It may seem like ages ago, but when Toyota launched its youth-oriented Scion brand back in 2003 the only thing competing with the boxy Scion xB hatchback was its polarizing design. As other automakers realized that the Scion xB was not only attracting young buyers, but also the young-at-heart, compact boxy hatchbacks started popping up from Scion's Asian rivals. For South Korean Kia Motors, 2010 is shaping up to be a significant year for its brand image renaissance. The first 2010 model vehicle to hit showrooms for Kia is the all-new xB competitor, the Soul. The 2010 Kia Soul is a compact five-door hatchback that offers a versatile interior and a surprisingly tall ride height for those looking for a crossover alternative.
Besides the aforementioned Scion xB, the Kia Soul is often compared to the all-new Nissan Cube as well as the Scion xD, Honda Fit and Suzuki SX4. The 2010 Kia Soul is available in four trim levels - Soul, Soul+ (Plus), Soul! (Exclaim) and Soul sport - and a starting MSRP of $13,300. The model we drove was the Soul+ with an automatic transmission and a starting price of $15,900. Toss in a few options and destination, and we had an as-tested price of $17,890.
2010 Kia Soul Exterior
Somewhere between the straight-edged boxiness of the original xB and the rounded boxiness of the Nissan Cube sits the new Kia Soul. The upward angled beltline and the blacked out A-, B- and C-pillars help give the roof a unique, cantilevered appearance, while the widely flared wheel arches and 16-inch alloy wheel provided a sporty stance. Helping to eliminate any 'slab-sided' references, practically every surface and body panel on the Kia Soul has some sort of crease or character line except for the flat roofline. Some of the more stylish design cues on the Soul include the inset front turn signal lamps, the sharp side crease that cuts through the passenger doors and the beveled edges surrounding the liftgate, taillamps and the D-pillar quarter window. Topping off the car's distinctive personality, our car came in an interesting shade of green called Alien that one person likened to the inside of a 'squished caterpillar.'
One of our favorite things about the Soul's design that got many compliments (in spite of the love-it-or-hate-it design) was how big it looked sitting in a parking lot. The mix of sharp angles and rounded edges helped detract from the car's small stature making the flat roofline seem much taller than the car actually is. The Soul's overall length (161.6) is exactly the same as the Honda Fit (161.6), but it's wheelbase (102.4) is stretched further out to corners like the Scion xB (100.4). This not only makes the Soul appear larger than it is, but it improves interior space as well.
2010 Kia Soul Interior
Other than just improving the size of the interior, Kia made its all-new Soul feel bigger, too, thanks to the tall seating position afforded to all occupants and the neutral step-in height. Once inside, the Soul's cabin is even more expressive than its exterior styling with various shapes, textures and audio goodies spread throughout the car. The oval shape of the center stack was a perfect way to break up the instrument panel and featured all of the audio system and HVAC controls within an easy reach of the driver. The steering column is tilt only, but the manual height-adjustable driver's seat made checking the three-gauge instrument cluster an easy task once we got situated. Most of the layout of the Soul was soothing with its black and gray surfaces, but we were surprised by the bright red coloring inside the center stack cubby hole and glove box. Kia even paid close attention to the seats with the word 'Soul' repeated multiple times on the seat back inserts. Seat comfort was about what we'd expect from such a value-driven vehicle, but unlike other hatchbacks, the rear seat legroom made this a true five-passenger vehicle. When storage space is needed instead of passenger space, the rear bench seat is able to fold flat to accommodate up to 53.4 cubic feet of cargo.
One area we noted that the Kia was lacking compared to the xB was the available options - or lack thereof. Our car came 'fully loaded' with all three option packages that included an upgraded audio system ($400), sunroof and fog lamp combination ($800) and carpeted floor mats with 'Soul' embroidery ($95). The standard audio system features a single-disc CD/MP3 slot, Bluetooth connectivity, USB port and auxiliary jack and redundant steering wheel controls, and the upgraded system adds a 315-watt amplifier, center front speaker, rear subwoofer and the LED speaker lights. The speaker lights can be set to a pulsating mood light, full on all the time or, even cooler, setting it to pulsate in rhythm with the music.
2010 Kia Soul Performance & Handling
Like its design, the Soul+ has a powertrain that provides a perfect balance between sporty and economic. Under the hood, the base Soul uses a 122-horsepower 1.6-liter inline-4, but all upper trim levels get a little more pep courtesy of a 142-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-4. Keeping the competition in mind, the Soul offers impressive horsepower gains over the Fit but suffers slightly in fuel economy, and it is at a disadvantage in power to the xB but gets much better fuel economy. With either transmission, the Kia Soul with the bigger engine gets EPA fuel economy estimates of 24 miles per gallon in the city and 30 mpg on the highway. Our car came with a four-speed automatic that never seemed comfortable in its gear selection, but a five-speed manual transmission is available - and with a $950 discount. While Kia paid attention to almost every detail inside and out on the Soul, we were surprised when we opened the hood and saw the unfinished look of the engine compartment that could have been easily remedied with a simple engine cover. It may not have looked pretty, but provided plenty of power for the 2,820-pound hatchback.
Despite the fact that it is a small, economical hatchback designed to get you from point A to point B, the Soul handles surprisingly well due to its wide track and standard four-wheel disc brake with ABS. The length and wheelbase may split the Fit and xB, but the Kia Soul is an inch wider than the Scion and almost four inches wider than the Honda. On the road, we were impressed at how little wind noise there was taking the upright windshield into account, but on Florida's asphalt roads the Soul exhibited a high level of road noise that required most of the stereo system's 315 watts to rectify.
2010 Kia Soul Safety
The 2010 Kia Soul has yet to be rated by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but it does come with a host of standard safety features that should help it achieve top marks from both agencies. As standard equipment, the Kia Soul comes with active headrests and six airbags, but we were disappointed that rear seat side airbags aren't even optional. Other standard safety features include traction control, stability control and four-wheel anti-lock brakes.
For those who want to stand out from the crowd but are still looking for affordable value, the 2010 Kia Soul may be just the car. With its expressive styling, versatile cabin and fuel-efficient powertrain (that is actually able to get out of its own way), the all-new Soul offers a little bit of everything.