Some vehicles hit the mark so directly with a singular design that subsequent redesigns focus on what’s under the hood rather than the outside. Such is the all-new 2014 Kia Soul, a compact five-door hatchback that has captured its segment with the right combination of utility and fun, prompting Kia designers to tread lightly.
At the recent launch in Minneapolis, it was clear that they opted to keep the same bug-like front fascia as well as the silhouette. The most notable exterior changes include a trapezoidal air intake at the front, new oversized tail lamps and a more contoured liftgate, plus the blinkers on the old model that gave the headlamps a baggy-eyed look, are gone. More substantive changes include a stiffer chassis that is longer and wider, adding interior room and an improved ride vis-à-vis heavily revised front and rear suspension systems.
Also adding to the Soul’s upgrades is the standard Flex Steer system that allows the driver to select from three distinct steering settings: Comfort, Normal and Sport for added oomph in certain situations, e.g. entering a freeway.
After the launch, I clocked extra seat time in the Soul by way of an extended stay in Minneapolis. I retraced many of the steps ostensibly taken by one of my favorite television characters, Mary Richards (Mary Tyler Moore). I saw the Victorian mansion used in exterior shots for her apartment, the building that contained the WJM television station, and the downtown bronze statue that marks the spot where she flings her hat in the air during the opening of the show.
No trip to Minneapolis is complete without a trip to the Mall of America, located adjacent to the beautiful Radisson Blu where I stayed. Despite the Soul’s slight size increase, I still managed to squeeze into the tiniest of parking spaces in the parking garage.
There were moments that involved the navigation system supplied by the Sun and Sound Package ($2,600). The navigation (with XM/Sirius Traffic) remained on target plus, it allowed for a passenger to program directions while the car is moving. I understand why other systems freeze once the vehicle moves, namely to avoid driver distraction, but if you do have a front-seat passenger, the Kia method is also nice.
Available in three trim levels, Base, Plus, and Exclaim, I drove the latter that not only included additional standard equipment, but also more than $5,000 of added features—the previously mentioned Sun and Sound Package also included a panoramic sunroof and automatic climate control. The Whole Shebang Package ($2,500) came with push button start, leather seating, heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel. Visiting in early October, I was able to appreciate the fall colors and a slight crispness in the air, as well as those heated seats.
The base model receives the 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline direct injection (GDI) with 130-horsepower and 118 lbs.–ft. of torque. The Exclaim, however, comes with a new, more powerful 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 164 horses and mated to the six-speed automatic that’s optional on the base model. Unfortunately, a six-speed manual is only available on the base model.
EPA estimated fuel economy on the Exclaim is 23 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. I averaged 18.7 mpg.
Seeking to upgrade the interior, designers incorporated circular cues along the door panels, the power windows, and door lock, a round gear shift knob, and push-button start (its location is exclusive to Soul in the Kia lineup). More new features include an improved UVO infotainment system with a high-definition capacitive touch screen and access to Pandora Internet radio.
Power windows, door locks and heated outside mirrors, a telescoping steering wheel, and a six-speaker AM/FM/MP3 audio unit are all standard on the base model. Bluetooth hands-free wireless technology, SiriusXM satellite radio with three months complimentary service, and USB/AUX inputs round out the Base Soul’s audio/infotainment equipment. A CD player is unavailable.
The Exclaim adds a high-gloss piano-black center console, cooled glove box, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat with lumbar adjustment, and auto-dimming rearview mirror.
While the Soul’s redesign may not be radical, it is refined, which is further accentuated on the Soul Exclaim.
Pricing for the 2014 Soul starts at $15,495. The as-tested price for the 2014 Soul Exclaim came to $26,195.