When it comes to funky little boxes on wheels, only one has delivered the goods.
Since its introduction in 2010, the Kia Soul has trounced rivals the Scion xB and Nissan Cube and become the automaker's second best-selling vehicle behind the Optima sedan, moving over 100,000 units last year alone.
Its formula of low price and high style stuffed into a reasonably practical package has proved mighty popular among bargain shoppers who are looking for a cool ride, but are also confident or nerdy enough to not mind the whole embarrassing dancing hamster association.
So successful it has become that Kia didn't want anyone to think it changed a thing this year, even though the 2014 model is an all-new car. It refers to the design as “iconic,” a word typically applied to cars like the Porsche 911, not second generation subcompact crossovers, but, hey, no reason to fix what’s not broken.
Nevertheless, the new Soul is updated in many significant and welcome ways. It’s slightly lower, longer and wider, and gets a more refined appearance than the old car, with far more detail work on its exterior than any vehicle with a starting price of $15,495 has a right to. There’s bits of chrome, piano-black inserts and a very prominent rear bumper insert for doing battle in the urban parking arena. Paint colors include Latte Brown and Kale Green, because hipster.
Three trim levels are still available, Base, +, and !. Yes, that’s really what Kia calls them. A 130 hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual transmission is standard, while + and ! models come with a 164 hp 2.0-liter motor and six-speed automatic. Oddly, they both have the same combined fuel economy at 26 mpg, but you can wring out a smidge more with the Eco package and stop/start system available on + models.
Inside, the refinement has been dialed way up, with a new, soft-touch dash, floating tweeters on top of it, optional heated and ventilated seats, a panoramic sunroof and, of course, mood lighting rings surrounding the door speakers, another iconic Soul feature.
Navigation with an 8-inch touchscreen that looks like a jumbotron in a car this size is available, as is HD and satellite radio and Kia’s cloud-connected Uvo telematics feature, which offers automated crash response via your Bluetooth-connected smartphone.
The cabin is less claustrophobic than the Soul’s tidy exterior dimensions would suggest, and the upright seating provides plenty of legroom all around, but five-passengers remain a tight fit. The rear cargo compartment is now a healthy 24.2 cubic feet, nearly five more than before. Boxes are all about space efficiency, after all.
Although its styling tweaks are based on those from a concept called the Track’ster shown a couple of years ago, the Soul is still far from a sports car. I does have great body control, a nice ride on bumpy urban pavement and surprisingly sharp handling delivered through a chunky steering wheel, but is only as quick as a commuter car is expected to be.
Over the past few years, I’ve probably recommended the Soul to friends more than any other vehicle thanks to the good value proposition it is. Lucky for me, every one of them who followed that advice has been very pleased with their purchase. As it turns out, I’ve wasted no time recommending the 2014 model, and, after taking him for a spin, one of my previous victims is already planning on rolling his 2012 into one of these.
Icons, apparently you can live with them.
Especially when you can afford them.
2014 Kia Soul +
Base Price: $18,995
As Tested: $24,010
Type: 5-door, 5-passenger crossover
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
MPG: 23 city/31 hwy