As Detroit automakers once said about their cars, the 2014 Kia Soul is “longer, lower and wider” than its predecessor, which arrived a few years ago as one of the first funky, boxy, compact crossover vehicles.
The Soul has prospered, while its rival boxy Honda Element is gone. And the Soul far outsells the boxy Scion xB, which reportedly will be dropped.
In fact, things are looking up for the new, second-generation Soul. It has a longer 101.2-inch wheelbase (up 0.8 inches), a width broadened by 0.6 inches to 70.9 inches and a reduced overall height of 63 inches—decreased by nearly half an inch.
The result? More passenger and cargo room in the quieter, higher-line interior and a more attractive lower profile. Four to five tall adults fit because of an unusually spacious rear seat. Some occupants found the seats to be too flat and stiff. Available are leather-trimmed seats with improved lateral and thigh support.
Occupants sit high, but the Kia Soul calls for a little extra effort to climb aboard.
Gauges can be quickly read in bright sunlight, and the new instrument panel has an available 8-inch touch screen. Interior materials are nicer, and there are soft-touch materials on the instrument panel, center console and door panels. Controls are easy to use. The cabin has a fair amount of storage areas, although front cupholders are inconveniently set very low on the console.
The rear hatch is large, and the cargo area has a wide, but rather high, opening. You need to move the 60/40 split seatbacks forward to get a lot of cargo room.
While still mostly boxy, the front-drive Soul looks slicker than its predecessor because it took styling cues from the 2012 Track’ster concept car.
There’s either a 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque or a 2-liter four–cylinder with 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. Engines work with a responsive six-speed automatic transmission with an easily used manual-shift feature or a six-speed manual gearbox.
The new Kia Soul is no sports machine, but is generally fun to drive because it’s fairly light and has nimble handling. Its all-new chassis is about 29 percent stiffer, and front and rear suspensions have been heavily revised. The front subframe uses four bushings (none on the previous Soul) to reduce ride harshness and impact “booms” on bad pavement.
The steering box has been moved forward, lending better balance and subsequently improved handling. The electrically assisted power steering is quick and precise, with good on-center feel for easy cruising and variable buildup of effort. Shock absorbers on the torsion bar rear suspension have been turned vertically and lengthened, allowing more suspension travel and improved ride comfort.
While firm, the ride is supple, although some may feel it’s too stiff on bad pavement.
Handling is helped by traction and electronic stability control systems, along with a Vehicle Stability Management system. My test Soul stopped decently with its anti-lock brakes. But the brake pedal often called for another inch or so of travel in stop-go driving before the car stopped completely.
My test Soul had the 2-liter engine. It provided lively in-town performance and decent 65-75 mph passing times. The smooth engine was noisy during hard acceleration. Also, fast starts on slick roads caused the front end to judder. On the other hand, the Soul is a nice highway cruiser with the 2-liter engine.
The 1.6-liter four-cylinder loses eight horsepower from the 2013 model, but Kia says the 1.6 and 2-liter have been tuned to provide more low-end torque for in-town driving.
Estimated fuel economy for the Base model with the manual or automatic is 24 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on highways. The figures for the oddly named Plus and Exclaim models are 23 and 31. They come only with the automatic. The economy figures aren’t impressive for a compact. Fuel tank capacity is 14.2 gallons.
List prices range from $14,700 for the Base model to $23,200 for the Soul Plus Red Zone Special Edition version. That one has a red-accented grille, unique front, rear and side body kit, 18-inch alloy wheels, rear spoiler, red interior trim accents and sport pedals.
You can get the Base model with the manual or automatic. In between are the Plus and Exclaim models, which come only with the automatic.
I tested the $20,300 Exclaim with the 2-liter engine and automatic transmission—just one step below the Red Zone Special Edition.
My test Soul had a $2,600 “Sun and Sound” package that contained a Panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade and automatic climate control. It also had a $2,500 “Whole Shabang” package with a push-button start, leather seat trim, heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, heated rear outboard seats, a 4.3-inch color LCD and engine immobilizer.
With a $795 freight charge, my test Soul’s list price was $26,195. All models have Kia’s 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty.
Don’t have that much to spend? Even the Base stick-shift Soul has standard power windows, door locks and heated outside mirrors, telescopic wheel and a six-speaker AM/FM/MP3 audio unit. Options include remote keyless entry, cruise control and automatic transmission.
Move up the model range and you get more equipment. For instance, my test Exclaim had a power driver’s seat, air conditioning, cruise control, tilt/telescopic wheel with audio controls and a center console with an armrest and deep, covered storage bin.
Safety features include front and side air bags and full-length side curtain air bags.
Despite its many improvements, the practical Soul remains different enough to be distinctive.
Pros: Deftly designed. Roomy. Nice interior. Nimble. Quick with larger engine.
Cons: Firm ride. Stiff seats. Average fuel-economy.
Bottom Line: Thoroughly fresh while maintaining iconic design.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.