Kia reaches out to young buyers with Soul

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by By TOM VOELK / Special to KING5.com

NWCN.com

Posted on June 4, 2009 at 9:35 AM

Updated Friday, Oct 23 at 3:06 PM

Video: Driving Northwest: Kia puts Soul in a box

There are few things that are always in style. The only two I can think of are youth and money.  Cars on the other hand have changed dramatically over the decades.  The tailfins on a classic Cadillac are fabulous when restricted to their time period, but stick them on a CTS and the result is akin to an NBA player wearing a dress.  No offence to Dennis Rodman.

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Kia wants to attract youth and their money with Soul.  Soul could be the name of a band, a clothing line or these days an antiperspirant, but since Kia manufactures automobiles they are sticking to what they do best.  The best way to snag a young buyer's cash is through style and these days that seems to equal a box.  Scion does it with the xB; Nissan has the new Cube.  Imagine how tailfins would look on any of these.

Even if Kia is successful in getting people to buy these rectangles on wheels not a lot of cash will be changing hands.  Soul starts at $13,995 with destination and with all major options the price will not go past $18,600.  That's the cost of my ! (or Exclaim) model tester vehicle.  There's also the + (Plus) and Sport (no punctuation shorthand here, Sport is just Sport). Using symbols instead of words apparently resonates, as do paint names like Alien (green), Molten (red) and Shadow (black).

Let me trot out my disclaimer: Style is subjective.

That said let's dive right into the creased and folded sheetmetal.  I like it.  So do the gawkers who have stopped me in various parking lots throughout the week. It has a fresh honest appeal similar to the original xB, even though Soul's square shape has more angularity to it.  Inside visibility is good, much better than the gun slits on the current generation xB.  A thick C pillar (tech talk for back pillar) doesn't create much of a blind spot.

"Oh, houndstooth!"  That's the squeal of delight from my 15-year-old daughter and her fashionista friends as they laid eyes on the upholstery for the first time.  I long to hear in that frequency again.  Funky and fun, this Isaac Mizrahi touch is only available on the !.  Suddenly I feel like I'm writing for Cosmo.  I'll let someone else pen the "5 things that are guaranteed to drive him wild" article.

Straight line performance will not drive him wild.

There are two engines.  The Base model car achieves its $13,995 price tag with a 1.6-liter engine making 122 horsepower.  Its only gearbox is a 5-speed manual. A buying tip?  Skip it for my tester's 2-liter, 144-horse motor.  As long as I'm doling out advice may I suggest the optional 4-speed autobox to the 5-speed manual?  These two additions may raise the total by $2,600 but it's harder to put a price on happiness.

Soul is front wheel drive.  Even with the 2.0-liter, acceleration is midpack with 0-60 runs clocking in at eight seconds.  To achieve its EPA average fuel economy of 24city/30 highway, the transmission wants to get to the tallest gear ratio in a hurry and hang on.   Road noise is average when cruising but floor the throttle and the engine makes itself known.   

Driving dynamics are much better.  Soul shows its soul most in the curves.  It's fun to fling into a corner, not something expected from a tall wagon.  With a crisp ride quality, it's never soft or mushy.  Kudos to the engineers for dialing in the details here.  At the very least they deserve a box lunch.  Can't believe I'm leaving that pun in.  Road trippers will find the on-center feel is solid though strong crosswinds affect the big box shape some. 

Take your eyes off the houndstooth.

Do that and you'll notice that Kia has installed a nice looking interior in the Soul.  Materials that make up the two-tone instrument panel may be hard but they are attractive and look a full price class higher than they are. Maybe two.  Switchgear for the manual heat/AC system is silky smooth.  The sound system controls get a zig-zag of red lighting and full iPod integration.  What could be cooler than that?  Maybe speakers with their own disco lights built in.  A dial lets you set it for mood, pulse-to-the-bass mode or for those days when you're overwhelmed, off.  A gimmick?  Sure as a $10 Prada bag is a knockoff.  Still, I'm guessing the flashing lights will be the tipping point that sells a few Souls.  In the end it looks better than it sounds, there's no way you're going to find a Bose-like system in a car this price. 

Other likes from the driver's perspective include a sunroof, Bluetooth hands-free phone system and convenient storage cubbies.  Gripes?  Don't corner too hard with hot coffee, even my largest mug named Godzilla rocks back and forth in the loose cupholders.  More important, the steering wheel doesn't telescope. 

Getting into Soul there's a slight step up.  In back three average-sized adults should be perfectly fine.  Plenty of headroom.  There's no folding armrest and the only cupholders are in the sides of the doors.  Nice in a pinch but someday I'l l have to tell you the story of my kid slamming the door shut with an open can of Coke in holder like that. 

Soul in a box

Soul is a cube and that bodes well for stashing stuff into it.  Its overall capacity with the split rear seats folded down is smaller than fellow box XB, bigger than Nissan Cube.  In the cargo area there's a very deep divided storage unit under the load floor.  Vey handy.  It's also removable to max out room.  Because most of the time you'll want the floor installed I'm doing the TP test with the floor in place.  The space behind the back seat doesn't appear very deep, my initial guess is 4 packs of Kirkland brand bath tissue.  I'm pleasantly surprised that it actually swallows 5.

Just like Scion dealers, Kia has a lot customization parts to make your Soul different from everyone else's, unless they use the same pieces you do.  Scion has done a masterfully subtle job of marketing their brand and I don't see Kia going the same route.  Unlike Scion, Kia is selling mini-vans, SUVs and family sedans with the same logo affixed to the grille.  Still, Soul's attitude will give Kia a big boost in brand recognition.  With Abercrombie & Fitch style at an Old Navy price point, Soul has a lot of it.

A sad footnote to our story

If you haven't seen the ad using hamsters to sell this car I highly recommend looking it up on  Ironically our family's hamster named Apollo had his last ride home from the vet in this car.  He seemed to like it but unlike the commercial, I drew the line at him actually taking the wheel.  Sadly a few days later cancer did him in.  Ferocious with burglars but gentle with kids, Apollo will be missed in our house. 

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