EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

November 16, 2013

New Kia Soul adds substance, keeps flair

Motor Mouth
Jeffrey Zygmont

---- — Since its introduction in 2009, the Kia Soul has remained a one-of-a-kind car, a bold and zesty wagon that manages to be both slab-shaped and smoothly streamlined at the same time, like big, stacked sheets of river stone. The model is unique enough to have some odd-ball appeal, but not so strange that it attracts only staunch individualists. Moderate individualists appear to like it too. Overall, the Soul is a very clever balance between a stand-out statement and practical, get-it-done transportation.

That balance shows in the model’s popularity. Soul is a reliable seller for Kia, occupying the number-two spot among the eight models the company offers in the United States. But even though you encounter a Soul often enough on the roadways, the model still stands out for its personality.

Since no other vehicles mimic the Soul, you’d think that Kia could keep it unchanged at least for a while longer. After all, we’re still just getting used to its spunk, flair, and flashy style.

But Kia just brought out a 2014 Soul that is rebuilt, restyled and re-equipped. The new model is longer and wider than its predecessor, creating more passenger and cargo space inside. Its stiffer chassis cuts interior noise better while it improves dynamic road manners. Features and equipment available in the new version increase the usefulness and desirability of the car.

While the changes upgrade the car, the four-door, five-passenger Soul remains affordable, at a starting list price of $15,495 for the base model, which comes with a 130-horsepower four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. Upgrading to a six-speed automatic transmission adds $2,000 to the base model, while higher level Souls include the automatic transmission, along with a larger, more powerful four-cylinder engine.

The re-making of Soul doesn’t surprise Charles Daher Jr., sales manager at Commonwealth Motors in Lawrence, which sells Chevrolet, Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen vehicles in addition to Kia. Daher has seen Kia adopt an aggressive approach to model changes. The company moves fast to keep its vehicles fresh and current, he explained. It makes mid-stream improvements the moment it finds them desirable, he noted. Wholescale makeovers like the 2014 Soul come at a pace that seems faster than the norm.

In the new version, Daher sees changes and upgrades that expand the appeal of the auto.

“They’ve kept the mainstay look. It’s still different and quirky. But they also made it a little sleeker to appeal to more people,” he said. “It has a more sporty look and stance, rather than the more bubblish look that it had before.”

While the car is still comfortably upright, the new version has a more elongated look, starting with a hood that appears to stretch and strive forward more than the hood on the first version of Soul. The entire front end of the new model has a bolder aspect, due to features like big, wraparound light sets, jutting fog lights and a large, prominent, lower front grille that looks ready to scoop up pavement. The side panels of the remodeled Soul are much smoother and cleaner looking, after the angular bulges and creases on the prior version have been softened or eliminated altogether.

When announcing the new model this fall, Kia noted that it upgraded Soul’s interior to give it a more premium look and feel. That includes measures like high-grade, soft-touch materials covering panels and trim plates, and glossy accents trimming instruments and controls.

At Commonwealth, Daher stated that the combination of dressier interior and more sophisticated gear and equipment available in the 2014 Soul bump the model into a higher class of autos.

“It really stepped up its features and options,” he said. “The new electronics” – especially communication and entertainment gear – “will increase its reach to the younger crowd,” Daher noted. Many other additions make the model more useful and appealing to the full spectrum of drivers, he said.

For example, Daher noted that the large, panoramic sunroof option is a stand-out feature in a wagon the size of Soul. It comes as part of the $3,000 “Promo Package” that also includes leather seat trim, heated steering wheel and heated front and back seats. The option group can only be purchased on top of the $1,400 “Audio Package” and $500 “UVO eservices Package” – the group boosting Soul’s price by $4,900. If that’s not enough, you can buy “The Whole Shebang Package” for $2,500, but only after you’ve added the “Sun and Sound Package” for $2,600. The total mark-up: $5,100.

“If you get a loaded one, you get the sense that you’re in the next class up,” Daher said.

He sees two primary groups drawn to the Soul. One consists of hip, young trend seekers with active lives who want to haul of diversity of stuff with style. Kia targets that group when it promotes the Soul, which the company terms an “urban utility vehicle.”

But many more established, mid-life drivers also find Soul appealing, Daher said. They appreciate its flair and individual character, while they they find the wagon’s open interior practical and its upright posture comfortable, he explained.

The Kia Soul is a front-drive passenger car, not a small SUV – for one thing, it doesn’t come with an all-wheel-drive option. But shoppers often compare it to compact sport-utilities because of its tall, open aspect and hatched, open back. Buyers who seek better fuel economy over four-wheel traction go with the Soul, particularly when they want more style and sassiness, Daher said.

He noted that Kia is hinting that it may develop an all-wheel drive variant of the Soul. The rumor is uncertain, but if it happens, the Soul will see another big change that expands its appeal without sacrificing its spunky nature.

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction and non-fiction books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.

2014 Kia Soul Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive wagon Price range: $15,495 to $21,095 (plus options) Warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles basic warranty; 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles roadside assistance Base engine:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color 1.6-liter I4 Power: 130 horsepower at 6,300 rpm; 118 lb.-ft. torque at 4,850 rpm Base transmission: 6-speed manual Fuel economy:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color 24 mpg city; 30 mpg highway Wheelbase:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color 101 inches Length: 163 inches Width:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color 71 inches Height: 63 inches Weight: 2,714 pounds Fuel capacity:Text ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/SolidText ColorSwatch/NoneStrokeStyle/$ID/Solid$ID/NothingText ColorText Color$ID/NothingText ColorText Color 14.2 gallons Turning circle: 34.8 feet