After spending a few days down in San Diego test driving the all-new Kia Soul, I realized that it is impossible to discuss this vehicle without mentioning the hamsters. You know, Kia's lovable rodents that appear in Soul commercials. The ones that first told us how we could get with this, or we could get with that. Then stopped a robotic apocalypse. Then lost weight and became Hollywood hotshots. Those hamsters.

The thing about the Soul is that its marketing campaign has been so good -- the most recent hamster ad has over 1.3 million views on YouTube as of this writing -- it has almost entirely overshadowed the vehicle itself, which is a well-designed and well-engineered piece of machinery. So, from this point forward, I'm putting the hamsters are on hold and we're going to talk about the Kia Soul strictly as an automobile, which is something that doesn't seem to happen much anymore.

I've always had a soft spot for the Soul: In addition to its quirky box-like architecture and goofy paint jobs, the interior is spacious and versatile. But it has had some deep flaws in its fit and finish, with cheap materials inside and clunky handling.

Kia has addressed these issues head-on with a redesign for 2014, and has come up with a much better car. As a package, this box is now one of the best hatchbacks on the market for the money. It comes with a great, quiet interior and much better ride, alongside its unique design and presence on the road. All in all, it's a delightful machine.

Read on for more.
The Basics

The Basics

Sticker Price: $14,700 - $20,300

Invoice Price: NA

Engine: 1.6L I4; 2.0L I4

Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic

Performance: 103 horsepower, 118 lb-ft of torque (1.4L); 164 hp, 151 lb-ft of torque (2.0L)

Fuel Economy: NA

Seating: Five people

Cargo Capacity: 24.2 cubic feet (rear seats up), 61.3 cubic feet (rear seats down)

On Sale: Fourth quarter of 2013
Exterior Design

Exterior Design

The Soul retains its trademark boxy shape and exterior features, while receiving a few tweaks here and there. It is now slightly longer, wider and shorter, which gives it a sportier-looking stance. Available LEDs give the front of the car some life. There's a new front fascia with a trapezoidal grille and the rear end has been reworked to include a larger hatch and body color panel.

Comparing the old and new Soul side-by-side, the differences become much more apparent, but looking at the 2014 on its own, there's not much that makes it instantly evident that the car has undergone a complete redesign. And that's a good thing. The quirky design of the Soul gives it, well, some soul. Chic, urban, trendy, individual and colorful, this hatchback is one of the most recognizable vehicles on the road and is the most attractive of the boxy hatches, easily beating out the Nissan Cube and Scion xB.
Interior

Interior

The people at Kia weren't kidding when they said the interior of the Soul had been refined. Inside the cabin, the vehicle is barely recognizable. The overall look of the interior has been redone to appear much more premium and modern. The new seats are much more comfortable. The base Soul comes with some nice standard features, such as heated outside mirrors, Bluetooth and Sirius XM Radio. On the middle and high trim levels, drivers get premium stuff like heated and cooled leather seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and leather shifter, as well as a nice glossy center console, LED mood lighting and a massive panoramic sunroof.

The interior package is much more mature and polished, regardless of the trim level. It is quiet, spacious and aesthetically pleasing. Sure, there are some hard plastics to be found, but this isn't a $40,000 vehicle, so you have to expect some cheap materials. Kia has finally given the Soul the interior it deserves, making rolling around town in this hatch an enjoyable -- and funky --experience.
Passenger And Cargo Room

Passenger And Cargo Room

The Soul was already spacious on the inside. With the new tweaks to the vehicle's dimensions, passenger and cargo room has become even better. For the driver and passenger up front, head room is superb, and leg and elbow room are also quite comfortable. Leg room has been improved in the back, allowing rear seat passengers to enjoy a trip without feeling claustrophobic. The lower ride height has improved ingress and egress, meaning you and your passengers can enter and exit the vehicle with minimal strain.

Cargo space is excellent, too, even with the rear seats up. If you can afford to forgo rear seating, the Soul will provide you with up to 61.3 cubic feet of cargo space, which should give you enough room help your friend move across town.
Driving Dynamics

Driving Dynamics

Overall, the ride is lightyears better than the outgoing model. I experienced very little driver fatigue on a long drive through the mountains, country and city. Even on some older, crumbling roads, the car feels smooth, centered and much more stable.

Kia has improved the ride and handling of the Soul by making the chassis 29 percent stiffer, shifting around some of the drivetrain components to improve balance and employing revised front and rear suspension setups. Although the engines -- a 1.6L or 2.0L I4 -- are carryovers from the previous generation, they have been tweaked to provide more low-end torque, which makes the car peppier off of the line.

Despite these improvements, however, it's a big stretch to call this a sporty car. It's simply not very fast, and it isn't designed to handle quick turns at speed. The car is much better suited to a daily commute on the highway or in the city. There's enough power and the Soul is nimble enough to tackle those necessary aggressive maneuvers on a crowded city street, but speed junkies looking for an adrenaline rush should look elsewhere.
Tech And Infotainment

Tech And Infotainment

Available tech options on the 2014 Soul include an eight-inch touchscreen and Kia's UVO infotainment software. I like UVO a lot. It's an easy-to-use, attractive interface that can include other tech features like Pandora Internet radio and navigation.

Music is a big part of the Soul's identity, so Kia outfitted it with a solid six-speaker system that can be upgraded to a bass-pumping 350-watt Infinity audio system. The Soul's hallmark pulsating speakers make their return, flashing a ring of LED lights that wrap around the speaker while your favorite tune plays.

The tech on the Soul did include something odd that I had never seen before: An audible warning when the GPS sensed I was coming up on a curve. I triggered the warning, which exclaimed "Curve Ahead," about ten or twelve times on my trip. It's an irritating feature, mostly because it doesn't seem well calibrated. Sometimes it would go off in the middle of a curve. Sometimes it would go off a hundred yards before one. And sometimes it wouldn't go off at all. Hopefully this features is refined before Souls start popping up on dealer lots.
Bottom Line

Bottom Line

The 2014 Kia Soul is a huge improvement over its previous generation -- which was already a good car to begin with. The interior is great, the ride is much more palatable and the exterior design is fresh, while remaining true to what we've come to love. It's far from a sports car, but it's quick and nimble, providing the driver with a peppy little engine and more responsive steering.

Folks living in trendy urban settings or who just want to express some individuality on the road will be delighted by the Soul's quirky charm and thoroughly impressed with its features, level of comfort and value. It is, at the end of the day, the best box around.

AOL Autos accepts vehicle loans with insurance and a tank of gas for the purpose of evaluation and editorial content. Like most of the auto news industry, we also sometimes accept travel, lodging and event access for vehicle drive and news coverage opportunities. Our opinions and criticism remain our own – we do not accept sponsored editorial.


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