The 2013 Kia Soul is cool and cute as these cars get, and among the more affordable of them.
By Matt Stone
THE BIG PICTURE
In case you ever wondered what the cardboard toaster in that Kia Soul commercial represents, that would the Scion xB, the original Asian “boxcar” which Kia is attempting to portray as not as cool as the Kia Soul is. Whether the Scion is in any way cooler than the Soul is a matter of personal taste. The original xB of nearly a decade ago launched the whole boxcar movement in the US, and now there are many variations on the theme. Scion is out with its second-generation xB, the slightly smaller xD (Scion’s most direct Kia Soul competitor), plus the strangely cool if slightly asymmetrical Nissan Cube, and through 2007 there was the somewhat similar Suzuki Aerio. These cars get the job done for a lot of people because they’re generally affordable, cool to look at, have four doors, haul lots of stuff, get good mileage, and give off a little ‘tude. The Kia Soul was launched for 2010, and got meaningful updates in 2012.
The Kia Soul’s cabin just works. It seems larger than most compacts, and some of the above mentioned competitors. There’s a modest, flat-floored cargo bay that becomes big-box sized when you flop down the rear seatbacks. The dashboard and instrument panel are crisply and logically designed, finished in “tech” looking materials. Outward visibility is terrific. There’s adequate room and comfort for you, your peeps, any dancing hamsters you may have, and all your junk. It’s not a leather-and-wood trim kinda car, so don’t be looking for that, but the clean design and easy to use controls recall upper-end audio equipment.
This little guy is darn friendly. Everyone gets his or her own door, and the rear hatch opens high and wide for easy cargo loading with a relatively low load-in height. The seats are comfy, and there are more than enough cubbies and cupholders to keep stuff from flying around the cabin.
The 2013 Kia Soul has a solid body/chassis structure and airbags everywhere. Plus the usual stability programming, traction control, and four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock are all standard fare. Manual trans models get Hill-start Assist control, which temporarily holds the car in place at uphill stops, giving you long enough to move your foot off the brake and take off safely without burning up the clutch. Another significant, in our opinion, safety factor is the Soul’s large, bright, clear taillights, stoplights and turn signals. Some models now offer a standard or optional rear view camera and display monitor.
GIZMOS AND TECH
Kia has really upped the Kia Soul’s tech factor with the 2012 remodel. Standard audio offerings are just fine, but upgrade quickly as you proceed up from the Base model. The happy shocker is that the 2013 Kia Soul now offers an optional nav system; rare in this category and price range. Automatic trans-equipped Souls offer an optional “Eco package” with an idle Stop and Go function that cuts the engine at stoplights, and refires it the instant you move your right foot from the brake to the throttle. One of the Soul’s most notable cool features is what we’ll call the disco audio system (technically referred to as Speaker Lamp Illumination), featuring light rings round the stereo speakers that pulse to the music and alternate colors. A potentially fun mood enhancer for those random make-out sessions. Natch, there’s an AUX port and the car is iPod friendly. Several models offer hands-free operation of the entertainment system and Bluetooth compatibility with most phones.
All in, this is a happy driving, no hassle car, more than on par with the Scions or other likely competitors. The 2013 Kia Soul has got plenty of pop for most every normal driving situation, and delivered the promised fuel mileage. The real fun is the 6-speed manual + or ! model with the optional 18-inch wheel and tire package; it would probably run well against many so-called sport coupes. We liked our tester’s light and precise steering, and strong, dependable brakes. It handles nicely, and is quieter than expected with little wind noise or road rumble. We didn’t have the chance to test out the speaker lamp illumination system on a dark deserted street; OK, next time for sure.
Put simply, the 2013 Kia Soul is a well-equipped gimmick free car with no crazy stuff to add weight, cost or confusion.
Nice build quality, well equipped even in the lower levels, and don’t forget that 10 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty.
OK, we’re getting done with the hamsters now; time for a new ad campaign.