage estimates are 23 mpg city, 28 highway and 25 overall. With a mix of both I got 25 mpg.

CONCLUSIONS: The Kia Soul continues as a unique solution to mobile space and visual fun.

SPECIFICATIONS
2013 Kia Soul!

Base Price			$ 19,900
Price As Tested			$ 23,575
Engine Type			aluminum alloy DOHC 16-valve inline
				 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing
				 on both cams
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower			164 @ 6500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			148 @ 4800 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		100.4 in. / 162.2 in.
Curb Weight			2778 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		16.9
Fuel Capacity			12.7 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P235/45R18 94V Hankook Optimo H426
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson struts /
				  semi-independent torsion beam axle
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		23 / 28 / 25
0 to 60 mph				8.0  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Premium Package - includes:
  navigation with Sirius Traffic, pushbutton start/stop
  with Smart Key, leather seat trim, heated front seats,
  automatic climate control				$ 2,500
Rear Bumper Applique					$    75
Cargo Net						$    50
Electrochromic Mirror with Compass			$   275
Destination Charge					$   775

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