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2010 Kia Soul Review

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2010 Kia Soul

The car is the 2010 Kia Soul. Designed in Southern California, it's the Korean automaker's entry in the "urban" car niche, and like its competitors from Scion and Nissan, the Soul is the box it came in, all the better to fit friends and stuff in style. A now-conventional transverse front-engine, front-wheel drive car, it's offered in Soul, Soul+ (Plus), Soul! (Exclaim), and Soul Sport trim levels. The base Soul comes with a 1.6-liter, 122-horsepower four-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission only, while all others are equipped with a 2.0-liter, 142-hp four and a choice between five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions.

Kia is not the most-recognized auto brand, but the Soul should improve that more than a bit. If the Soul is a touch less radical in style than its competitors, that means a wider audience. You don't have to be a devotee of the latest urban fashions and music to appreciate the Soul. It'll work just as well for the Otis Redding generation. I suspect a few years ago, the Soul would have been a crossover placed below the Sportage in the Kia lineup, and more car-like. Exchange "sport-cute" crossover styling for "urban cute" and the result is Soul. Analysis from another viewpoint: a four-door hatchback for people who don't know that's they'd love a hatchback until it's called something else. Ditto as a small wagon - and Americans love wagons as long as they aren't called wagons.

Ultimately, what it's called means less than how it works, and after a week with a Soul+ with the automatic, likely the most popular version, I can say that it works very well indeed. Underneath the eye-catching styling is a comfortable, functional not-so-small car with space galore, especially for passengers. With the 2.0-liter engine it was never at a loss in any traffic situation I came across, and still returned a decent 26 mpg for the week. Worried about fit and finish in a Korean car? Don't be - this one looks to be put together as well or better as any similarly-priced car from Japan. Need space but don't want a crossover? Get Soul...

APPEARANCE: This is a happy car. It's an unintimidating car. The Soul is cute, but not in a way that will quickly become annoying, and it looks like fun. It got plenty of looks and smiles during my week. I suspect it will even look fresh several years from now. Like many Asian and European cars besides its obvious immediate competitors, the Soul is a product of a "build up, not out" strategy that works just as well on American roads, crowded or not. It's tall two-box design with the corners of the boxes rounded, with interesting, even humorous, lines. The front is dominated by large headlight "eyes", a small chrome-trimmed "mouth" grille, and a large, thick bumper that melds into the wheel arches and lower side trim in a way that is more "sport" than "sport-utility" but in a humorous, not serious, way. The dark plastic-clad center section of the front bumper gives the Soul a bit of a bulldog look, but more puppy than guard dog. The corrugated roof panel might be a little SUV-ish; it also adds structural rigidity. While the thick D-pillars do impede rear vision from the inside, the external mirrors bring it back. And the vertical taillights make the Soul as distinctive at night as it is during the daytime.

COMFORT: There's style aplenty inside of the Soul, but it doesn't impede function. Like the outside, the interior is an interesting mix of sport-compact and sport-utility. Colors and trim vary by trim level, but except for leather on the steering wheel rim and shift knob in the Sport, materials are synthetic and colors dark or mixed. The sport seats in my Soul+ had "Soul" in script on the back seating surface that looked like the Recaro script on the classic 70s Recaros - which the seats resemble in style. The projecting center stack is an SUVish touch, but a pleasantly functional one as it places the audio and climate controls closer to the front passengers. The shift knob is on the console, in the normal position. The three-ring instrument cluster is brightly back-lit, for easy visibility, and a tilt-adjustable steering wheel is standard in all. So are power windows and door locks, with remote entry in the Plus and above. There are storage pockets and bottle holders in all doors, a small storage compartment at the top of the center stack, and if the console box seems small, the glove box is huge - and double-layered. An AM/FM/Sirius/CD audio system with USB and auxiliary inputs (at the bottom of the stack, between two power points) is standard in all models, even the base Soul. My test car had the "Audio Upgrade Package", with a center speaker, subwoofer, and external amplifier. This is standard in the ! and Sport. The rear seat is pleasantly spacious, especially in headroom, and a nearly-flat floor makes the center position more comfortable. Luggage for five might be a problem with the rear seat up and people who don't understand the "travel light" concept; with the 60/40 rear seat two people will not have any difficulties. A convenient compartmented storage space beneath the rear load floor is big enough for small laptops, purses, or camera bags.

SAFETY: All 2010 Kia Souls have four-wheel antilock disc brakes, Electronic Stability Control, a tire-pressure monitoring system, front active headrests, and dual advanced front, seat-mounted front side, and full-length side-curtain air bags.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Kia has a tradition of chassis refinement above and beyond the price class in its cars, and that continues with the Soul. While the suspension architecture is class-standard with independent MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam rear axle, spring and damping rates are matched well, and the dampers feel like high-quality components, not something that immediately needs to be tossed in favor of an aftermarket upgrade. My test Plus had the standard calibration, which is biased toward comfort but still allows quick, sporty driving.

PERFORMANCE: The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine used in all but the base Soul is more than merely adequate for everyday use, even when assertive merging is necessary. With dual overhead cams, 16 valves, and continuously-variable cam phasing, it makes 142 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 137 lb-ft of torque at 4600 rpm, with useable power just about anywhere in the rev range. This allows the optional four-speed automatic to work perfectly well, although the five-speed manual would be the sportier choice. Fuel economy, at an EPA 24/30 and observed 26 mpg overall, is reasonable, although the smallish 12.7-gallon fuel tank could limit range between stops on long trips.

CONCLUSIONS: Kia's got Soul! and +... and it's an entertaining and useful car.


2010 Kia Soul+

Base Price			$ 15,900
Price As Tested			$ 17,890
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 16-valve inline
				 4-cylinder with continuously variable
				 cam phasing
Engine Size			2.0 liters / 121 cu. in.
Horsepower			142 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			137 @ 4600 rpm
Transmission			4-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length		100.4 in. / 161.6 in.
Curb Weight			2820 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		19.9
Fuel Capacity			12.7 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P205/55R16 89H Hankook Optima H426
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, ESC standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  semi-independent torsion beam axle
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		24 / 30 / 26
0 to 60 mph				8.0  sec

Audio Upgrade Package - includes:
  center speaker, subwoofer, external amplifier	$ 400
Power sunroof and fog lights				$ 800
Carpeted floor mats					$  95
Destination charge					$ 695