You may have noticed Kia�s ad campaign on TV. It�s called "Peer Into A Soul" and features three different situations with people staring into the camera with quizzical looks on their faces. One scenario involves a hitch-hiker looking for a ride at a backwoods diner, the other a couple of characters straight out of The Sopranos, and the third a Friday The 13th Jason type of character wearing a plastic mask. Kind of creepy, but definitely attention-getting.
And that�s precisely the point, according to Kia�s national marketing manager, Greg Hardy. "We are struggling with our brand equity in Canada," he conceded at the launch of the new 2010 Soul. "And we don�t want this model to �go niche�. The Soul is a departure from what you would normally expect from Kia."
A cynic might remark that Kia�s ad campaign stars paranoid drifters, wiseguys, and psychotic killers, but it is definitely a departure for this Korean company and is certainly different. Hardy claims that the Peer Into A Soul website has generated over 200,000 visitors since it was put up earlier this month.
Based on the Rio platform, the Soul is also one of the new breed of stubby compact "urban crossover" wagons that seem to be the new flavour of the month. The Honda Element was probably the first of this breed – although it�s in a slightly different market – and the soon-to-be-released Nissan Cube and Toyota Scion xB are also direct competitors….or will be when they arrive in Canadian showrooms later this year. Interestingly, Kia is also targeting the Dodge Caliber and Suzuki SX4 as rivals. You could toss in the Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix while you�re at it, but, according to Greg Hardy, the Soul will have this market pretty much all to itself when it hits the pavement in March.
In order to stand out from the crowd and establish a new brand identity, Kia stylists have incorporated what they call a "tiger nose" front grille with integrated "repeater" turn signals into the Soul�s body. Apparently, this is a theme that we�ll be seeing on future Kia products and is already in evidence on the new Magentis sedan.
Two engines will be offered, both four-bangers. The 1.6 litre version develops 122 horsepower, while the 2.0 litre is good for 142 horses. You can choose from either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission, but the manual gearbox will only come with the smaller engine. Kia expects the automatic transmission to be the best selling drivetrain and, all things considered, likely to be the most appealing choice for the "Generation Y" market it�s being aimed at.
High on the cuteness scale, the Soul does have a practical side. Fold down the back seats and you get some 546 litres of cargo space, and there is actually an abundance of rear legroom and headroom throughout the vehicle. I made a point of riding in the back seat at the product launch, and didn�t feel confined or trapped, which is not often the case with these kinds of puddle-jumpers. I could even see the Soul being used as a taxi, as long as passengers don�t have any
luggage, because behind the back seats, things get kind of snug. Nonetheless, both on the highway and around town, the Soul surprised with its reserve power, nimbleness, and in particular, its lack of rattles, looseness, or mysterious noises. Kia has kind of a checkered history when it comes to things like assembly quality, but the Soul seems to be as tight as a drum.
Four versions will be offered: 2U, 4U, 4U Retro, and 4U Burner. Depending upon the model, you can order things like larger wheels and tires, sportier suspension, upgraded stereo, sunroof, different coloured interior trim, air conditioning, and stereo speakers that have a mood lamp feature. Crank up the tunes and they glow red in time to the music…..what Kia calls a "club effect". You can also choose upholstery that glows in the dark, albeit temporarily To paraphrase Michael J. Fox in Back To The Future, older buyers may not care about these little extras, but their kids are gonna love �em. My 25-year old daughter would buy one for these two items alone. Standard equipment includes the usual roster of modcons, such as power door locks, heated mirrors, Bluetooth capability, USB ports, and heated front seats. This last feature is an excellent idea and should be standard issue on all cars sold in Canada. I just returned a new Chevy Traverse, that despite its $53,000-plus price tag, did not have heated front seats. No wonder GM is in trouble. As time goes on, Kia will also offer a range of performance upgrades that will include high-flow air filter, tuned exhaust, and high-performance air intake. These go-fast goodies are currently "in development" according to Greg Hardy.
Base price for the Soul will be $15,495, but even loaded, with all the goodies, it will still be under $21,000, although not by much.
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 1.6 & 2.0 litre four cylinder
Horsepower: 122 horsepower at 6300 revolutions per minute / 142 horsepower at 6000 revolutions per minute
Torque: 115 foot-pounds at 4200 revolutions per minute / 137 foot-pounds at 3600 revolutions per minute
Price Range: $15,495 – $20,995
Fuel Economy: 8.5 litres per 100 kilometres (city); 6.6 litres per 100 kilometres, (highway)
Recommended Fuel: regular.
Alternatives: Honda Element, Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe, Chev HHR, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Dodge Caliber, Suzuki SX4 Hatchback.