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Car Review: 2014 Kia Soul

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The new 2014 Kia Soul is a testament for just how far small utility vehicles have progressed in today’s market. We drove a solar yellow Soul for a week and discovered that this is not only a fun car, but refined beyond what we expected. The 2014 Kia Soul’s all-new take on design, driving dynamics and desirable features totally transform one of Kia Motors America’s best-selling cars into an urban utility vehicle that is as comfortable in the city as it is on the open highway.

EXTERIOR

When the wild Track’ster concept made its debut in 2012, Soul enthusiasts and pundits alike urged Kia to turn the aggressively fun fantasy into reality. With 18 months from design freeze to production, the stage was set for the all-new Soul, and many of the concept’s dramatic design cues can be found in the production vehicle. The upright stance, squared shoulders and distinctive fender flares are instantly recognizable as Soul. Combining a longer 101.2-inch wheelbase (up 0.8 inches), overall width that’s broadened to 70.9 inches (increased by 0.6 inches) and a reduced overall height of 63.0 inches (decreased by 0.4 inches) adds a more aggressive edge to the all-new Soul’s appearance. Likewise, the wraparound greenhouse, high-mounted tail lights and upright stance are all hallmark design elements. Premium touches such as available LED front positioning lights and rear LED halo lights help connect Soul to siblings within the Kia lineup that share similar design cues, such as the 2014 Sorento CUV and 2014 Forte sedan.

Exterior Track’ster similarities are easy to spot. The large trapezoidal lower air intake is nearly a direct carryover from the concept, and the location of the available fog lights – down low and pushed to the leading edges – mirror those found on the Track’ster. Kia’s signature grille is present, but it’s been reworked to more closely resemble the concept. Adding a touch of flair, the unique “floating” body-color panel inset into the lift gate originated with the Track’ster as well. Subtle enhancements include a wider (by 2.4 inches over the previous Soul) opening for the lift gate, allowing Soul to swallow more stuff. There is a smooth feel to the skin of the 2014 Kia Soul that exudes confidence and appeals to the eyes. The Soul Exclaim as tested adds to the Plus, with standard features like 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 235/45R-18 tires, fog lights, body-color bumper “tusks,” projector head lights, front LED positioning lights and rear LED halo lights.

INTERIOR

Our test model was equipped with extra options from head to toe, and we appreciated them more and more as the week moved on. Overall, the design paid particular attention to instilling a more premium look and feel to the 2014 Soul’s interior. Liberal applications of soft-touch materials are found on the instrument panel, center console and door panels. Details such as our media car’s leather trimmed seating with improved lateral and thigh support, and the use of high-gloss piano-black trim pieces on the center console and dash, elevate the Soul’s interior to new levels of sophistication. The panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade was spectacular, navigation with a whopping 8-inch screen was bright and clear, and the Infinity audio system was spot on with a strong bass!

Front and center is the instrument cluster with deeply recessed gauges. Along the door panels, sculpted circles incorporate the power windows and door locks. The center console features a round gear shift knob and push-button start, which also are direct carryovers from Track’ster. The front door-mounted speakers mirror the circular, high-mounted “floating” tweeters and utilize available LED-string light technology to create ripple-effect, red-hued mood lighting. The steering-wheel mounted controls are housed in Soul-exclusive circular groupings along the lower spokes with the buttons for the audio system and trip computer falling readily to the thumbs, enabling the driver’s hands to remain on the wheel at all times.

Another first is the integration of Pandora internet radio, the revolutionary online radio network that allows the user to customize their listening experience. Users will no longer manage Pandora through their smartphone. Instead, Pandora is preloaded into the head unit and accessible through the touch screen and Voice Command, displaying the artist, title and album cover art, as well as allowing the user to conveniently skip songs, “like” the song with Pandora’s thumbs-up rating system or manage preferred stations. Arriving with a three-month complimentary subscription to SiriusXM Data Services and Travel Link, the all-new Soul has access to travel information such as road conditions, weather and security alerts, as well as sports scores, movie times, stock prices and fuel prices through the screen’s graphical interface and electronic program guide. Better still, customers will continue to have All Access to both Sirius and XM channels for the price of one should they elect to continue a paid subscription after the three-month trial period concludes.

In addition to all this technology, driver and passengers will enjoy a larger and significantly quieter cabin with incremental increases in front leg room (42.9 inches, 0.8 inches more than the current Soul), rear leg room (up 0.2 inches to 39.1), front headroom (increased 0.2 inches to 39.6) and front seat shoulder room (up 0.3 inches to 55.5). The all-new Soul also offers a 0.5-inch lower hip point and a step-in height that’s reduced 0.2 inches, allowing for even easier ingress and egress. Overall cargo capacity is increased by a half cubic foot, to 24.2. Liberal use of expansion foam (replacing the previously used block foam) thoroughly fills body cavities, reducing outside wind and road noise. A reinforced isolation pad in the cargo area and poly-urethane-layered carpet helps reduce overall interior noise levels by approximately three decibels.

How loaded is the Exclaim model we tested? Inside, standard amenities include a high-gloss, piano-black center console, cooled glove box, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment and auto-dimming rearview mirror. Optional equipment includes navigation, Infinity audio, front speaker LED mood lighting, panoramic sunroof, leather trimmed seating with driver and front passenger ventilation and heating for all four outboard positions. Supervision Cluster/TFT LCD screen, HID head lights, push button start and automatic climate control make the Exclaim the most premium Soul ever.

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PERFORMANCE

Comfort and efficiency win the day as we tested the 2014 Kia Soul! Exclaim models enjoy the more powerful 2.0-liter NU power plant. For the all-new 2014 Soul, the engine is updated with GDI technology. Power is rated at 164 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 151 lb.-ft. of torque at a 4,000 rpm. Both engines have been tuned to provide more low-end torque (nine percent more torque at 1,500 rpm on the 2.0-liter; five percent more on 1.6-liter) for an improved around-town driving experience. Built on an all-new chassis that is nearly 29 percent stiffer than before, the Soul’s stout skeleton provides the base for a vehicle that places a premium on driving dynamics. Engineers’ efforts are revealed by strengthening the body at key connection points along the cowl, upper and lower B-pillars, cross members and at the C-pillars. An impressive 66 percent of the chassis utilizes either Ultra High Strength Steel (35 percent) or High Strength Steel (31 percent). The A-pillar is 0.8-inches narrower, allowing for improved outward visibility, but through the use of Ultra High Strength Steel, it’s lighter and stronger than that of the outgoing model. The application of structural adhesive around the door openings and along the roof also helps improve torsional rigidity. Fuel consumption is low with 23 mpg in the city and 31 mpg in highway driving.

Significant attention surely was focused on improving the all-new Soul’s ride and handling through heavily revised front and rear suspension setups. The front subframe utilizes four bushings (none are used on the previous Soul) to reduce ride harshness and impact booms over rough pavement. The stabilizer bar has moved rearward on the McPherson strut front suspension, while the steering box has moved forward, lending better balance and subsequently improved handling. Relocating the steering box has also resulted in a better on-center feel. The new one-piece steering gear housing is stronger than the two-piece unit used on the outgoing Soul, improving steering response and reducing impacts felt through the wheel. Standard across the Soul line is a new Flex Steer system, which allows the driver to select from three distinct steering settings: Comfort, Normal and Sport. The shock absorbers on the torsion bar rear suspension have been turned vertically – they were positioned at an angle on the previous Soul – and lengthened. This arrangement allows for more suspension travel, improving ride comfort.

OVERVIEW

The obvious changes to the 2014 Kia Soul exclaim are the fresh new looks and vastly improved cabin design, but you have to look further to really appreciate this car. The drive surpassed our expectations and delivered one of the smoothest rides in a car under 30K that we tested. In fact, with a sticker price of $26,195 as tested, the Kia Soul Exclaim has you wondering at times, “How did they do that?” Kia has packed so much styling and quality in the Soul that this car will generate a ton of interest just from word of mouth.

  

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