2014 Kia Soul!

Unquestionably, the Kia Soul! (yes, the exclamation point is part of it, signifying that of the three trim levels, base, + and !, ! is the highest) is the most-polarizing car I’ve driven.

Unquestionably, the Kia Soul! (yes, the exclamation point is part of it, signifying that of the three trim levels, base, + and !, ! is the highest) is the most-polarizing car I’ve driven.

This might seem as though that is a blinding flash of the obvious, what is completely unexpected, to me, anyway, is that there was no age grouping of those who are pro and con. The polarization was completely mixed. While you might think that the kids would be all about the car—and it is clearly positioned to appeal to them—of all the cars that I’ve had in my mother’s driveway, of all the cars that she has been unable to identify, when I drove up in the Soul, she asked, “Is that a Kia?” and I nearly fell out of the leather seat (which is part of “The Whole Shebang Package,” which just goes to show you that the people at Kia have a clever point of view about their products in an industry that is all too often mired in a sense of serious dourness). And realize that this was before the Pope rolled around in a Soul in Seoul.

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One friend was all about the audio system in the vehicle (again, a person who hasn’t been in her 20s for, um, well, a while) and gave credit to the company for having colors like Solar Yellow, which I admit was useful for spotting it in a crowded parking lot but not the sort of thing that I find to be a vehicular color unless it happens to be on a school bus.

Some people did a head-shake of pity, as though they thought it was sad to see either the car or someone of my vintage in the car (let’s be frank about this: when you have an advertising campaign that’s predicated on hamsters, you’re not trying to appeal to people who probably haven’t had furry pets of that nature for decades).

One of the mistakes that I think that many people make when it comes to the Soul! is to think that this is a cheap and cheerful car. It is certainly cheerful. Especially in Solar Yellow. And to go band to the somewhat binary nature of things: it elicits more smiles per mile than most other cars do. (Of course, at the same time there are scowls as a balance.)

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The base MSRP for the car is $20,300. Not inexpensive. The aforementioned Whole Shebang (which also brings HID low-beam headlights, heated steering wheel, a meter cluster with a 4.3-inch color LCD screen, and an engine immobilizer, along with the leather and HVACed front seats) adds $2,500 to the tab. And the car I had included the “Sun & Sound Package,” with such things as sun in the form of a giant sunroof and sound in the form of an impressive Infinity audio kit. That is $2,600. Add the freight and handling ($795) and you find yourself at $26,195.

Yes, $26K for a Kia.

A cute Kia.

I suppose that one way to look at this is that although it may have a certain cartoonish charm to it, it is a real car. And real car, with lots of good, real stuff, costs real money. QED.

Apparently, more than a few people understand that. This is evidenced by the fact that with other geometric cars like the Nissan Cube going away and the Scion xB not going off of all that many dealers’ lots, the Soul! is doing exceedingly well in the market.

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That is, Nissan reported Cube sales through August of 2,965 units. The xB is better, at 11,254. But Kia has moved 104,777 Souls through August. For the month of August alone it delivered 15,069 Souls, which is greater than the combined number of Cubes and xBs for the year so far (14,219).

Seems like something with more than a little bit of quirkiness is just the ticket in today’s market.

The Soul! has a 164-hp engine. You are not going to win drag races with it. The window sticker is 23 city/31 highway/26 combined mpgs. You are not going to win any hypermiling events with it.

But it has presence and attitude in abundance. And you will win a response from all who see you in it.

Selected specs

Engine: 2.0-liter, DI, DOHC, I4

Horsepower: 164 @ 6,200 rpm

Torque: 151 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Steering: Electric motor assist

Wheelbase: 101.2 in.

Length: 163 in.

Width: 70.9 in.

Height: 63 in.

Curb weight: 2,837 lb.

Coefficient of drag: 0.36

Seating capacity: 5

Passenger volume (w/sunroof) 96.8-cu-ft.

Cargo volume (rear seat up wo/luggage under tray): 24.2 cu-ft.

EPA: mpg city/highway/combined: 23/31/26 mpg