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HEELS ON WHEELS: 2010 Kia Soul+ Review

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By Katrina Ramser
San Francisco Bureau
The Auto Channel

These boxy mobile devise alternatives that offer more space than comparably priced sedans are popping up everywhere. Beginning with the Honda Element and Scion xB, count the Nissan Cube and the Kia Soul as the newest squares on the block for the 2010 model year.

I drove a 2010 Kia Soul in the "+" trim with the 142-horsepower 2.0-liter CVVT 16-valve 4-cylinder engine. The "+" is a step up from base trim offering 16-inch tires, keyless remote, steering wheel audio controls, Bluetooth and body color exterior parts. My test vehicle also had a $400 upgraded 9-speaker system and an $800 moonroof for a total price of $17,890. Like the Beetle's flower vase and the Cube's shag dash topper, the Soul's quirky trademark are front side speakers that pulsate a light in rhythm with the base. Also, the "Soul" logo is weaved into the driver and passenger seat cover.

Unlike the competition, the Soul offers a Sport or sport-tuned suspension trim. Also available is a smaller or second 122-horsepower 1.6-liter engine. A 5-speed manual transmission is standard, but a 4-speed automatic transmission with overdrive is offered for an additional $1,000.


Stylish But Comfortable Results: The trims are kind of boring, but Kia offers dozens of accessory ideas, such as a dual chrome exhaust or "headlamp eyeliner." The Sport adds exterior fascia inserts, spoiler, sport-tuned suspension and metal pedals. Unlike the Cube, the seats are not oversized and you feel pretty secure. You've got better head clearance on the open liftgate than the Scion xB. The Soul's second row has more legroom than a MINI Cooper (as opposed to the Clubman). However, the Scion xB has 70 cubic feet with the seats down compared to the Soul's 53.4 cu/ft.

Reliability & Safety Factor: This is a new car for Kia. The engineers did a nice job with the design or the aerodynamic exterior tilt. There is a nice list of safety standards on all trims: dual front seat and full side airbags; anti-lock brakes with brake assist; ESC; electronic-brake distribution; traction control; tires pressure monitoring; front and rear crumple zones; side impact beams; LATCH; front three-point seat belts with force imitators. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave the Souls “good” ratings – the highest achievable – in frontal, side and rear impact crash safety tests.

Cost Issues: A Soul once decked out with the Sport trim is still about $10k less than a fully loaded Scion xB, or around $18,895. The base price is a ridiculous $13,300, but comes with just standard air conditioning, 15-inch tires, power windows and locks, 4-speaker CD/MP3/Satelite audio system, and a digital clock with temperature display.

Activity & Performance Ability: My ride did have the optional 4-speed automatic with CVVT or Continuous Variable Value Timing, which is a lot like the Cube's automatic Xtronic CVT – a transaxle that doesn't shift from gear-to-gear with all the traditional jerking but are rather layered into one another for a smoother transition or sling forward. I found that while the xB gives off a higher sense of gravity and thus overall grip, its lowered exterior build or specifically the front fascia scrapes way too easily. This doesn't happen with the Soul.

The Green Concern: The Soul's 1.6-liter engine gets what both the 4-cylinders for the MINI Cooper's 118-horsepower 1.6-liter engine and the Nissan Cube's 122-horespower 1.8-liter engine get – an average of 28/29-mpg. The Scion xB retains an estimated 25-mpg but with a much bigger 158-horsepower 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine. Overall, the Soul's slightly smaller 2.0-liter engine gets 26-mpg.

The Kia Soul is probably the best square deal out there – pit it against cheaper sedans like the Kia Forte and Mazda3, and it keeps winning as far as price and roominess are concerned. However, the Scion xB does pull ahead if you're looking for a better audio system and more cargo space.

2009 Katrina Ramser