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2010 Kia Soul !: The kooky box that's almost perfect

Posted by Clifford Atiyeh  May 5, 2009 01:08 PM

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KiaSoul-side-BU.jpgThe Soul takes a break along the Charles River "beach" at Boston University. (All photos: Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com)

It’s quite hard these days for any automaker to elicit long, head-cocked stares at a boxy compact. Honda started the kooky look with the 2003 Element, an SUV-like square with suicide doors and an interior floor that could literally be hosed down. A year later, Toyota brought over one of its Japanese-market subcompacts and labeled it the Scion xB, a supposedly youth-oriented toaster with gobs of headroom. Not to be outdone, Ford stretched the idea into a seven-passenger crossover last year, replete with a glass-topped white-painted roof, huge wheels, and enough ruler-straight lines to make a geometry teacher proud.

While the Flex is still gushing from its 2008 debut, the Element and xB have become so mainstream they hardly get second glances any more. But the 2010 Nissan Cube and Kia Soul are adding more punch to the Asian storage bin category, and while we can’t vouch yet for the Cube, the Soul! (the exclamation is a trim level) was different enough to have Bostonians pointing and shouting at it.

Standing on the Kia’s door sills as I snapped photos through the sunroof of the glowing red interior – and the dozens of bright LEDs in the door speakers – I heard a kid yell “gay car!” Think about that, Mr. Boston College student. If the Soul were gay, wouldn’t Gaywheels.com stop lambasting Kia for denying domestic partner benefits to its gay employees? (Kia's PR head confirmed the company offers them, but Gaywheels.com is adamant that they're only for California). That's a tough call, but stepping further into this delusional, hormonal undergrad psyche reveals this: Girls are very curious about cars with big feet, and the Soul’s attractive 18-inchers couldn’t be more obvious.

KiaSoul-wheel.jpg

For people who've graduated and actually have jobs, a car’s sexual orientation isn't on their shopping lists. What’s relevant about those big wheels and 225-width Hankook tires are their crisp, stable, no-slop handling. Combined with precise steering and minimal dead on-center feel, the Soul drives as refreshing as it looks. Granted, the body style isn’t out to win a beauty contest, what with cartoonish headlights and side glass that angles downward toward the D-pillar. But it’s not a copycat look, either, and the five-spoke rims give a no-nonsense attitude pushed to the edges on all corners.

The suspension never punishes, nor does chassis shake ever get in the picture. Ride comfort is surprisingly smooth, but the trade-off is a fair amount of body lean. The top-level “sport” offers a firmer setup that seems more in character with the aggressive body, but after driving the Honda Fit Sport, I don’t think I could stomach a bone-jarring commute every day. The 10 percent of the time you’re on twisty roads in the Boston area just isn’t worth the headache.

The engine, however, could stand a tune-up from Honda. On paper, the 2.0 liter, 142 horsepower four-cylinder sounds sufficient for 2,820 pounds. At moderate speeds, it is, in addition to being quiet and vibration-free. But the engine gets coarse past 3,000 r.p.m., and it really isn’t eager to go past that. When pushed, the four-speed automatic reveals wide ratio gaps that sap the torque out of the engine. The peaky power curves aren’t the problem, and more output isn’t needed. What the Soul deserves are faster revs and an overhaul on the gears – perhaps another one is all that’s needed. A manual mode would also be a welcome effort.

The two-tone dashboard was tastefully matched to our car’s Dune off-white paint, probably less so if had been colored Alien lime green or Molten bright red. The funky weave pattern on the headrests and the top of the front seats, not so much. Panel gaps are tight, and textured surfaces on the doors, steering wheel, and dash have a quality feel worthy of more expensive cars.

Ergonomics are first rate, too. The instrument panel is angled high for easy reach of the well-spaced buttons and knobs, and everything is labeled and positioned right where you’d expect. No door lock switches on the center console like on pricey Jaguars and BMWs, or digital displays crammed with too many readouts. There’s nothing to figure out, and that alone deserves major kudos.

Unfortunately, the back seat isn’t as inviting. The rear doors include large cupholders like up front, but there are no air louvers or power outlets.

KiaSoul-interior-lights.jpg


The 315-watt, 8-speaker audio system comes with iPod, USB, and auxiliary inputs, plus the aforementioned front speaker lights that flash in sync with the beats. They’re distracting while driving – even in the slow-phase “mood” setting – but fun to amuse passengers and passersby. Sound quality gets distorted at higher volumes, but this no-name system has a decent amount of chest-thumping bass. Blast Dr. Dre in the Kia and you’ll get more respect than if you cranked “Still D.R.E.” in an Escalade, which has a weak Bose unit.

Fuel economy was just so-so in our tester, which just had 1,200 miles. Like the Toyota Yaris I recently drove, there’s no trip computer, but after 227 miles of mostly city driving, the Soul returned an estimated 21 to 22 miles per gallon. While not far below the EPA 24/30 rating, it’s an unimpressive number for a car this size, especially since an all-wheel-drive Suzuki SX4 I drove in the snow returned nearly the same numbers.

But in value terms, the Kia is well-positioned among the competition. At $17,900 ($18,595 with destination), this Soul – with Bluetooth, Sirius radio, tilt wheel, power moon roof, and fog lamps – is a better buy than the bare-bones $17,515 Yaris S and about $1,500 less than a comparative Scion xB. There’s a few rough edges on this box, but Kia has delivered a remarkably fresh design, something that couldn’t be said about the Korean company’s offerings even a year ago.

KiaSoul-interior.jpg


KiaSoul-interior-seats.jpg


KiaSoul-wollaston-rear.jpgDark tinted glass and a upright stance make the Soul stand out in Wollaston.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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29 comments so far...
  1. A much much better review... but dude, what is your fascination with "trip computers"??

    Posted by WVW in West Newton May 5, 09 02:52 PM
  1. Based on the review and MPG, I think I'd rather buy their hatchback on 'roids, a.k.a. the Rondo. Ugly as sin, but a nice little package based on my weeklong rental.

    Posted by ZoomZoom May 5, 09 03:35 PM
  1. The new Kia Soul has got to be one of BEST small cars on sale today to really customize your personality into the vehicle.

    The Soul can be configured to be sporty and edgy with the bright colors and red seats and lighting. And as seen in the pics above, the Soul can be made up to have a more adult feel with muted color options and a classic houndstooth appointed seating also in the featured model.

    The styling is definitly polarizing. You either love it or hate it. I've been disappointed with slew of hatchbacks being forced on the public but I really did this Soul.

    For the price and compared with similarly priced vehicles the Soul gives you tons of style for the money. The interior reminds me of the fun and interesting Mini Cooper's with the circle-hub steering wheel and other toyishly styled items.

    Even compared with the new Nissan Cube, the Soul remians the cooler car.

    Car companies take notice at a winner. We might not need MORE hatchbacks but matching the options and ideals of this vehicle would be welcome on other entry levels. The truck concept of this model is hands down perfect, Google it.


    Posted by Andy May 5, 09 04:34 PM
  1. I have a fully loaded Honda Element EX with 4WD, and its been getting 23-27 MPG since mile 1. Paid $20k. I think that's a better deal.

    Posted by Anonymous May 5, 09 06:40 PM
  1. I agree with the college kid....it is very gay. I dont mean that to diaparage anyone...just an expression. It is girly and I would make fun of males who drive it...

    Posted by Carlo May 6, 09 01:44 AM
  1. Awsome car. Im gonna buy one.

    Posted by Lance Leon May 6, 09 08:19 AM
  1. Finally a Globe review with plenty of photos. Also, the author discussed
    performance aspects like handling, power, etc. Keep it up.

    Posted by Dave K. May 6, 09 08:56 AM
  1. i just ordered one!

    Posted by john May 6, 09 10:00 AM
  1. Why does gay mean girlie? Why not just say girlie? And what is wrong with girlie? Why would you make fun of a guy driving it? Maybe you are not confident about your own masculinity, or you wouldn't find it so threatening. My father is a retired Navy SEAL who can look masculine carrying my mother's purse. Hell, he can even prance around with it and a rose in his teeth, and nobody is going to make fun of him, even if he looks girlie. You think he cares?

    Posted by Chase Chiasson May 6, 09 11:37 AM
  1. Good point Chase.

    My summer car is a Miata. I wanted an Alfa Romeo but the Miatas are undeniably reliable and cost of ownership is next to nothing. They are known for being gay cars and girlie. It used to bother me at first but now I love fueling up at the pumps and only paying a little over $10 and getting around 37mpg.

    Same can be said for Mini Coopers. They are just cool and some people just don't like that 'type' of coolness. They like buckin' Broncos and Tahoes. And the rest of us know where we stand on those vehicles.


    Posted by MX-5 Roadster May 6, 09 01:26 PM
  1. andy doens't sound like a korean name.

    Posted by mike May 6, 09 01:48 PM
  1. Hahaha @ Mike. I was expecting a contact number for a Kia salesperson.

    Posted by Ryan May 6, 09 03:02 PM
  1. Another proud moment for this BC alum..

    Posted by drew May 6, 09 05:30 PM
  1. Clifford,

    As a Boston College student, and a gay one at that, who has been thoroughly obsessed with all matters of vehicles practically since I was born... I would just like to let you and everyone else know that the harsh stereotypes of BC students as conservative, xenophobic, racist, and homophobic certainly do not apply to the majority of my classmates.

    On to the Soul... it does definitely have a girly feel to it, kind of like the Scion Xa or even the old Audi TT that pretty much set those cars off-limits to men with any sort of sexual insecurity. Still, I think the Soul has a better hope for becoming accepted by both men and women because of the obviously HUGE potential for customization. No-name stereo system? If I had a Soul I would have that thing out and replaced in less than a week...

    And, of course, there are those 'cute' hamster commercials with some pretty good music... kudos to the Kia marketing/ advertising teams.

    (ps. thank you for actually including pictures)

    Posted by BCEagles2010 May 6, 09 08:33 PM
  1. Looks like a Mini Cooper knock off to me. Mini has a terrific used resale value. I wonder what this will do.

    Posted by Boston-Heather May 6, 09 08:36 PM
  1. The car looks like a toy, however, i'm impressed with the interior and flashing lights. I'm more impressed with clifford's humor.

    Posted by VtmnD May 6, 09 10:13 PM
  1. No, Andy is not a Korean name though it just roughly translates to awesome. LOL

    I've just noticed car companies really stepping up with their sub compact models and I like to voice what makes one model more intersting to the next. Nobody is breaking down the door for a 90's Ford Espire.

    I am looking forward to the Cube's review.

    But if I were to buy new in this catagory, Mazda's MX-2 model would be my choice.

    Oh, wait...these are all Korean. LOL
    But then again there are very few(if any) sub-compacts that aren't Korean or at least from the Orient. Even Chevy's Aveo is a rebadged Daewoo Kalos.

    I love reviewing cars, keep'em coming.

    Posted by Andy May 7, 09 10:14 AM
  1. for that kind of money i'd buy a VW Rabbit- more room, same or better fuel economy, less of an eye-sore (no kids yelling "gay-car" at you) and no distracting BS like flashing speakers that have NO PLACE IN A CAR!!!!!

    Posted by SkinsFanInMaine May 7, 09 10:42 AM
  1. Umm, Andy, I belive it was the Aspire. LOL.

    I'd still roll with a Mini if I had to choose amongst the tiny. Although that's gonna be the most expensive ( and maybe the most fun).

    Posted by boss8120 May 7, 09 03:59 PM
  1. "Umm, Andy, I belive it was the Aspire. LOL. "

    Sorry, its these new dentures. LOL

    I missed the Cube review, its still in the archives. No use in posting if no one will read it right.

    And nobody is calling the Rabbit a "gay car" beacuse nobody realizes its around. It's OK but it's filler, backdrop, static.


    Posted by Andy May 7, 09 04:35 PM
  1. Not impressed. A designer can cut a cars exterior up any which way to look hip BUT look inside and this is just another auto on the road. I think car reviewers and the car hungry public have all lowered the bar on what we should expect from the manufactures. Yes, some of you will buy and gasp for joy but these are the same type of people who think “digital watches are a pretty neat idea”.

    Posted by free d May 10, 09 06:09 PM
  1. Great value price! "Techie" is my name for mine!!! Love it Smart and stylish....

    Posted by Maggie May 11, 09 04:19 PM
  1. Ok, im a black kid from Orlando and idk if its weird or not but KIAs are my favorite and especially the SOUL. im only 13, but thats my future car, the 2011-2012 KIA SOUL.

    Posted by Orlando ninja May 11, 09 07:39 PM
  1. You either like Kias or you don't.

    I'm with Orlando ninja, I do like Kia. I wanted the first generation Kia Optima(2001-02) to be my first car cause I thought it had an adult look and executive style. The price was right and warranty excellent. Even now I find the 1st gens to be the most attractive of that model.

    The Amanti has got to be one of the nicest Kias I've ever been in. Very comfortable and I do like the luxury copy-cat look. At 25, I would want one of those for a sedan.


    Posted by Andy May 12, 09 02:33 PM
  1. own the vehicle..love it!! gets 25 mpg around town..

    Posted by gcfp May 16, 09 09:39 AM
  1. My Mini Cooper Clubman is better looking, gets better mileage (around 31 mostly city) drives tight and has no problems revving up above 3K RPM. Yeah it cost more, but it's got a classic style that this one lacks. I like the commercial with the hamsters though.

    Posted by Mini Me May 18, 09 02:38 PM
  1. Had a Mini Austin Cooper S in the 60's. I love the design of this Soul. Terrific looking! What a style! Good enough for our 55-65mph roads. Ciao Honda CRV, welcome Soul!

    Posted by Didi D. June 14, 09 09:43 PM
  1. very cool car. very nice price. I'm gonna test drive one this weekend.

    Posted by sam August 7, 09 11:54 AM
  1. I own one and I love everything about it..........until I sit in it and have to drive it! It's the most uncomfortable, noisy, and bone jarring car I've ever drove and I'm stuck with it. By the way-I'm in Canada -got the trim with the fancy low profile flower wheels and paid $26,700 cdn for it. I wish they had left off some of the accessories-like the stupid moon lights and paid mor attention to comfort and ride. Then they might have a perfect car.....

    Posted by Win Fuller August 9, 09 06:15 PM
 

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
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AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
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