2013 Kia Soul 4u Luxury Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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First things first with the Kia Soul: you have to like, or at least appreciate, its hipster boxmobile style. I've read reviews that damned Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press
the poor Soul based on its looks alone, and yet I've heard passersby rave about how cute it is. So clearly it divides opinion. Personally, I think that of the various boxmobiles out there (including the Scion xB, Nissan Cube and the dearly departed Honda Element) the Soul is actually the best looking of the bunch. Take a gander, render your verdict, and let's move on.

Appearances aside, there's no debate that the Soul is a practical little box that offers good passenger space for up to five (the tall roofline helps in this regard), decent performance with a choice of two engines, and reasonable value with a starting price of $18,445 including destination for the base 138-horsepower 1.6-litre version, climbing to $27,245 destination in for the range-topping 2.0-litre 4u Luxury model.

Inside, the front seats are comfortable and roomy while the rear seats offer genuine comfort for two or reasonable space for three. My 4u Luxury tester upped the comfort and style quotient even further with supple leather upholstery featuring "Soul" logos punched into the seatbacks. Cargo space on the other hand is pretty limited with the rear seats up (the cargo area is fairly shallow), and the narrow rear hatch makes getting longer or wider items in and out a bit tricky. It took some manoeuvring to get a guitar into the back, and I first had to remove the cargo cover to make it work (I'd say "retract the rear cargo cover" except it doesn't retract, so if you need it out of the way you either have to remove it completely or just let it hang from the forward clips). Flip the seats down and you get a reasonable 1,511 litres of luggage space.

With it's upright stance the Soul offers a nice high outward view, although visibility is hampered a little at the front by the thickish A-pillars, and restricted quite severely at the back by the substantial D-pillars, which house the high-mounted taillights. The 4u and 4u Luxury models both get rearview cameras, which to me makes a solid argument for upgrading.

The interior manages to be stylish and interesting without being gimmicky. Well, okay, there is one gimmick, and we'll get to that later. The basic approach is fairly low-key with a simple black dashboard overlaid by a prominent, round-edged centre stack pod. A reasonable amount of chrome and silver accenting adds visual interest and while the materials are mostly hard plastic they all look good, and the switchgear feels solid.

Even in the base 1.6-litre model the Soul now includes Bluetooth cell phone connectivity, and other standard equipment across the range includes auxiliary and USB stereo inputs, heated front seats, heated power side mirrors, a trip computer, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, an external temperature gauge, fog lights and more. Safety is taken care of thanks to a full array of airbags, traction control, electronic stability control, antilock brakes and so on. The base transmission is a 6-speed manual and a 6-speed automatic is available bundled together with air conditioning for an extra $2,400.

In addition to it's more powerful 164-horsepower, 148 lb-ft engine, the 2.0-litre 2u model adds 16-inch alloys (the base car gets 15-inch steel wheels), air-conditioning, remote keyless entry, cruise control, front tweeters, satellite radio, a luggage net, roof rails and "Soul" patterned seat cloth and door trim. The automatic transmission adds another $1,200, or $1,800 if you want the 2u Eco model with idle stop-and-go technology.

Step up to the Soul 4u ($24,545 destination in) and you get the six-speed automatic transmission, rearview camera, 18-inch alloys, Infinity audio system, driver's armrest, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift, power sunroof, sport-tuned suspension, UVO infotainment system and - here's the gimmick - Soul mood speakers.

Mood speakers is Soul-talk for front door speakers with colour-changing LED rings around their perimeters that can be set to constantly shift colour in the "Mood" setting or pulsate in a single colour in time to your tunes in "Music" mode. It's a unique and fun idea, but my teenage son was quick to point out that it's only "half-pimped." To fully pimp your Soul you should be able to make the speakers pulsate to the music and change colour at the same time, and the rear speakers need colour rings as well - otherwise only one of your friends gets to see the effect (until Kia fixes this oversight, there are instructions on the internet on how to install the lights around your rear speakers, but be warned, the instructions look intimidatingly complicated). I'd also like to be able to set the speaker lights to glow steadily in a single colour as a non-distracting form of ambient lighting (you could call it the "Chill" mode), but as it is if you don't want them pulsing or colour-shifting, your only other option is to turn them off.

Back to trim levels, the 4u Luxury adds the previously mentioned leather upholstery, plus automatic climate control, in-dash navigation, proximity sensing smart key with pushbutton start, projection headlights, LED running lights and taillights, a rear spoiler, power-folding sideview mirrors, solar glass and an iPod cable, making the Soul into a practical and surprisingly luxurious conveyance.

On the road I found the Soul to be reasonably peppy (0 to 100 km/h takes about 9.2 seconds with the 2.0-litre engine), although when used for short-hop city driving it went through a lot more fuel than its estimated numbers suggest. Transport Canada rates the 2.0-litre Soul at 8.8 / 7.1 L/100km (city/hwy) with the automatic, but my weeklong average was 13.8 L/100km with a best indicated result of 11 L/100km on a longer mixed highway/city run.

Handling-wise the Soul tackled corners crisply and competently enough, but I can't say that the sport suspension in my test car felt sporty, exactly - more like "reasonably agile." The suspension soaks up most bumps without complaint, though I thought the rear end could use a bit more rebound damping as it tended to feel a bit springy over bigger bumps. I'd also prefer to be able to get my Soul in a higher trim level with the manual transmission, but I'm apparently in a minority in this regard and Kia isn't alone on restricting manual transmissions to the lower-end trims.

On the whole, the Soul is a pleasant and engaging little runabout that offers a good value proposition thanks to its reasonable price and wide array of standard equipment, especially in mid-level trim. Its boxy looks won't be everyone's cup of tea, but they mean that the Soul offers good interior space for a compact crossover, and a genuinely comfortable back seat. If you're cross-shopping against similar vehicles like the Nissan Cube and Scion xB then the Soul is a must-see competitor, and its practical virtues make it an interesting alternative to small hatchback/wagons like the Honda Fit or mainstream compact crossovers like the Mazda CX-5, Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Tucson and Ford Escape.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Kia, 2013, Soul, $10,000 - $19,999, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

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