|Kia Soul Sport
|Kia Soul Sport
- Lots of style
- Well equipped tech features
- Bang-for-buck value
- Super fun to drive
- Imprecise shifting
- Limited cargo space
- Petite engine power
The Soul is Kia’s foray into the youthful box-car market, currently dominated by the Scion xB, Nissan Cube and the Honda Element. The Soul will definitely be attractive to first time buyers, with its low cost, curious design, vibrant interior and multitude of techie gadgets. But it’ll also be enjoyed by older family oriented consumers with its versatile drive, good fuel economy, and ample passenger space. For this review, we tested the top of the line 2010 Kia Soul Sport featuring a sports-tuned suspension and other modifications yielding a more responsive ride.
To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to testing a car from Kia that had seemingly been designed using nothing but a straight-edge and a pencil. Yet I was pleasantly surprised when first introduced to the Soul – it was much less ugly than the Scion xB. The front of the car had a curiously interesting design that grew on me and its high stance on its massive 18-inch wheels made it look very aggressive. I stepped inside and was shocked to find myself confronted with a clean, sharp, red and black interior that made me wonder how long it would be until more cars looked like this. There were plenty of useful tech gadgets within, such as hands free Bluetooth, USB and auxiliary input jacks, Sirius Satellite Radio and a great 6-speaker stereo all well laid out and easy to use on the center console. And then there were some features less useful like glowing mood speakers, but nonetheless very unique and soulful. There was plenty of space inside to seat four well-sized adults comfortably, though cargo room is very limited with the rear seats occupied. The drive was surprisingly fun for such an anemic engine with enough high end torque in the first three gears for quick acceleration and a stiff suspension for precise, sharp turning. At higher cruising speeds I found the Soul subdued and quiet but much less maneuverable.
Kia’s 5 year/60,000 mile warranty and 10 year/100,000 mile power train warranty should attest to how far the company’s build quality has come in recent years. Pair the warranty with the Soul’s great list of safety features, and superb safety rating (5-Stars for Frontal Crash, 5-stars for Side Crash, and 5-stars for Rollovers), the Soul is a complete package.
On my end, I found the car was solidly built. All the doors and compartments opened and closed with satisfying clicks and clunks. The interior was mostly made of the cheap yet durable plastics and cloths – everything was secured tightly. Nothing rattled or shook as we drove over road imperfections. My one complaint was the manual gear box. In addition to being imprecise with the first and third gears, many times mistaking the two, it would often result in a terrible grinding noise on a seemingly clean gear change or worse yet, the stall. Other than that small imperfection, overall, the Kia Soul engineers have built a rugged and stylish little box-car.
Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The Soul provides its riders with a very spacious and comfortable interior which provides a pleasant ride environment. The seating can easily accommodate four 6-foot adults with plenty of headroom for stylish top hats; the Soul has massive headroom. The seats keep the passenger in a very upright position which is fine and comfortable unless the car is turning quickly, in which case it’s complete mayhem. It took a concentrated effort on very sharp cornering to hold myself in place. If you’re a smaller person like myself and have your seat moved up, your right arm will tire as the center arm rest doesn’t extend out far enough forward to be an arm-rest.
The center stack is simple, clear, easy to use and uncluttered. The steering wheel position felt good to me but should be noted that it does not telescope (it does tilt). On the steering wheel there were also numerous basic controls for Bluetooth, cruise control and music but not too many as to make it confusing.
Within the Soul there are plenty of spaces appropriately placed throughout the vehicle to stash maps, books, glasses, iPods and beverages. An interesting little compartment can be found under the mat in the trunk-area. Kia has provided some additional compartments for smaller storage (in case you wanted to hide something from someone).
The rear seats have the 60-40 fold down capability and once folded down, the amount of stuff you can store in the Soul is seemingly infinite. Unfortunately, with the seats up for our top hat wearing 6-footers, there is little space in the trunk-area for anything other than a few snacks. Overall, I really liked the interior and ergonomics.
Our Kia Soul Sport came equipped with a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine that cranks out 142-horsepower @ 6000 rpm. The smallish engine is quite torquey and provides a spirited acceleration from a dead stop. Power is managed with a 5-speed manual transmission. The first three gears afford most of the car’s punch and at high revs can make the Soul quite peppy. Fourth and fifth gears are sluggish and having to pass a car on the freeway while in these gears resembles sail-boat racing. The chosen gear ratios make the Soul Sport more tailored (and fun) to city driving where you can enjoy the sprint from red light to stop sign and vice versa. Once you reach that stop sign you’ll be happy that you can come to a complete stop quickly and calmly thanks to the Soul’s strong ABS brakes. We found the braking to be adequate and vehicle dynamics consistently straight and true during deceleration. While the Soul’s engine tuning helps keep vehicle cost down and fuel economy numbers high, don’t expect to be impressed by its blazing performance. Consider the Soul to be quite capable of getting the job done, just not very fast.
Handling was somewhat bipolar in the Soul. At lower speeds you could cut really tight corners quickly and aggressively with not a hint of tire squeal. In these instances the sport suspension was really good, giving good feel and feedback to the driver. And then there were times when it behaved like it looked – a box with a high center of gravity. At the higher speeds with swooping turns, the rear tires felt like they were coming unglued and might swing out from underneath. We discovered that the seats were inadequate for handling the sharp turns when driving aggressively. They provided little to no support and we were left clawing for things to hold onto to keep us sliding from side to side.
The Soul comes standard with Electronic Stability Control (ECS) that helps control the vehicle under extreme driving conditions. The ride may be too stiff for some, but we found that it increased driver involvement and excitement. The ABS brakes were solid and were able to stop the Soul quickly and calmly. The Soul also fared very well in the city. And even though it has plenty of passenger room, by comparison, it’s quite small in length, making parking and getting around tight obstacles a breeze.
Overall, the more we drove the Soul the more comfortable and confident we became with its handling, which impressed us. Overall the Sport package really improves the handling of the Soul and made it a hoot to drive.
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