2013 Kia Soul Review: What Is It
Blending elements of a crossover SUV, a station wagon, and a hatchback into a single vehicle, the unmistakably stylish, practical, and affordable 2013 Kia Soul defies classification but remains fresh and distinctive as it enters its fourth model year. These types of vehicles – inexpensive, roomy, useful, and unusual – are increasingly in demand as Americans focus on what they need in a new vehicle, rather than what they want.
Having driven a Soul only briefly when it first debuted for 2010, I figured it was time to revisit this little-big car, so I borrowed one from Kia for a weeklong test, shuttling kids, running errands, commuting and, of course, driving it on my standard evaluation loop.
This is my Soul story.
2013 Kia Soul Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
The 2013 Kia Soul is sold in base, + (Plus), and ! (Exclaim) trim levels. Prices start at a very affordable $15,175, but there’s good reason for that.
In addition to a lower-powered engine and a manual transmission, the base Soul rolls on 15-inch steel wheels with cheesy plastic wheel covers. It does have a decent sound system with satellite radio, a USB port, and an auxiliary audio input jack. And it does come with standard Bluetooth connectivity. Additional standard features include dark tinted rear privacy glass, power windows, power door locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, a tilt/telescopic steering wheel, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, and air conditioning. Options include floor mats, 16-inch alloys, an automatic transmission, and not much else.
The Soul + adds a more powerful engine, heated power exterior mirrors with integrated turn signal indicators, tweeter speakers, upgraded interior materials and trim, added storage areas, and a center armrest. It also comes with a set of 16-inch aluminum wheels that give the car a better look.
Getting the Soul + also means greater access to options. This model can be equipped with an Audio Upgrade Package containing a color touchscreen infotainment system, a premium Infinity sound system with HD Radio and pulsing speaker lighting, and a reversing camera. A power sunroof, auto-off headlights, and fog lights are also available on this model, and when equipped with an automatic transmission, an ECO Package includes low rolling-resistance tires and an Idle Stop and Go system, which shuts the engine off when the Soul is stopped in traffic or at an intersection to better conserve fuel.
At the top of the lineup, the Soul ! is equipped with big 18-inch aluminum wheels that adequately fill the Soul’s exaggerated fenders. This model also has snazzy projection-beam automatic headlights, LED running lights, fog lights, body-color trim, and power folding exterior mirrors. Inside, the Soul ! supplies a two-tone Sand/Black interior treatment and houndstooth-checked upholstery. The color touchscreen infotainment system, Infinity sound system, reversing camera, and power sunroof are also standard, along with an auto-dimming rearview mirror and floor mats.
A Premium Package adds automatic climate control, a navigation system, leather seats, heated front seats, and a Smart Key passive entry system with push-button ignition. Additional extras include cargo storage solutions, an interior lighting kit, a rear spoiler, a compass, and a universal garage door opener.
The test car in the pictures is a Soul ! with all the trimmings, painted Molten red, and wearing a sticker price of $23,575. Given the equipment load, and how surprisingly roomy the Soul is, this strikes me as a good deal.
2013 Kia Soul Review: What It’s Up Against
The Soul is hard to define, which is probably one reason Kia markets the car as “a new way to roll.” The other reason, of course, is that “Soul” and “roll” rhyme. This isn’t really a station wagon, or a hatchback, or a crossover SUV, and despite its basis on the previous-generation Kia Rio platform, this isn’t a small vehicle. Parking it in the driveway next to my wife’s first-gen Nissan Murano provided proper context in terms of the Soul’s significant size.
Other funky boxes on wheels include the Nissan Cube, the Nissan Juke, the Scion xB, the Suzuki SX4, and the Toyota Matrix. It is possible that some people looking at the base version of the Mini Cooper Countryman might also consider the Kia.
2013 Kia Soul Review: Exterior
What’s New for 2013:
- New colors
- Soul ! gets new power folding side mirrors
How It Looks
Though it wears a design that’s now four years old, I think the Soul looks better than ever, especially now that I’ve spent a week with it. This car is bigger in person than it is in pictures, and Soul ! details like the machined-finish 18-inch wheels, LED running lights and taillights, body-color exterior trim, and turn signal repeaters on the side mirrors help the Soul to look more upscale than it is.
I’m also a big fan of the Soul’s floating roof design, made possible by black-painted windshield and door pillars, as well as a “hockey stick” D-pillar design. The Soul’s flat, sloping roof and nearly vertical backlight give the car a profile that can be confused with no other. Up front, the Soul isn’t exactly attractive, but it sure is lovable, featuring a bulldog mug loaded with personality. And, as an extra bonus, it’s not covered in slobber.
If there’s anything to complain about, in my opinion, the fender vent could use a little chrome to dress it up on the Soul !, or an LED side marker light.
2013 Kia Soul Review: Interior
What’s New for 2013:
- Bluetooth connectivity is standard
How It Looks and Feels
The top-of-the-line Soul ! looks good inside, thanks to its standard two-tone Sand/Black color scheme. There’s a preponderance of hard plastic here, but it’s inoffensive and offers pleasing textures combined with low gloss levels for an upscale look. Our test car had the optional leather upholstery, which offers graining and suppleness that wouldn’t be out of place in a German luxury sedan.
The Soul’s fat leather-steering wheel is a pleasure to grip, the gauges glow brightly at night, the speaker surrounds pulse to the bass in a choice of colors, and the UVO color touchscreen offers crisp graphics and good response to finger stabbing. The only problem is that its angled in such a way as to suffer significant glare at certain times of the day.
While I’m griping, this car needs a better driver’s seat. Equipped with six-way manual adjustment, the seat could use a separate thigh adjustment. As it is, and because I like to sit tall behind the steering wheel, my legs were splayed without support. Additionally, there’s too much lumbar support dialed into the seatback. Obviously, I did not find the Soul very comfortable for longer drives, though I must admit that getting into and out of this car is exceptionally easy.
The rear seat is adequate. There’s a ton of foot room and headroom, but not much space for legs. The seatback is also reclined at too great an angle, promoting a slouch in passengers. As you might expect, my children rode back there, strapped into their forward facing child seats, without complaint.
The Soul’s cargo area doesn’t look very large, especially in contrast to the Soul’s surprising exterior size, but the car swallows 19.3 cu.-ft. of stuff behind its rear seat – mainly stacked vertically. Fold the rear seats and there is 53.4 cu.-ft. of space available.
Standard safety equipment includes six airbags, traction and stability control, and four-wheel-disc antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution. A reversing camera is optional.
In crash tests, the NHTSA gives the Soul a 4-Star overall safety rating, with the car getting nothing short of 4 stars in any individual assessment. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) called the Soul a “Top Safety Pick” in 2012. That rating had not yet been carried forward for the structurally identical 2013 model.
2013 Kia Soul Review: Powertrain
What’s New for 2013:
- No changes
How Does It Go
When choosing a new 2013 Soul, customers have a choice between two engines. In the base model, a direct-injected, 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine from the Rio is paired with a standard 6-speed manual gearbox or 6-speed automatic transmission. This engine makes 138 horsepower and 123 lb.-ft. torque, adequate for the Soul’s 2,615-pound curb weight.
The Soul + and Soul ! are equipped with a more powerful 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine generating 164 horsepower and 148 lb.-ft. of torque. In the Soul +, both the manual and automatic transmissions are available. The Soul !, which weighs 2,778 lbs., only comes with the automatic.
According to the EPA, the Soul ! that I tested is rated to get 26 mpg in the city, 34 mpg on the highway, and 29 mpg in combined driving. Wouldn’t it be great to know what the folks at the Environmental Protection Agency are smoking? As is usual when I test a Kia model, I got nowhere near the EPA’s fuel economy estimates, extracting just 21.5 mpg from the Soul !.
2013 Kia Soul Review: How It Drives
As long as you don’t ask much of it, the 2013 Kia Soul ! provides a jaunty drive, with lively off-the-line acceleration, nimble handling, and twirlable steering. These are exactly the characteristics one appreciates in a good city car, and the city is where the Soul does its best work, zipping away from traffic lights, zooming into parking spaces, and gleefully slicing through traffic.
Unfortunately, as soon as the Soul encounters poorly maintained pavement, or a sharp corner entered at a moderate pace, it turns into a nervous ninny, revealing its humble origins in the form of an unrefined suspension and a stability control system that engages with almost no provocation at all, sounding like a garbage disposal with a fork stuck in it as the electronics panic for no reason whatsoever.
This latter trait was so irritating that I finally shut the stability control system off – something I almost never do, as I’d like to stick around awhile to see my kids grow up – and the Soul’s back road demeanor instantly improved. The car wasn’t quite fun, but it certainly proved more tossable than when the stability control system was freaking out around every bend in the road.
On the highway, the Soul rolls pretty well, though the sectioned concrete freeways in certain parts of Los Angeles, combined with 45-series rubber and the Soul’s rudimentary suspension, produce a busy, jittery ride quality. On blacktop, the Soul cruises effortlessly, at least until there’s a hill. Then the transmission has a tendency to hunt between gears as the car climbs to the top.
2013 Kia Soul Review: Final Thoughts
The 2013 Kia Soul is not designed to storm across mountains at high speed, or to rip up a weekend autocross course, or to comfortably travel across country for days on end with all of your belongings in the cargo area. Rather, the Soul’s mission is to serve as a commuter car with style and a splash of panache. And this it does very well.
Just don’t expect to get anywhere near the EPA ratings on the window sticker, and you should be quite pleased with your purchase.
2013 Kia Soul Review: Pros and Cons
- Funky styling
- Impressive interior
- Good crash-test ratings
- Excellent value equation
- Overachieving stability control system (for teen drivers)
- Fuel economy
- Driver’s seat comfort
- Tight cargo space
- Choppy, flinty ride and handling
- Overachieving stability control system (for adult drivers)
Kia provided the vehicle for this review
2013 Kia Soul photos by Christian Wardlaw