New Kia Soul adds style and substance

2014 Kia Soul

We’ve always had a fondness for small hatchbacks that pack maximum utility into affordable and fun-to-drive packages. One of the top models in that regard in recent years has been the amenable-yet-quirky Kia Soul. It’s been redesigned for 2014 with added sophistication, yet retains the inherent funkiness that endeared its first generation to a loyal core of buyers.

Accenting its recognizably angular and boxy profile with more aggressive exterior styling, the Soul is bit larger than before, which affords additional passenger room to what was already a generous-sized cabin. As if the car wasn’t distinctive looking enough, a revised exterior color palette includes hot hues like Solar Yellow, Kale Green and Inferno Red.

The Soul’s powertrains carry over from the previous version, albeit with modest improvements, though neither is particularly smooth nor quiet. The base 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine produces a just-sufficient 130 horsepower, though our tester came with the alternately available 2.0-liter version that generates a quicker 164 horses and 151 pound-feet of torque. Fuel economy is rated at 24/30 city/highway with the base engine and 23/31 with the 2.0-liter. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, though it adds little to driving enjoyment. A better choice would be the six-speed automatic that’s optional with the 1.6 and standard with the larger engine.

Kia upgraded the Soul’s steering and suspension systems for 2014, and while it’s still no sports car, it delivers entertaining ride and handling qualities with good feedback to the driver, while still maintaining an acceptably smooth ride. The car comes standard with selectable steering modes (Comfort, Normal and Sport) though we didn’t perceive a significant enough difference between the three settings to warrant any adjustment. All-wheel-drive is still unavailable, but we had no trouble maneuvering the front-drive car in the aftermath of one of many significant snowstorms we experienced this past winter.

A freshened interior benefits from a nicely recast dashboard that makes extensive use of higher quality materials than before for a more-urbane look and feel. The version we tested was especially handsome inside with leather upholstery, cleverly cast LED mood lighting and high-gloss piano-black trim pieces on the center console and dashboard.

Rear seat headroom and legroom are generous enough to accommodate four bona fide adults in comfort, and unlike many autos these days the Soul is easy for six-footers to enter and exit without suffering scraped heads, given its tall and reasonably horizontal roofline. While cargo space remains tight with the rear seats in their upright position, its capacity swells to a maximum 61.3 cu. ft. with the seatbacks folded flat.

Kia’s “UVO” infotainment system with smartphone connectivity is optional and employs an eight-inch dashboard-mounted touchscreen, somewhat clumsy voice commands and handier steering wheel-mounted buttons. It’s easier to master than most such systems and benefits from standard analog tactile controls for radio tuning/volume and the climate control system.

The Soul comes well equipped even in its base version, with heated outside mirrors, a telescoping steering wheel and a six-speaker audio array with a Bluetooth hands-free mobile phone interface and satellite radio. Beyond that the car can be loaded with luxury-segment features including front heated and ventilated seats, heated rear seats and a heated steering wheel for four-season comfort, and assorted amenities including a cooled glove box, push-button start, navigation system and a 350-watt Infinity audio array.

As with other Kia models, the Soul comes with one of the most generous warranties in the business, with 5-years/60,000 miles comprehensive coverage and 10-years/100,000 miles powertrain protection.

Starting at an affordable $14,900 (not including a $795 destination charge), the 2014 Kia Soul can nonetheless get costly quickly, with a full loaded top model priced at well over $25,000. That amount of money could easily buy a larger and more powerful – perhaps not as opulently equipped – midsize sedan, including Kia’s own Optima.

© CTW Features