Despite the fact that they seem to be aimed at younger buyers, as an aging baby boomer, I’m a fan of utilitarian square-box wagons, such as the Scion xB, Nissan Cube, Ford Flex, Honda Element (even though it’s out of production), and to a considerably lesser extent, the Kia Soul.
That said, despite its practicality and functionality, I barely like the Soul at all. Here’s why:
– This has surely got to be one of the ugliest cars ever to put rubber to the road. There is almost no design inspiration here; it’s just a two-boxer with a weakly-raked roofline and some body cladding. I’m not expecting state of the art styling in this corner of the market, but this is just too hard on the eyes. The back end is particularly ugly.
– It’s far too precious. If I want cute, I’ll buy a stuffed Ewok or a Fiat 500. The Soul is supposed to be all about functionality and usefulness; anything else is just smoke and mirrors. In my experience, any car that stresses cuteness is over-compensating for a fundamentally inferior product.
– It’s not cheap. My tester, a fully-loaded Luxury model, had a price tag of over $27,000 when the dust settles. Nothing cute about that. Yes, there is a base model that starts at around $17,000, but you’re getting the smaller engine and a manual transmission for that price.
– Minimal driving fun factor. It has next-to-nothing in terms of handling abilities, unexceptional acceleration, and decent but not outstanding fuel economy. Again, I’m not expecting a Porsche here, but driving the Soul is like being in a telephone booth with wheels.
– Storage. In a word, there isn’t any. At least the Scion xB and Nissan Cube have a modicum of cargo room. With the back seat up and a few people in the car, the Soul has enough room for a bag or two of groceries, but that’s about it.
With that out of the way, a few particulars.
There are two models to choose from. The base version has a 1.6 litre four cylinder, while the 2u and 4u have a 2.0 litre engine. You can choose from a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission with a Steptronic manual shift mode. My tester had the latter. Power outputs are 138 hp for the smaller engine and 164 hp for the two litre. The automatic transmission models are a smidgeon thirstier, but not enough to really make a difference. Plan on spending another $2400 for the autobox.
As is the case with most Kia products, standard equipment level for the Soul is relatively high. Even the base version has things like four wheel disc brakes, tilt/telescoping steering, power door locks, hill start assist, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, and heated front seats. Getting the most for your money has never been an issue with Kia, and, despite my misgivings about the Soul, I should point out that Toyota’s Scion xB only has a four-speed automatic and the Cube is cursed with a CVT. The Soul, on the other hand, has a six-speed. My tester also came with extras such as leather upholstery, a navi system, rear-view camera, and a climate control system. That bumps the price up by some $8800.
As an urban runabout, the Soul does the job. While not the liveliest econobox out there, it’s more than peppy enough for most typical buyers, easy to park, with good ingress and egress, and understandable controls and switchgear. As well, those models equipped with the automatic have an “Eco” feature that, at the press of a switch, electronically re-calibrates the automatic transmission and increases fuel economy (while decreasing performance). Don’t much care about the illuminated “mood lamp” speakers, but they’re harmless enough, I suppose.
Kia is claiming 7.9 L /100 km in the city for the automatic transmission version, and that’s decent enough. By way of comparison, Nissan’s Cube is a titch thriftier in town, but thirstier on the highway, while the Scion xB is a veritable gas hog in comparison.
But I don’t care. Were I in the market for a vehicle like this – and I have actually briefly considered buying an xB – the Soul’s outward appearance would stop me cold. I actually felt self-conscious nipping around in my test car; “this thing is meant for young females” I found myself muttering…..or words to that effect. The fact that it had a loud “molten red” paint job didn’t help much.
Consumer Reports gives the 2012 Soul an overall score of 66 out of 100. This is based on a 50-point evaluation program and the highest score they have recorded in this category is 85, while the lowest is 49. Interestingly, the majority of people that have responded to C.R.’s questionnaire for the Soul seem to be in the 40 – 60 year old range. Whatever, the Soul garners a “recommended” rating from this organization.
AT A GLANCE
Base Price : $25,595; as tested: $27,150
Engine: 2.0 litre four cylinder
Horsepower: 164 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 148 ft. lb @ 4850 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic w. Steptronic
Fuel economy: (litres/100 km): 7.9 city; 5.9 hwy. Regular fuel
Alternatives: Scion xB, Nissan Cube, Toyota Matrix, VW Golf Wagon, Hyundai Elantra Touring, Kia Rondo.