Two observations about the Kia Soul might seem trivial at first. But they actually tell us a lot about the appeal of this pert and playful, one-of-a-kind car.
The first observation involves pet hair. It vacuums easily out of the Soul’s floor carpeting and seat upholstery. That’s rare. But it’s important to those of us who like to take our loyal and loving bowsers on adventures that require motor travel.
On so many other models, the upholstery and carpeting seem to absorb dog hair. It seems to intermesh with the fabric and remain deeply embedded, no matter how many passes with a vacuum nozzle.
That’s what I anticipated when driving a zestily accented Soul X-Line for a week’s evaluation. I dreaded vacuuming the wagon after I had ferried my own energetic mongrel to a hike in the White Mountains. But to my delight, my mutt’s hair lifted easily from the model’s fabric seat coverings and carpeted floor mats. The Kia Soul scored bonus points.
The next observation involves kids, and the messes they make of an auto’s interior.
Showing generosity but poor judgment, during a drive I bought donuts for six-year-old Casey and eight-year-old Allie to eat in the car. Worse, the donuts had toppings: miniature M&M candies on one, and colored sprinkles on the other. Oh, sure, I admonished both children to eat very neatly, to hold the donuts on napkins and not let a single crumb fall. But of course, when I later removed their kid’s seats, chocolate and colored sugar from the toppings had been ground into the seat fabric by the hard bottom lips of the child boosters.
But the seats easily wiped clean with only a wet rag. The Soul scored more bonus points.
Easy cleaning might seem trivial compared to other characteristics like an automobile’s style and performance. But accommodating upholstery and carpeting contribute a lot to the practical qualities that attract many people to particular automobiles. With the Kia Soul, practicality is a primary selling point, explained Charles Daher Jr., sales manager of Commonwealth Kia in Lawrence.
“A lot of people switch into it because it’s so useful,” he said. They may arrive at Commonwealth shopping for a Kia Forte or Optima, both sedans, Daher noted. “But they get into a Soul, they look around inside, they drive it, and they like it. They realize how useful it is.”
Of course, it’s only later that new buyers experience the easy clean-up. The practical qualities that grab them initially include the Soul’s petite, manageable, maneuverable size that still packs a lot of passenger room and loads of back cargo space. They like characteristics like its broad, low rear hatch and wide-opening back doors that make for easy loading, and its flip down back seats that make the interior easy to configure for multiple uses.
The model’s practical character also extends to savings. The Soul is affordable, starting at a list price of $18,485. After purchase, its small size and its efficient drive-train make it economical to operate. The model’s government fuel-economy rating is 30 miles per gallon in combined, city and highway driving. I did much better than that in my easy-clean evaluation model, averaging 36 mpg over a week a mixed travel.
“It’s easy to get into and out of. It’s comfortable, and tall people can sit comfortably even in the back. It rides higher and gives you good sight lines. It can carry a lot of stuff. It also gets good gas mileage,” summarized Daher.
Commonwealth Kia is part of Commonwealth Motors, which also operates Lawrence dealerships that sell the Chevrolet, Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen lines.
The Soul is Kia’s most popular model in the United States. Through the first half of the year, it outsold the second most popular model from the Korea-based car company, the Optima, by about 10 percent.
Practicality isn’t the only quality that accounts for its popularity. The high-riding, SUV-like wagon has a youthfully independent, jaunty appearance. Its erect posture, squared corners and long flat roof give it a look like no other automobile available. Therefore its unique appearance appeals to free-thinking people as a symbol of personal expression.
“Some people want it when they realize how useful it is. Some people want it to express their personality. It’s a vehicle that does both,” Daher said.
He explained that the current Kia Soul is extending the model’s appeal to a wider audience. The Kia Soul now on sale as a 2020 version arrived in the spring as a restyled and re-engineered, third-generation model. It retains the Soul’s original quirky, stand-alone character, but softens it somewhat with a sleeker, slightly more mainstream body shape.
“It’s less boxy, more sleek, and that’s bringing in new people,” Daher stated. “Since it’s sleeker, it’s enticing some people who hadn’t looked at it before.”
In addition, Kia added two new, differently dressed, more dashing variations that aim to extend the Soul’s appeal to different classes of drivers. The new varieties are a more ruggedly appointed model dubbed the Soul X-Line, and a sportier, rakish variation named the Soul GT-Line.
The GT-Line, with a starting list price of $21,285, has a more aggressive, racier appearance due to features like larger, 18-inch alloy wheels, glossy black side mirrors and more assertively shaped side sills and front and rear surfaces.
The GT-Line also can be purchased with an optional, more powerful engine. Standard Soul variations use a four-cylinder engine that produces 147 horsepower. For an added $7,200, the Soul GT-Line can be upgraded to include a turbocharged four-cylinder that delivers 201 horsepower. The higher-output engine in complemented by other upgrades, like larger brakes and a suspension tuned for more active driving.
The new Soul X-Line sports accessories meant to make it look rough and ready for outdoor adventures, including such features as roof rails, specially styled 18-inch wheels, and more rugged looking bumpers and wheel-well arches. It starts at a list price of $22,485.
The model I recently drove – which cleaned up so easily after my outdoor trek with my mutt – was a Soul X-Line. I found it attractively outfitted with its off-the-shelf features alone, no options necessary. My test model’s only added, extra-cost option was carpeted floor mats, at $130. It’s nice that they vacuumed so cooperatively.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2020 Kia Soul
Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front-wheel-drive subcompact wagon
Price range: $18,485 to $28,485 (plus options)
Warranty: 5 years/60,000 miles basic warranty; 10 years/100,000 miles powertrain warranty; 5 years/100,000 corrosion warranty
Base engine: 2.0-liter I4
Power: 147 horsepower at 6,200 rpm; 132 lb.-ft. torque at 4,500 rpm
Base transmission: six-speed manual
Fuel economy: 25 mpg city; 31 mpg highway
Wheelbase: 102 inches
Length: 165 inches
Width: 71 inches
Height: 63 inches
Weight: 2,802 pounds
Fuel capacity: 14.3 gallons
Turning circle: 34.8 ft.