When the Honda Element debuted in 2001 it generated immediate fans and detractors with its auto industry shocker — a box on wheels. But more than a decade later, with the influx of vehicles like the Scion xB, Nissan Cube and Kia Soul, the Element has morphed into the mainstream. The Soul, meanwhile, has assumed the front-runner’s perch in the car-in-a-box mold.
The Soul debuted at the Paris Motor Show in 2008 and was unveiled in March 2009 to North America. Now in its fourth year, the Soul still gets a fair share of looks because is doesn’t look like any other car. It’s now outselling the Cube and Scion combined because while still funky it also has a lot of functionality and an increased supply of standard features.
The grille surround is now finished in dark chrome and the interior leather quality has been improved, and better-quality hides are used on leather-wrapped steering wheels. Additionally, a Bluetooth wireless cell-phone link is now standard on all models as are steering-wheel-mounted radio controls.
The Weekly Driver Test Drive
Kia has a unique destination system, largely initiated to get the attention of copy editors and grammar expers. There’s the Soul+ (plus) that includes certain upgrades. And there’s the Soul! (exclaim), my weekly driver.
The Exclaim edition features specific headlight and taillight units, a power sunroof, Infinity-brand audio system, HD Radio receiver, rearview camera, Kia’s UVO voice-activated infotainment system and 18-inch wheels and includes power-folding side mirrors.
The Soul is fun to drive. It’s not fast nor particularly quiet on the freeway. But its four-cylinder, 2.0-liter, 168-horespower engine maneuvers easily around town and on the highway well despite some high-speed, back seat wind noise.
In addition to good overall vision, a small turning radius and a good chunk of cargo space, my weekly driver included the Premium Package. It pushes the MSRP past the $20,000 plateau. But the $2,500 price includes a navigation system, push button start (with smart key), leather trimmed seats, heated front seats and automatic climate control.
The extra features’ quality is strong and the money seems well spent, advancing a near entry level status vehicle into a comfort category not always found in other vehicles in the same price range.
Comfortable, spacious seats.
Tremendous standard feature list for pricepoint
Intuitive interior controls.
Odd but cool front door speaker mood lighting.
Gas mileage averages could be better.
Facts & Figures: 2013 Kia Soul
Acceleration: 0-60 mph, not available.
Airbags (6): Dual front, front side and side curtain.
First aid kit: Not available.
Fuel economy: 23 mpg (city), 28 mpg (highway), 25 mpg (combined), six-speed automatic transmission.
Government Safety Ratings: NHTSA, Overall (four stars); Frontal crash, driver (four stars); Passenger (four stars); Side crash, front seat (five stars); rear seat (five stars); Rollover (four stars).
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $19,990.00
Manufacturer’s Web site: www.kia.com
Price As tested: $23,575.00
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 5 years/60,000 miles; Powertrain, 10 years/100,000 miles; Corrosion, 7 years/100,000 miles; Roadside Assistance, 5 years/60,000 miles.
What Others Say:
“The Kia Soul has such a great, funky shape that is both compact and cavernous, without looking like a box-on-wheels like its competition.” — Automobile Magazine.
“Like the Scion xB and Nissan Cube, Kia’s funky urban box combines quirky, hip styling with practical passenger and cargo space. Soul is a bit more stable and relaxed in highway driving compared to some subcompacts, but its fun-to-drive character might shine through best in urban driving.” — Consumer Guide.
“The 2013 Kia Soul might be inexpensive, but this certainly doesn’t mean it’s cheap. Even for the entry-level model, you get solid build quality, a peppy direct-injected engine and an audio system that boasts satellite radio and an iPod hookup.” — Edmunds.
What The Wife Says:
“The seats are very comfortable, but I don’t like the lighted speakers inside the front doors. It seems like a distraction to me.
The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:
“From its good vision to fair pricing and funky style to vast standard features list, the Kia Soul is fun-to-drive and has a unique exterior and interior personality. There’s a lot to be said for that when choosing a car.”
Article Last Updated: July 28, 2014.
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A sports, travel and business journalist for more than 45 years, James has written the new car review column The Weekly Driver since 2004.
In addition to this site, James writes a Sunday automotive column for The San Jose Mercury and East Bay Times in Walnut Creek, Calif., and a monthly auto review column for Gulfshore Business, a magazine in Southwest Florida.
An author and contributor to many newspapers, magazines and online publications, James has co-hosted The Weekly Driver Podcast since 2017.