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2010 Kia Soul - Click above for high-res image gallery

Greeting the Kia Soul with low expectations didn't make sense. Perhaps the details of the funkwagon's story seemed overly familiar at first blush – Kia wants, nay, needs to be more than just the bargain-basement Hyundai store. Differentiating product lines with the help of bold design has been tried before, and the results have been disastrous more often than they've been wildly successful. Finding out that the Soul's styling inspiration was a wild boar sent the cynical mind of this autowriter reeling, preparing to suffer with a bore of a swine-inspired car. But Kia's been on a roll lately with aggressively priced product that's well equipped and imbued with performance that's often more inspired than the sum of its parts. If any brand stands a chance of melding its design studio's hit parade with tuning that lives up to the looks, it's Kia... right?

Photos Copyright ©2009 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.

The Boar thing – snicker if you like – but what Mike Torpey and the team of designers in Korea have wrought is earning accolades the world over. That porcine inspiration delivered a Red Dot design award for Kia, the first for any Korean car and a punctuation mark on the widely held opinion that the Soul is one fine-looking automobile. The critical success of the Soul's design is directly attributable to a nature documentary that designer Torpey took in while working on the car in Korea. The show was about a wild boar that is apparently common to the region, and something about the animal spoke to designer Torpey. The Soul's cheeky, brash stance is great looking in a non-conformist way, regardless of what got the idea going.

Boxy yet not slabby, the Soul's exterior has been deftly drawn with careful detailing. Windows and taillight clusters are set off by bevels, and a continuous line is an Easter Egg for anyone who cares to trace it from its origin outlining the glass, around the roof, down the back and across the bottom, finishing off in front. The raked and tapered sideglass furthers the Soul's ready-for-action stance. Every vent, character line, bulge and curve has been placed cleanly and with purpose, and the end result is that the Soul's styling is clever without being cloying. Drawing an automotive extrovert with just the right touch of restraint is no mean feat, and the longer you gaze at the Soul, the better it gets as you discover all the fun that the design team molded into its flanks.

No shrinking violet in any shade, the radioactive green on our test car was dubbed "Alien." The verdant hue is just the thing for springtime, and the Soul may represent a shift as big as the change of seasons in Kia's fortunes. Young buyers ought to be attracted to the Soul for its ability to tackle every request, as well as its low price and standard equipment list that includes plenty of desirable features that are optional elsewhere. Starting under $14,000, the base Soul has the bases well covered.

Down in the shadows, the mechanical details add up to a car with unexpected verve. Standard four wheel disc brakes impart a sure feeling to the brake pedal and stability control is also fitted across the board. Basic Souls are motivated by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder sending 122 hp and 115 lb-ft of torque through a five-speed manual transaxle, but those are expected to represent but a sliver of the model's total volume. Opting for an automatic transmission, ($950 extra in all trims), yields an immediate upgrade to the 2.0-liter four and its 142 hp and 137 ft-lb capabilities. Both engines employ dual overhead camshafts with variable valve timing, and the 2.0-liter we sampled delivered 29.9 miles per gallon with the four-speed autobox and zero babying. The automatic is mostly unobtrusive, though it occasionally it dodders a bit before delivering a kickdown. Throaty, the engine can get harsh sounding when twisting the tachometer needle hard, but keep your inner Rat Fink at bay and the Soul's braying fades into the background.

The Soul's steering is sporty where others in this price range can be numb. There's a life to the rack-and-pinion setup that says the Soul has been tuned by folks who know what a proper front-wheel drive car should feel like. Despite any "box it came in" commentary from onlookers, the Soul is more than a mere wheeled appliance. A taut, nearly athletic feel has been part of Kia's brief across its entire vehicle range for at least a couple years and that philosophy benefits the Soul, too. A strut front end and torsion beam rear axle are certainly not revolutionary, and in the wrong hands such a suspension setup can feel woefully dated. Instead, the Soul feels great from behind the wheel. A front anti-roll bar and gas-charged dampers all around add up to a lively, well behaved experience. Simply put, the Soul is fun to drive with its standard setup, and the Sport trim level carries a retuned suspension and larger 18-inch alloy wheels, so it promises to be more entertaining still.

"Fun" will be on your lips often when discussing the Kia Soul, especially when talk turns to the interior. Just as much attention has been paid to making the experience inside the Soul live up to the exterior styling. There are four trim levels – Soul, Soul +, Soul !, and Soul Sport – mostly differentiated by what Kia fills each model with. The standard Soul has plain black upholstery, yet it doesn't skimp on equipment. The standard audio system has auxiliary and USB jacks and there are two steps of entertainment upgrades, with the top-level system kicking out 315 watts. There are even red lights in the speakers housings that can pulse soothingly or twiddle in time with the music. A gimmick, sure, but gewgaws are allowed when the basics are good. Despite the affordable pricing, the Soul's interior is not cheap. The stalks and HVAC controls feel as good as some we've sampled in near-luxury cars. Air conditioning and power windows and locks are standard, and optional Bluetooth capability is a welcome nicety.

Despite trim dimensions, there's a blessing of storage and passenger space inside the Soul. Tidy of dimension, the area behind the second row seats is useful but not huge, although dropping the 60/40 rear seats opens it right up. Rear leg- and foot-room is surprisingly generous inside the Soul, too. In the dash, there's a storage compartment at front and center, as well as a dual-level glovebox that seemingly extends all the way to the firewall. Opening either cubbie for the first time garnered a grin as we found Kia had chosen bright red as the color for inside. Doors have storage compartments and bottle holders, and more storage was found in the armrest of our car, which easily concealed a digital SLR camera. Both the steering wheel and front seats are adjustable for height, but only the chairs slide fore-and-aft – a telescoping column would've been a nice touch.

Stepping up the trim-level ladder adds more whimsy to the interior in the form of fabrics and colors. Soul + models get inserts on the seats with a repeating Soul logo, while Soul ! buyers will find houndstooth check on the seats and an interior scheme that puts sand-colored accents on the dashboard and door panels. Soul Sports ratchet the interior up to its max, with metal-look accents and pedals, and a red and black interior theme that extends to the sport seats. Door panels not graced with contrasting colors might betray a feeling of creeping cheapness, but the Soul's interior punches above its weight for sure.

Corporate sibling Hyundai seems to have cribbed the Soul's recipe of a vehicle full of equipment, fun and safety gear for the Elantra Touring, but the Soul's styling puts the Kia on top. Among rival brands, this car is going to lose a flat-out performance challenge to the Honda Fit, but it is supremely well equipped, comes with a faintly ridiculous 10 year/100,000 mile warranty – and tops out below $20,000. Standard front, side and curtain airbags along with stability control covers the safety gear comprehensively, and there's no denying the handy nature of a hatchback.

Young buyers these days seem to care less about cut-rate performance cars and just want a vehicle that will fit their lifestyle of doing stuff while being entertaining to drive and look at. The Kia Soul seems like a shoe-in under those criteria. Its styling is all but universally praised, its price of entry is eminently reasonable, and its driving demeanor exceeds expectations. All-in, we look for the Soul to be Kia's breakout hit that wins comparo crowns, sips fuel, hauls stuff and has a great time doing it all. While we may have approached the Soul steeled for disappointment, we walk away impressed and now think of Kia's backpack-wearing wild boar as one of the segment's standard-bearers.

Photos Copyright ©2009 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      I really like this car in every way except for fuel economy. The feature list and interior are great, as are the performance, exterior, and utility. I saw one the other day (in the same outside color) and it looked even better in person! I also happen to like the other interior colors better than red (the only red interior I like is the 2009 BMW M3 red interior).
      KIA deserves great sales with this one.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'm sorry but there is nothing cool about this car, unless "ugly as hell" just got cool. I would never pay good money for something I would regret buying a week later, or later in the day even. Jeezus, I'm so tired of shoeboxes on wheels and pregnant rollerskates, where have all the good auto designers gone.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I'd like to know why everyone buys these in this awful green colour. I've seen a dozen Souls around town, and they're all green except for one, which was white.

      The rest of the colours are so much nicer. Please stop buying will-be-dated-in-2-years pea soup green!
      • 5 Years Ago
      I saw one of these driving the other day, and while I think it's a cool looking little car, what I thought was funny was the driver. They've designed and marketed these things towards young people, but the first one I see on the road... was piloted by a very un-hip woman in her 50's.. I saw that with the Honda Element too, marketed towards young people and their active lifestyles, but its perfect for old people who just want a cheap car with room for their dog and groceries!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Front, back, side to side. Front front back back side to side.

      Obviously, I was quite entertained with their TV ad LOL

      I'm definitely going for a test drive if they decide to bring it with a 2.0 5/6MT
      • 5 Years Ago
      It's funny how most people know everything about the soul but don't own one. Outside of having a comment on the looks how can you have comment on anything else.

      Yes I own this car, I have the auto sport. Did not get the manual since I lost a leg yrs back. The car is not a sports car so don't compare it to one, I owned a 2001 vette back then, but I would not compare the two cars. I would like to know what car can you get at this price that has all the features that this car has. I have looked at most cars and once you add the Bluetooth, Ipod, sat, 18 inch wheels, sun roof and much much more you end up with a vehicle the is well over 20k to 25k. And please really and I mean go to their sites and check what is on the other vehicle before any comments.

      And what about the warranty: 5yr/60,000 bumper to bumper basic - 10yr/100,000 power train -- 5yr/100,000 anti-perforation and a 5yr/60,000 road side asst. I look at I could not get this deal anywhere, I got a loaded sport model with the sunroof for 18,900. I know you can a better car for a lot more money but I needed to spend less then 20k
      • 5 Years Ago
      Be careful with the interior, it scratches easily.

      This was something I read about on the Kia Soul forums, and observed it in person when I test drove one.

      The one I drove was very nice, with a smooth ride and decent acceleration.

      Yet, it also had scratches on the dash that were permanent, due to the materials used...
      • 5 Years Ago
      I like the car, but where the hell is the coupe?!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Regarding cars and demographics, I think it's simply a matter of a car designed for younger/entry buyers is probably going to be relatively inexpensive, fun, and practical... traits that appeal to older buyers as well. Cars designed for older people end up looking like Buicks or Toyota Avalons and aren't too appealing (or affordable) for a lot of younger people.

      That said, I got a kick out of it when my 70 year old aunt showed me her new car a few years ago. She bought a Gen 1 Scion xB, in bright yellow with dealer-installed chrome wheels and a manual transmission. Cool. Her reasoning: she wanted to replace her aging Honda Civic tall-wagon and at the time the xB was the only vehicle she could buy that was inexpensive, got good fuel economy, could be had with a manual transmission (wish GM would take notice), and could fit their bicycles inside without having to remove the wheels (she and her 80 year old husband go on regular bicycle explorations around the area... talk about lifestyle!). I'm sure that the Scion sales and marketing people could have cared less that they skewed the average buyer age numbers... they paid cash and the check was good.

      I test drove the Cube the other day. I loved the roomy interior and while I like the styling I do worry that it won't age well. I haven't driven the Soul but I did see it a car show and liked the look a great deal... will have to check one out soon.

      I must say that I am impressed by Hyundai and Kia's rise in this market. They seem to make solid cars that one no longer has to make excuses for buying. I've had Kia minivans and Hyundai cars as rentals and preferred them to the American alternatives. The fact that they have gotten so good so quickly at the expense of GM, Ford, and Chrysler marketshare speaks worlds about their commitment to selling cars and the "Big 3's" lack there-of. And I used to work for GM, FWIW.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I think it's funny that Autoblog is using the worst viewing angle of the Soul as their gallery cover.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Dan Roth,

      How does the ride feel, because usually Bigger rims usually equal less comfort.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Ride is fine, the photo car has bigger wheels than the one I drove. It's no Rolls Phantom, but it's not the bucket of marshmallow you'll find under other members of this segment.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Dan Roth,

        I know a lot of the cars in this segment (xB, Cube, possibly Element) have pretty soft and uninspiring handling. That said, none of these cars are benchmarks in cheap, fun performance.

        The real test of the Soul's character: can you tell us how the Soul's ride/handling compares to a Honda Fit Sport?
      • 5 Years Ago
      Looks ok. Body has too much of a plasticy feel for me.
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