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2014 Kia Soul Long-Ride Review By Steve Purdy

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2014 Kia Soul

Road Trip Review
By Steve Purdy
Michigan Bureau

Road therapy for this reporter is a long solitary drive – the longer the better. One opportunity that presents itself nearly every year is the chance to cover the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance in Northeast Florida, about 20 minutes from Jacksonville - about a 19-hour drive each way. I look forward to it with sweet anticipation.

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If I could choose a vehicle for this jaunt it would be difficult with so many wonderful cars and trucks available. So, I left myself to the mercy of fate to see what car I would be scheduled to review that week. A couple years ago it was a big, tough Ford F-250 Super Duty Diesel, which turned out to be an excellent ride. This year I happened to be at the other end of the vehicular spectrum as I was scheduled into a refreshed Kia Soul. Some might think it a bit small to be comfortable for that long drive but, having had considerable experience with the last generation Soul, I was not worried.

Spoiler alert: read to the end of the review and you’ll find I liked it a lot.

The compact, front-wheel drive Soul! (the exclamation point is part of its name, awkwardly enough, and is also known as “Exclaim”) is a boxy little crossover, or wagon, or whatever you want to call it, that exudes a fun personality. With its own quirky style, inside and out, it stands out from a crowd of small hatchbacks and utilitarian economy cars. Our test car – our road therapy device, if you will – is a loaded Soul in a vibrant mustard yellow (they call it Solar Yellow) in which I’ll be happy to spend many soothing hours. I’ll do more than 2,500 miles in about six days.

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Let’s begin with content. Our loaded test car has full leather seating and trim, Infinity premium audio system, navigation/infotainment/apps system with 8-inch screen, power driver’s seat, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, remote keyless entry, push button start, adjustable rear seat, cargo cover, sporty 18-inch alloy wheels, LED lighting, automatic projector beam headlights, automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof with power shade, heated power folding mirrors and a bunch of other stuff. The bottom line on the sticker, including a $795 destination charge, is just over 26 grand. Soul! starts at about 20 grand and the Base Wagon starts at just $15,300. Check the content on the lesser models and you’ll find them very well equipped compared to the competition.

The quirky but cool style referenced above is one of the elements of this car that has always drawn me. Introduced less than five years ago it benefitted from an update just last year (fall of 2013). The styling makes me think of Japanese anime, sort of a functional cuteness unique to the Asian brands. Creative and unexpected details mitigate the boxy shape of the car. An improved front fascia shows a larger, gaping lower grille with the characteristic Kia beaver-tooth upper grille. Large, bold LED taillights reach to the roof and frame the broad hatch glass. Bulging wheel arches and wheels set far out to the corners of the car provide a dynamic stance. And, just as important as some of the styling details, the Soul comes in lots of bold, bright colors.

The fun, funky styling and design continues inside. Towers on either side of the dash house speakers and vents. A small stitched leather brow covers the instrument cluster. The steering wheel controls, stalks and the center stack are a bit cluttered but the main functions were easily managed. For our long drive the comfort of the driver’s seat was most important and I found it considerably better than most. I’ve suffered many pains in my oversize arse in much more luxurious cars, but this one gave me no reason to complain.

A 1.6-liter engine comes in the lesser Soul models but our test car was equipped with the 2.0-liter, direct-injected, normally-aspirated, 4-cylinder making 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. That’s good for a decent 8.7-second zero to 60 time according to independent Edmunds testing. It’s also good for 31-mpg on the highway, 23 in the city and 26 combined according to the EPA. I managed about 28-mpg for all those miles I drove, mostly highway, of course, and mostly at extra-legal speeds in order to stay with traffic.

The Soul has lots of airbags and chassis dynamics contributing to its safety ratings. In fact, the IIHS grants it their highest rating on all the crash tests including the new one that caught a lot of small cars, the “moderate-overlap” test.

Partly because of its upright character I found the Soul’s ingress and egress easy with no bumping of my head or nudging off of my hat. As noted earlier the driver’s seat caused not a wisp of consternation even after hours and hours of cruising. The style, design, content, quality of materials, fit and finish all had me feeling I was in a much more expensive car. Power, ride, handling and overall performance left nothing to complain about either.

So, what should this conscientious reviewer do when a car pleases him so well? I suppose recommend it, but certainly, do your homework. If you like faster, sportier handling you may prefer the Focus. If you want to maximize fuel mileage Sonic or one of the mild hybrids might be better. If you are uncomfortable with the youthful styling of this one you might opt for a Versa or Corolla. You have many choices.

As an auto writer I’m often asked for recommendations and I’ve suggested the first generation Soul often. It’s partly about content, partly character, certainly value is in the equation, but versatility and character may be its forte as evidenced by the variety of folks to whom I’ve recommended the car – old, young, frugal, extravagant, big or small.

The newly revised Soul is just a bit better than generation one. It gets two thumbs up from me.

ęSteve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved