What was first introduced as a concept vehicle in January 2006 at the Detroit International Auto Show, has become a production reality for the 2010 model year. The Soul is a compact five-passenger, five-door (four doors with a rear hatch) that is poised to compete with the Scion xB and Nissan's Cube.
The Soul will come in four variations: the base Soul starts at $13,300; the Soul Plus at $14,950, The Soul Sport has a window tag of $16,950; and the Soul Exclaim starts at $17,900. A fully-loaded, top-of-the-line Soul still manages to come in under the $19,000 mark.
There are two inline four-cylinder engines available - a 1.6-liter that puts out 122 horsepower along with 115 pound-feet of torque or a 2-liter that delivers 142 horses at 6,000 rpm, while generating 137 pound-feet of torque at 4,600 rpm.
Both engines incorporate Continuously Variable Valve Timing and both mate to a five-speed manual gearbox as standard. Souls with the 2-liter engine may also be coupled to an available four-speed automatic transmission. All Soul models are front-wheel driven. The Soul is based on a version of the subcompact Kia Rio platform with bolder cues than the somewhat conservative Kia Rondo.
The Soul sports a reverse wedge greenhouse with blacked-out "A" and "B" pillars, giving the roof a floating effect. Wheel-well arches are highly pronounced in the form of fenders. Front air inlets housed below the grille take on the look and form served up by Audi, drawing its influence from former Audi designer Ian Schreyer. The interior features a floating center stack, driver-oriented gauges and a comfortable cabin ambience. There's also a dual-level glovebox and an under-floor cargo tray.
Soul offers 11 exterior colors and three interior two-tone combinations, along with more than 50 ways to personalize one's vehicle, characterizing it to suit individual tastes and requirements.
My test Soul came in Exclaim trim with the 2-liter engine and four-speed automatic, finished outside in Dune, a creamy off-white color. The interior was Sand and black. The base price was set at $17,900, with the final sticker totaling $18,995. I also was able to test the Soul Sport model with the five-speed manual gearbox. It was finished outside in Titanium metallic with a red-an-black interior, and base priced at $16,950. Adding the power sunroof and destination charge increased the sticker to $18,345.
Standard equipment and features include: ABS, ESC, remote keyless entry, power sunroof, 60/40 split folding rear seats and lots more than one would normally expect in the Soul's price range.
The 2010 Kia Soul Exclaim is a practical transportation option that is fun to drive within stylish packaging. Acceleration is not blistering but is adequate to get the job done with a little spirit thrown in. The steering isn't sports-car crisp, but seems agile enough to provide a few giggles in the twisties. The ride quality is comfortably compliant, but the boxy form offers a substantial target for 45 to 50 mph cross winds when crossing a bridge such as San Francisco's Golden Gate. The automatic transmission shifts nicely though I prefer the five-speed manual gearbox that I tested in the Sport version.
There are lots of thoughtful storage nooks and crannies, along with cool, quirky features such as the audio speakers that flash mood lighting to match the bass notes. Rear seat passengers will find sufficient space behind even tall front seat occupants.
Add the squarely good looks to the 10-year/100,000 mile limited power train warranty and five-year/60,000 mile 24-hour roadside assistance program, and the Soul provides a hip, value-packed compact ride.