2010 Kia Soul

The Kia Soul is the latest in what I like to call “Boxcar Chic” automotive design. Also known affectionately as the “cookie box” or “shoebox” look, the first example of this was the Scion xB, followed by the Nissan Cube and now the Kia.

The difference between these cars and a Minivan or SUV is the size factor – these vehicles are only slightly larger than a conventional economy hatchback.  But that makes them perfect for the targeted “Urban Youth” market segment. That group of buyers also likes the fact that these little cars are so homely that they’re kind of cute.

So, let’s take a look at the 2010 Soul and see what you get. The basic vehicle is similar to any economy hatchback or small sedan. It’s about 10% bigger in every dimension, but not really larger than a Dodge Caliber, for example. You get the basic 4 cylinder engine and front wheel drive automatic or manual transmission common to most economy cars. The safety equipment is all the same – multiple airbags, stability control, antilock brakes, and child safety seat latches.

For creature comforts, it’s the same story – Air conditioning, AM/FM/CD with iPod attachment standard, reasonably nice seats, cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free phone support, power everything, and remote keyless entry – all that is the same as you’d find in Kia’s (or anyone’s) economy hatch.

The Soul is available in four trim levels: Soul, Soul+, Soul! Exclaim, and Soul Sport. Money out of your pocket is $13,300 for the base trim, while Soul+ starts at $14,950 and tops out at $17,100 when all options are included. Moving up to the Soul! Exclaim offers a price beginning at $16,950 and peaks at $17,900 with all available options included and the Soul Sport, designed for those with active lifestyles, starts at $16,950 and tops out at $18,600 with all available options included.

The Soul we had for evaluation is the premium Soul! Exclaim model. In this trim level, you get the 2.0-liter engine with either the five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission. The engine produces 142 horsepower with 137 pound-feet of torque, with fuel economy of 24/30. The base models offer a 1.6-liter engine that produces 122 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque, mated to a five-speed manual transmission. Fuel economy for the 1.6-liter manual comes in at an impressive 26/31 mpg.

The driving experience in the Soul is good – again, just like you’d expect from an economy hatchback. It handles nicely, has enough power to get you down the road, and it’s comfortable to drive.

So, with everything about the Soul that’s the same as an economy hatchback, you’re probably wondering what’s different?

The differences between the Soul and a standard hatchback car are crucial to the new model’s appeal. First of all, there’s that 10% size difference. Then, because of the funky box shape, all that extra space is directly usable. Fold down the rear seats on the Soul and you can load an entire dorm room’s worth of stuff into the car.

Kia also gifted the stereo with a big boomy subwoofer in addition to that iPod attachment, and throbbing mood lighting that comes from the speakers at night. That’s likely to be popular with the target youth market for this car. Lastly, there’s the avant garde look of the body lines and the larger wheels – the Soul just looks cool. The test car I had was painted in “Alien” green, and definitely looked like the car I wished for when I was packing up my old ’75 Honda Civic station wagon to head off to college.

The bottom line on the Kia Soul is that it’s likely to be as big a hit with the youth market as the Scion xB before it. And that car had breakthrough crossover (no pun intended) appeal as a business wagon for its billboard potential, and as a suburban adult car because of its small size and large cargo capacity. Taken together with their new Forte economy sedan and sexy Koup sports car, Kia deserves your consideration this year.

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