2015 Kia Soul Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Fresh from a complete redesign for 2014, Kia Soul continues as one of the best boxy compacts on the market with its unique design, comfortable ride and roomy interior. The 2015 Kia Soul lineup continues to offer a choice of four-cylinder engines.
New for 2015: Kia Soul EV, an all-electric vehicle with a range of up to 93 miles. It's powered by a 109-horsepower electric motor, which makes a hearty 210 pound-feet of torque. The Kia Soul EV has distinct visual differences such as exclusive paint colors, white exterior and interior trim. Unique 16-inch wheels are wrapped with super low rolling resistance tires for added efficiency. The 2015 Kia Soul EV is EPA-rated at 120/92 City/Highway, or 105 Miles Per Gallon Equivalent (MPGe). The 2015 Kia Soul EV will be sold exclusively in California.
Kia Soul features a boxy shape with softened lines compared to pre-2014 models. The front end's tiny upper grille and a giant, mesh-covered lower grille make the Soul look grounded and hunkered down. Round accents, such as its foglights, add contrast to the Soul's boxy shape.
Inside, Soul has a unique circular theme, seen in the center stack and echoed in the air vents (with nifty round speakers that sit on top), the driver instrument cluster and the gearshift surround. Soul EVs get a dedicated display that shows battery life and projected range.
Models equipped with navigation use a system powered by Android, while those without nav use the Microsoft-powered UVO voice-recognition and handsfree system. A mobile app for Kia's UVO eServices allows owners to access vehicle diagnostics, saved points of interest and trip information from a compatible Android or Apple smartphone. Drivers can request roadside assistance and dealer appointments, and save the location where their vehicle is parked using the UVO eServices app. A separate app for the Kia Soul EV allows drivers to remotely lock or unlock the car, start or stop a charge, and provides directions to the nearest charging stations.
The standard Kia Soul is powered by a 1.6-liter engine that makes a modest 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque, available with a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic transmission. EPA fuel economy ratings are 24/30 mpg City/Highway with either gearbox.
More fun and more powerful is the 2.0-liter inline-4, good for 164 hp and 151 lb.-ft. of torque, available only with the 6-speed automatic. Fuel economy, perhaps surprisingly, isn't that different, with an EPA rating of 23/31 mpg City/Highway.
Both models run on Regular gasoline, while some competitors like the Fiat 500L and Mini Cooper Countryman require more-expensive Premium gas.
The Kia Soul is a fun car, great for tooling around in the city, and on mid-range road trips. There's plenty of room to carry gear, and the back seat will fit two or three in relative comfort for a compact vehicle. But it's not a car you get for its driving dynamics. With moderate acceleration, numb steering and relatively harsh ride, the Soul isn't by any means a performance vehicle.
Kia Soul is a unique player at a time when some automakers are discontinuing their boxy cars to focus on compact crossovers (the Nissan Cube, for example, is discontinued for 2015). As such, there are few direct competitors. Other versatile vehicles with a similar footprint include the Fiat 500L, Mini Cooper Countryman, and compact SUVs like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and the forthcoming redesigned Nissan Juke.
The 2015 Kia Soul is available with one of two gasoline engines in three trim levels: Base, Plus, Exclaim. The Soul EV all-electric vehicle is available in Base and Plus trims, and only in California.
The base Kia Soul comes only with the 1.6-liter engine and can be fitted with a 6-speed manual ($15,100) or 6-speed automatic ($17,100). Standard features include manually operated air conditioning, fabric upholstery, power windows and door locks, a six-way manually adjustable driver's seat, tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, a trip computer, Bluetooth, a six-speaker audio system with satellite radio capability and three-month subscription, auxiliary audio jack, USB port, a 60/40 folding rear seat, 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers.
Soul Plus ($18,600) is powered by the 2.0-liter engine and come with the 6-speed automatic transmission. Added features include remote keyless entry, cruise control, a center console with storage box and integrated armrest, rear seat center armrest, outside mirror turn-signal indicators, unique exterior trim and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Soul Exclaim ($20,700) upgrades further with leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob, 10-way power-adjustable driver's seat with lumbar adjustment, high-gloss piano-black center console, cooled glove box, auto-dimming rearview mirror, fog lights, projector headlights, front and rear LED accent lights, unique exterior trim and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Soul EV models are equipped similarly to their gasoline-powered counterparts and include navigation, as well as an EV-specific instrument cluster. Trim levels include Soul EV ($33,700) and Soul EV Plus ($35,700).
Safety features on all 2015 Kia Soul models include dual front airbags, dual front seat-mounted side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, electronic stability control, traction control, ABS, electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), brake assist and hill-start assist. A rearview camera is optional with the UVO eServices package.
Kia Soul is very much a box, though its lines are softened compared with pre-2014 generations. Designed to resemble a wild boar wearing a backpack, Soul has a wide, squat appearance.
The front end features a tiny upper grille and a giant, mesh-covered lower grille, making the Soul look grounded and hunkered down. Round accents, like foglights, contrast with the Soul's boxy shape. Soul Exclaim models have front tusks, echoing the boar-ish theme. Soul EV can be readily identified by the body-colored solid panel in place of the upper grille area, which includes a cover for the charging connection.
From the side, Kia Soul looks slightly more aerodynamic than a cracker box. The windshield is raked, making the Soul look more laid back in front than upright. Side windows have a decreasing, trapezoidal shape. Wheel designs differ by trim level; optional alloys look better than the base model's plastic wheel covers. In back, the Soul sports long, high-mounted tail lights and a broad-looking rear.
The Kia Soul EV gets unique styling cues: bright blue metallic paint, a white roof, white mirror caps, unique wheels and EV badging.
Instead of the flat, hard plastics found in most econo-boxes, the materials inside the Kia Soul are soft and palatable. The cabin has a unique circular theme, which can be seen in the center stack and echoed in the air vents (with nifty round speakers that sit on top), the driver instrument cluster and the gearshift surround.
The instrument cluster features two large, analog gauges with a driver information screen in the middle. High-end Exclaim trims can be equipped with an electronic TFT display. Soul EV models get a standard digital display that shows battery life and vehicle range. All variants we saw were contemporary and easy to read, without looking too quasi-futuristic, although we didn't get to see an example of the base model.
Multiple buttons on the steering wheel make changing stations, accessing audio and making a phone call convenient, but are so numerous they take some time to get used to.
Fabric seats are of fine quality. Basic seats offer moderate adjustability; we found the upgraded power seats with lumbar support to be more comfortable. We did notice after a few hours, however, that our lower backs and rear ends were a tad sore.
The optional leather upholstery seems stiff and waxy, and we might not have known it was genuine if we hadn't sniffed it to get a whiff of that unmistakable cowhide smell. We'd opt for the fabric, unless we wanted a fully loaded Soul Primo package, which includes the leather.
Storage in front is plentiful on Plus and Exclaim models, with a center console that has a deep storage box. Lower side door pockets are wide and can hold one or two large water bottles or coffee cups. Side door handles also have a cubby that can hold small items like a mobile phone, though we were dismayed when our driving companion noticed the space was the exact same size as his iPhone 5, and as such, had great difficultly retrieving it once it was wedged in. Kia engineers say they will address this issue in future models that roll of the assembly line.
Cars equipped with navigation benefit from a wider, eight-inch screen that uses capacitive touch, which lets users swipe and scroll, like a smartphone or iPad. Controls are mostly intuitive and the screen is bright and easy to read. Nav-equipped models are also powered by Andriod, while vehicles without nav continue to use the Microsoft-powered UVO voice-recognition and handsfree system.
A smartphone app for Kia's UVO eServices allows owners to access vehicle diagnostics, saved points of interest and trip information from a compatible Android or Apple smartphone. Drivers can also request roadside assistance and dealer appointments, and save the location where their vehicle is parked using the UVO eServices app.
A separate app for the Kia Soul EV allows drivers to remotely lock or unlock a car, start or stop a charge, and directs users to the nearest charging stations. All Soul EVs come with nav, and although you can call up nearest charging stations using the menu or via voice activation, we found certain third-party websites/apps were better at finding a wider variety of charging stations, including those parking spots with 120v outlets.
As with many OE voice recognition systems, the one in our Kia test car didn't seem to like us. The first few times we tried to set directions, it didn't understand what we were saying, and either asked us to try again, or listed incorrect information on the screen. Subsequent tries were better. Even though the system supposedly works with more natural language, one still must use canned commands for it to work. On the plus side, the touch screen lists suggestions, so you don't have to guess what to say.
The Infinity audio system adds a center speaker, subwoofer and external amplifier, as well as speaker lights that change color. Music on satellite radio and from MP3 files sounded okay, but didn't blow us away. The system sounded fine at lower volumes, but became distorted at higher volumes. It's a big improvement over the standard sound system, however. Audiophiles should consider getting this option, or go for aftermarket speakers.
Because of its boxy shape, the Kia Soul has plenty of headroom, both up front and in back. Rear legroom in the standard Soul measures a spacious 39.1 inches, and 36 inches in the Soul EV. That beats the Fiat 500L's 33.8 inches and Mini Cooper Countryman's 32.3 inches. As such, the Kia Soul is better suited to carrying a carfull of friends around town.
Cargo space in the Soul is excellent for its class, measuring 18.8 cubic feet with the rear seats up and the Soul's luggage undertray in place. Without the undertray, space expands to 24.2 cubic feet, for both gas-powered and EV models. The Fiat 500L isn't far behind with 23.1 cubic feet with all seats in place, but the Mini Cooper Countryman pales in comparison with only 16.5 cubic feet.
Front visibility is excellent thanks to the Soul's upright seating position and large windshield. In back, the liftgate has wide but short glass, and the large C-pillar makes for a substantial blind spot in the rear corners. Fortunately, the rearview camera helps to compensate.
For commuting and driving around town, we found the Kia Soul capable and comfortable. We preferred the 2.0-liter engine because fuel economy is nearly identical and the added power is beneficial when a passenger and cargo are along for the ride.
Underway, the Soul feels like a box. There is quite a bit of lean around the corners, which is typical for these types of cars. Steering is comfortable, but not sporty. While we had to actively steer the car, we also felt like it wasn't the most responsive. Every Soul comes with an adjustable steering system that Kia calls Flex Steer. It allows the driver to choose from three modes: Comfort, Normal, and Sport. Sport seemed to make the steering feel more heavy, while Comfort made it feel more loosey-goosey. The Flex Steer system does not change other vehicle dynamics like throttle response or shift points.
Suspension is on the firm side, but is not nearly as teeth-chattering as the Mini Cooper Countryman. The Soul behaves best on smoothly paved roads. Potholes unsettle the car a bit, but the current generation handles bumps and undulations much better than earlier Soul models. Braking is smooth and comfortable, and the 6-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly.
Similarly, the Kia Soul EV is great for city commuting, but not for jaunting around twisty roads. Acceleration is peppy off the line, thanks to the inherent low-end torque from the electric motor. Brakes have a comfortable, linear feel and aren't at all grabby like many hybrids or EVs, a stark contrast from BMW's one pedal approach that has so much built-in drag that one can stop its car at slow speeds just by lifting. While the Soul's brakes might not regenerate as much energy, it's definitely more comfortable and familiar. Super-low-rolling resistance tires help to achieve better efficiency, but moan and squeal when barely pushed in corners. Overall, it's quite pleasant.
The biggest issue with the Soul EV is the same issue with every electric car: You need a place to charge it. And finding a charging location is only part of the battle. In Santa Monica, California, chargers are abundant, but so are electric cars. It's rare to find a station that isn't already occupied by a Leaf, Volt or Tesla. Fortunately, many city parking charging stations are free in SM. To make matters more complicated, different companies operate different charging stations and one must have a separate account for each.
In addition to 120-volt household and Level-2 charging ports, the Soul EV also has the newer, DC fast-charge port. Though it's much quicker, we paid $9.99 for a single use for the fast charger (those with accounts pay less), and charging stopped at 84 percent, since fast changers won't charge to 100 percent capacity.
Soul EV is easy to keep charged in the suburbs. We charged one up on house current in New Jersey overnight and discovered it to be idiot-proof easy and a non-event. We became aware of the importance of parking near an outlet and we noticed the charge indicators on the adaptor were hard to read in bright sunlight. The connections were easy and when complete we quickly disconnected, closed the lid in the grille, stashed the charge cable in a compartment under the cargo floor, and drove away.
Kia Soul is cute and practical. a fun, unique choice with plenty of space. It's fun, looks unique, and infuses a big dose of practicality into a funky package. Soul EV is a good commuter car, provided drivers have easy access to charging, and it offers superior cargo space over many electric vehicles.
Laura Burstein filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after her test drive of the Kia Soul in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and a test drive of the Kia Soul EV in Los Angeles.
Kia Soul manual ($15,100), Soul automatic ($17,100); Soul Plus ($18,600); Soul Exclaim ($20,700); Soul EV ($33,700); Soul EV Plus ($35,700).
Hwasung, South Korea.
Options As Tested
Audio Package ($1,400) with navigation, automatic climate control, Infinity audio system, speaker lights; Primo Package ($3,000) with leather upholstery, heated and ventilated from seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, pushbutton start, 10-way power driver's seat with lumbar, panoramic sunroof, fog lights; UVO e-Services ($600) with UVO telematics services, rearview camera, automatic headlights; carpeted floor mats ($115).
Kia Soul Plus ($18,600).
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