By Allen Penticoff
In my continuing reports about small economical new cars, this week I’ll report about the 2012 Kia Soul.
There is an interesting double entendre in the name. First of all, Kia is a Korean automaker. Seoul is the capital city of South Korea, which we Americans, long-time allies of that nation, pronounce as “soul.” Yet, soul defines a spirit, something wherein lies the person, the being. And that can apply to things like cars. Some do have soul, and Kia’s boxy little car is full of it.
I spent three years of my U.S. Army career in South Korea and Seoul. A lovely country that I really liked, with whom America has no better friend. I’ve found the Korean workers are among the world’s best, and the products they make are of good quality at reasonable prices. While the Soul is 99 percent Korean sourced and built, our relationship with Korea is not one of competition so much as mutual benefit.
Enough of the political. The Soul is a great fun car. Several others on the market are similar — the Scion Xb and the Honda Element, to name two. This is sort of a new niche of cars — they have a boxy look to them, and are kind of short station wagons or small SUVs. What the boxiness gives them is a lot of interior volume for the overall size of the vehicle. Four people can comfortably ride in a Soul, and bring some stuff with them. Fold down the rear seats and a LOT of stuff can be hauled.
The boxy little cars are almost exclusively marketed toward the young, hip scene, with hamsters driving around to hip-hop music featured in commercials. Being cool is what is important — not what the car can do. However, and this is a big however, these are selling like hotcakes to the older-than-50 crowd. You almost can’t get one — they don’t stay on the dealer lot long enough to get dusty. Why? Because the boxy, tall configuration makes them very easy to get in and out of for people with less-than-gymnastic joints.
The AARP crowd doesn’t mind the sportiness or the good gas mileage, either. They ain’t dead yet. I took a Kia Soul for a brief test drive from Rock River Kia, aided by sales representative Frank Calabrese and other helpful folks. Frank sent me out with a Soul equipped with a six-speed manual transmission. My favorite test vehicle — one with a stick-shift. It was appropriately sporty. The other transmission option is a six-speed automatic. The Soul can be found with either a 1.6-liter engine or a beefier 2.0-liter version.
While the handling is definitely sporty, as is the ride — the marketing of the Soul is about personalizing your “ride.” In addition to the two engines, there are three trim levels — the basic “Soul.” Next up is the “+” and the top of the line is the “!” The + and ! have the 2.0 engine; the ! is automatic transmission only.
Fuel economy varies little between the versions. The 1.6-liter attains EPA city/highway ratings of 27/35 for both transmissions, while the 2.0-liter gets 26/34 with either transmission. An ECO option for a start/stop feature that shuts down the engine at stops and restarts again when you want to go, yields for the 1.6-liter 29/36 and the 2.0-liter is 27/35. As with most new small cars, 40 mpg on the highway can be had with gentle driving.
All the options are about interior trim and electronics. The “infotainment” packages are increasingly more important to the consumer — so all the manufacturers have responded with awesome sound systems (the Soul even has loudspeakers in the doors that pulsate light rings with the music) and navigation and backup view cameras. Soul has this stuff, too. Each option level has slightly larger wheel rims and wider tires — all part of the coolness factor. Speaking of cool, even the base Soul has standard air-conditioning. I found the interior very comfortable and particularly liked the clear analog instrumentation.
Six airbags and computerized stability control earn the Soul the highest safety ratings. A great 10-year/100,000-mile power-train warranty takes some worry out of ownership. Prices are $13,900 for the base Soul with manual transmission to $19,600 for an “!” before options. Cute color names, too — like “Alien” (green) and “Molten” (red). Now, try to find one — they’re hot.
From the May 30-June 5, 2012, issue