• Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert
  • Image Credit: Chris Paukert

Vital Stats

Engine:
2.0L I4
Power:
164 HP / 151 LB-FT
Transmission:
6-Speed Automatic
0-60 Time:
10.2 (est)
Drivetrain:
Front-Wheel Drive
Curb Weight:
2,879 LBS
Seating:
2+3
Cargo:
24.2 / 61.3 CU-FT
MPG:
24 City / 29 HWY (est)
Base Price:
$14,700
As Tested Price:
$26,795 (est)
Rounding Out The Market's Best Box



As a car critic, you can tell a lot about a new car just by looking at a map. That's because more often than not, the geography of where a vehicle is initially launched will tell you a surprising amount about how the automaker feels about its new baby. Manufacturers want their models to be shown in the best light – dynamically and socially – so they put a lot of thought into where they first let members of the media slip behind the wheel. Luxury cars nestle up closely to swank hotels in the globe's trendiest locales, high-performance cars are let loose on breathtaking mountain roads with adjacent racetracks, and so on. It all makes for a tough life, as you can imagine.

So consider it telling that when Kia first launched the Soul way back in 2009, it did so in Miami. Trendy? Check. Billiard-table level, arrow-straight smooth roads? Frequently snarled with traffic? Check and check. You see, good as it was, the original Soul wasn't a particularly thrilling driver. Competent, sure, but its simplistic suspension, modest power and upright dimensions didn't exactly afford it entertaining driving dynamics. Which is exactly why Kia launched it in an environment utterly devoid of potholes and curves (save those conjured by the area's robust plastic surgery community), instead choosing a city loaded down with pedestrians and slow-moving motorists.

So where did Kia choose to launch this new 2014 Soul? San Diego, a city built in and around a network of hundreds of canyons and mesas. Hmmm...
2014 Kia Soul2014 Kia Soul2014 Kia Soul

You're not looking at a Nissan Juke R in hamster's clothing.

Now listen – don't get ahead of yourself. You're not looking at a Nissan Juke R in hamster's clothing – that's not this car's mission. However, Kia is claiming sizable improvements in ride, handling and overall refinement. It may not seem like it at first glance, but this isn't another mid-cycle refresh – after five years on the market, the Soul has very much earned a new platform, and for 2014, it gets one. Based on Kia's so-called K architecture (apparently nobody told the company about Chrysler's long-maligned Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries), the Soul doesn't share an architecture with its Forte and Rio siblings so much as it does a toolbox and learnings. In other words, parts are not common, but the method in which they go together are. The Soul's new body-in-white is now 28.7-percent stiffer thanks in part to increased use of high-strength steels.

Size is up slightly, with a wheelbase that's increased by 0.8 inches giving a bit more room in the cabin. Overall dimensions are similar, with length up by 0.8 inches and width up by 0.6 inches. Conversely, overall height is down 0.4 inches, largely because ground clearance has been cut from 6.5 inches to 5.9, giving the Soul a more planted look at the expense of some faux crossover cred. Unfortunately, weight has increased, too, but not by much given the car's increased levels of content and more substantial construction. Officials tell us the 2014 model weighs 93 pounds more in base 1.6-liter spec and just 59 pounds more in the 2.0-liter volume trim. Figure on between 2,700- and 2,900 pounds, depending on specification.

2014 Kia Soul2014 Kia Soul2014 Kia Soul2014 Kia Soul

The Soul has owned this segment thanks to its styling, low cost and those irrepressible whirling rodents.

Visually, the new Soul is a carefully considered evolution of its predecessor, but if you place the two generations side-by-side, the differences become readily apparent, including a gaping new trapezoidal lower fascia with fog lamps punctuating the lower corners (a theme repeated with the reflectors on the rear bumper). It's one of a number of design decisions influenced by Kia's Track'ster concept of 2012. Lighting is also influenced by the three-door show car, with the range-topping Exclaim(!) model receiving LED corner units and halo-effect taillamps, along with available high-intensity discharge headlamps. While the new units doubtlessly provide better illumination, we prefer the look of the older pieces, with their unique recessed turn signals and a wraparound quality that the new fixtures lack. In fact, we'll go ahead and say that the old nose looked more youthful and distinctive, while the new face looks bluffer and more pugnacious. We do like the reworked rear end, particularly its larger rear hatch and the floating body-colored panel it wears like a backpack.

It's hard to blame Kia designers for not breaking out a clean sheet. The Soul has been a massive sales hit, selling some 112,000 units here last year – its best year ever – and Kia's dealers could have sold more units if only the company's Gwangju, Korea plant wasn't running at redline. Besides, it isn't as if rivals in this class have done themselves any favors by undergoing radical transitions from generation to generation. The Scion xB went from cult hero to the dog's breakfast in one fell swoop, and Nissan pulled something similar with its Cube between that model's second and third generations (North America only received the latter). Honda didn't even bother with an encore for its happy little toaster, the Element. Since going on sale in 2009, the Soul has pretty much owned this segment thanks to its distinctive styling, low cost of entry and those irrepressible whirling rodents from the marketing department.

2014 Kia Soul2014 Kia Soul2014 Kia Soul2014 Kia Soul

The interior... is nothing short of a colossal improvement.

If the new Soul's exterior doesn't strike you as a major departure, the interior should – it's nothing short of a colossal improvement. Materials look and feel better, the recontoured dual-density seat foams are now kinder to your backside, and the cabin now has a much more mature feel. That's particularly true of heavily optioned models like our tester, which featured a number of new creature comforts including a panoramic moonroof, heated and cooled leather seats (the driver's is powered), heated steering wheel and an eight-inch touchscreen that marks the first appearance of the company's new Android-based navigation system.

The latter is a nice system with quick reactions and crisp graphics, but annoyingly, it alerts the driver of oncoming bends in the road without seeming rhyme or reason. (The severity of the corner and one's rate of speed doesn't seem to matter, and on winding roads, it seems to pick corners at random, announcing some but ignoring others.) The navigation system doesn't even need to have a route programmed to do this, it just announces an impending apex, generally too late for the driver to do anything about it anyway. Officials assure us this unexpected "feature" will be turned off by the time cars start rolling into showrooms in October.

2014 Kia Soul2014 Kia Soul2014 Kia Soul2014 Kia Soul

Both powerplants have been reworked for more low-end torque.

That snafu aside, the Soul's cabin is more fun and functional than ever before, and it isn't just a raft of new gewgaws that make it a better place to be – it's better to look at, as well. We particularly like the redesigned door panels, along with the combined air vents and speaker grilles that bookend the dashboard like turrets, and the new steering wheel feels better in the hand while offering well-sorted switchgear for cruise control and audio. The new instrument panel is well-grained and soft to the touch, and it's thicker to let in less noise from beyond the firewall – even the carpets are more sound absorbent than before. Nobody's going to confuse the refinement levels with that of a Cadenza, but the interior no longer falls into the "cheap but cheerful" category. And you can stop biting your fingernails – those gloriously ridiculous pulsating speaker light rings have survived intact.

With all the changes that have been exacted on the Soul's platform and interior, it's perhaps a bit surprising that more hasn't been done with the car's moving parts, which are largely carryover. That means the buyer's choice of 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines – units introduced during the Soul's 2012 mid-cycle update. In all fairness, these engines are still quite new, and the larger one receives direct-injection for the first time (necessitating a whole new upper, including new heads and a roller-type timing chain), and both powerplants have been reworked for more low-end torque – Kia says it's up by 9 percent on the 1.6 liter and 5 percent on the 2.0 liter. Tuning for torque has altered the output figures a bit, and not all for the better. The smaller engine sees its horsepower drop from 138 to 130, with peak torque slipping from 123 pound-feet to 118. The larger 2.0 liter seen here fares better, generating the same 164 horsepower as last year's model a bit earlier on the tachometer (6,200 rpm instead of 6,500), and torque actually improves from 148 lb-ft at 4,800 rpm to 151 lb-ft at 4,000 rpm.

2014 Kia Soul

A six-speed manual and a conventional automatic with as many speeds carry over, though their gearing has been reevaluated to take advantage of the engines' remapped torque curves. Important note: The larger engine can no longer be ordered with three pedals – just one percent of new models sold last year were 2.0-liter manual transmission models, and Kia couldn't continue to justify the additional cost and build complexity. Despite the ever-present rumors, all-wheel drive remains highly unlikely, as floorpan-level alterations would need to be made (and as we pointed out in a recent news story, there's little incentive for Kia to develop new variants since it can't build enough of the standard car as it is).

A lot of time and money has been expended on the Soul's suspension.

Our advice? Unless you really want a manual, roll with the 2.0. Both powerplants are fine for around-town use (we only had the chance to drive the big'un), but the larger engine isn't much more than adequate on the mountain roads surrounding San Diego or even on meager steady inclines at freeway speeds, which coerces the automatic into hunting occasionally in an effort to extract a bit more motivation. If your drive plans include elevation changes or a heavy right foot, the smaller engine might not be up to the job. Fuel economy estimates are not yet available, but they shouldn't stray much from the 2013's figures, which means they figure to be about 24 miles per gallon in the city and 29 on the highway regardless of displacement, rather unremarkable figures in this day and age.

A lot of time and money has been expended on the Soul's suspension, even though its basic design remains the same – Macpherson struts up front, torsion beam out back, a commonly preferred setup for cost and space efficiency, but less so for outright performance. Jazzing up the compliant bits are costly twin-tube shocks (the rear dampers are now longer and completely vertical), more and larger bushings – including on the front subframe, which went without before – and a relocated front stabilizer bar and steering box to improve braking stability and directional fidelity. Coupled with the stiffer platform, all of these little alterations dial up a major improvement in ride and at least a click or two in handling, as well.

2014 Kia Soul

The new chassis feels like it can happily handle another 50 to 100 HP, and we'd love to see it get it.

Kia officials noted that they intentionally chose a drive route that included portions with road surfaces of dubious quality just to show off the new generation's improvements, and we have to admit, the difference between this car and the old Soul (outgoing models were also on-hand for short loops) is really quite dramatic. The new car feels significantly more planted, and even a bit more eager to turn-in thanks to the architectural changes and a new one-piece steering gear housing. Our loaded tester included Kia's optional adjustable electric power steering system, Flex Steer, which includes Comfort, Normal and Sport modes. We preferred the latter, but in truth the differences could be more sharply defined, with a bit more weight at one end of the spectrum and a bit less on the other. As it is, the system is fine, but it's still light on feel overall, even if it has better on-center manners than it did before. However, regardless of our test car's 18-inch treads, tire roar proved much less intrusive than we've experienced in Souls past, and wind and engine noise are much better managed than before, as well. Overall, the new chassis feels like it can happily handle another 50 to 100 horsepower, and we'd love to see it get it.

Given the departure of the Element as well as the soon-to-be abandoned xB and the no-replacement-in-sight Cube, it would be easy to think that the new Soul is merging onto Easy Street. But the competitive topography is actually as foreboding as it's ever been. There's direct new competition in the form of the 2014 Fiat 500L and the Mini Countryman isn't exactly an elder statesman (even if it is costly). There's also a raft of new space-efficient small car cross-shops on the map, including subcompacts like the next-generation Honda Fit and larger models like the Mazda3. Yet even in the face of this competitive landscape, with its much richer interior and major improvements in ride and handling, we expect this new model to continue to pay big dividends for its parent. Like its predecessor, the 2014 Soul figures to offer a happily familiar shape to Kia's beancounters – that of a cash box.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 112 Comments
      SealBeach
      • 1 Year Ago
      I hope the increased use of high strength steel has improved its small overlap test score.
      dwbsmailbox
      • 1 Year Ago
      I own a 2012 Soul+. My first foreign car. LOVE IT! 14k of problem free driving. One complaint, the car does not hold a front end alighment. I have had 5 alignments in a year and a half. I hope that area of the car has improved.
        bobjeeps9
        • 1 Year Ago
        @dwbsmailbox
        Why are you having problems with alignments? It's usually they didn't do it right the last time!
      al4u2nv539
      • 1 Year Ago
      I purchased my daughter, a first year college student, a 2013 model she loves her hamster car and so do I, especially the economy.
      ybgoss
      • 1 Year Ago
      Folks, the test estimated 0-60 time is bogus. I read that the 2013 automatic 2.0 does 0-60 in about 7 seconds which is as quick as most 60's muscle cars. Well, I've had my beige 2013 Soul+ for almost six months and it is every bit as quick as that 7 second figure number. Like the others, I like what I'm reading about the 2014 changes and I am tempted to switch, even though I'v got less that 4000 miles. Don't get me wrong, the 2013 is excellent save for some odd handling. Oh and BTW I'm a baby boomer, so you mid-lifers be warned, this is an excellent car for us.
        anandaone
        • 1 Year Ago
        @ybgoss
        Yeah, my good friend has the 1.6 litre 4 cyl 2012 model and her car seems to get to 60 faster than the 10.2 they're talking about. That's got to be some sort of typo for the upgraded 2014 2.0.
      KIA4me!
      • 1 Year Ago
      Very nice review Chris! I have a 2013 KIA Soul Exclaim that I love, the newest version of the Soul would almost tempt me to trade my Soul for a 2014...I said almost! Aside from my 2013 having the stiff legged suspension that does cause some noises and bottoming out when going over rough patcheds of the famous SOCAL freeways...I still love my Soul and will keep her for a while more. And remember when comparing he Soul to other cars in it's class...the Soul has a standard 10 year, 100,000 mile warranty AND 5 year roadside assist/trip planning maps/lockut service, etc. AND J.D. Powers rate it a Top Safety pick and #1 in initial owner satisfaction. As far as fuel mileage, I installed an after market K&N washable lifetime air filter in my 2.0 Soul, and actually eeked out a bit better fuel (2 or 3 MPG) mileage on my first Orange County to Las Vegas trip...so if I wanted to get better mileage I would have bought a cookie cutter "everyone has one" Prius and given up on the fun driving characteristics of my Soul! We all know a Prius ain't got no Soul! ;)
      ishmaelcrowley
      • 1 Year Ago
      Liked the original better. The just needed to fix the choppy ride and the flat seats.
      ilmhmtu
      • 1 Year Ago
      This new Soul reminds me of the xB. The original xB was a hit. It was quirky, functional, and interesting. The 2nd gen xB got the "rounded" edges and pouty jaw just like this Soul. As a result, the fan-base left. Sales plummeted and the xB is now being killed. I hope the Soul doesn't have the same fate.
      • 1 Year Ago
      [blocked]
        superchan7
        • 1 Year Ago
        That was really a joke---Kia couldn't give two mouse craps about a 1980s Chrysler product. In fact, that joke was not even really relevant to this review of a small Korean hatchback, so I kind of just ignored it. But if you want to latch onto it and write an essay, we won't stop you.
        • 1 Year Ago
        [blocked]
        Chris Paukert
        • 1 Year Ago
        Laser – Appreciate you taking the time to comment, but perhaps you should re-read what I wrote: "apparently nobody told the company about Chrysler's long-maligned Plymouth Reliant and Dodge Aries." The key word is "maligned," a term that Webster's describes as "to utter injuriously misleading or false reports about." If I wanted to say the K-Cars were horrible, I would've just used that word, "horrible," but that's not what I meant, nor is it what I wrote. I've said it on the podcast before, and I'll say it here to you – the K-Car saved Chrysler – mostly through offshoots like the minivans. It wasn't a great car, but it doesn't deserve the slating it received. It does, however, have a lingering troubled reputation. Also, since you were wondering, I have indeed spent time in a number of K-cars, including a friend that had a wagon in high school that just refused to die no matter how much pain and neglect was inflicted upon it. I hope this helps clarify the matter for you.
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Chris Paukert
          [blocked]
        Shadrach Miller
        • 1 Year Ago
        You had me until the "Government Motors" BS. Better get back under your bridge before you get a sunburn.
      mary.keana
      • 1 Year Ago
      Holy mofo, this is article number seven in the past two weeks on this hideous turd. So, the first line in any KIA or Hyundai test drive should be how far off the EPA was your mileage.
        askroon
        • 1 Year Ago
        @mary.keana
        Hideous turd?? Are you kidding? I think it looks great!
          • 1 Year Ago
          @askroon
          [blocked]
        • 1 Year Ago
        @mary.keana
        [blocked]
        piggybox
        • 1 Year Ago
        @mary.keana
        not a fan of this kind of style, but it is different and does sell well. So is Juke. They must be doing something right in the end.
      FIDTRO
      • 1 Year Ago
      I'd hoped they would do a long-term review so we could see how long it would take for the rusting to begin.
      bonehead
      • 1 Year Ago
      PRICE AS TESTED WTF!!! But aside from that I really wish Toyota would update the xB. The xB weight 200lbs more than this with less hp and a 4speed auto/5speed manual. Yet the xB gets only 1mpg less, and does 0-60 atleast 2 seconds faster. With the xB so close in specs (and up in reliability) some small changes could make it top of this pack again. Hopefully toyota improves their product instead of abandoning it.
        • 1 Year Ago
        @bonehead
        [blocked]
        • 1 Year Ago
        @bonehead
        [blocked]
          jessesrq
          • 1 Year Ago
          But AB posters love to cry foul any time a car maker offers premium content and feels entitled to charge customers for it. The truth is that all economy cars can now be optioned as well as family sedans and entry luxury cars, even if the take rates are very low. The depreciation is awful, since the options do not bring a commensurate premium on the used car market. But these models serve three purposes: 1) Allow manufacturers to advertise high end features; 2) Comprise test fleets to journalists tout those feature; and 3) Give customers who want luxury features in small cars a choice.
        Bill
        • 1 Year Ago
        @bonehead
        The xB with its redesign in 2007 became one of the worst looking cars in America. Toyota is a lumbering giant and can only focus its attention on certain areas... right now it seems to be performance cars...
          bonehead
          • 1 Year Ago
          @Bill
          i actually preferred the look of the 2008 to the previous model. more muscular and solid looking. And didnt look like your every day run of the mill car which everything else in that price range was at the time
        ravenosa
        • 1 Year Ago
        @bonehead
        There's no way I'm buying a Scion, and their current line-up is an ugly mess right now, anyways. Also, Scion's interiors can't compare with Kia's. Really liking what they're doing with the 2014 Soul...
        whatamooseiam
        • 1 Year Ago
        @bonehead
        Hey bonehead, Did you really just post the 0-60 times for the xB of 7.7 seconds and claim it's 2 seconds faster, when from the SAME SOURCE it says the following about the Soul? LOL! 2012 Kia Soul (1.6L) 0-60 mph 7.7 Quarter Mile 16.1 2012 Kia Soul+ (2.0L) 0-60 mph 7.0 Quarter Mile 15.4
      Ducman69
      • 1 Year Ago
      So 29 Kia miles per gallon, that's like 23 regular miles per gallon, right? ;)
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