2018 Kia Soul

Love it or hate it?

Just this week I had 2 customers over the course of 15 minutes that both reserved a midsize car in which the Soul,  Sentra, Corolla, and Elantra reside.  I gave them the options to choose from and the first said,

“Oh God, anything but a Soul.”

Only a few customers later, the selection was the same but the reply,

“Oh!  Definitely the Soul!  I had one of those a few months ago and loved it!”

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I had to see for myself what brings about such strong feelings towards the Soul.  I’m sure everyone has seen the commercials by now with hamsters dancing around and driving the Soul to hip hop music.  Obviously, Kia’s target demographic isn’t AARP members.

The styling makes it distinguishable from every other ride on the road today, except maybe the now defunct Nissan Cube that vanished [thankfully] in 2014.  Both vehicles have a cult-like following, but only Kia’s marketing worked for the long-term.

Looking on Kia’s website for the 2020 model year, the front grille resembles a Range Rover with it’s much slimmer headlamps.  I doubt the Soul will ever be referred to as a budget friendly Discovery, but time will tell how else they compare.

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I’m fully aware that not all rental cars age equally and this one was one of the roughest.  In the picture above, the paint has chipped off above the license plate and there’s a missing trim piece next to the right reflector.  It had been smoked in previously, but the smell was masked pretty well until it was left in direct sunlight.  The engine jerked unexplainably as if it had the gas saving AutoStop/Start, but the RPM gauge never moved at idle.

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The 1.6L engine had 160hp (up from the entry level 130hp base version) and was peppy enough to propel the 2900 lb. Soul from 0-60 in the mid seven second range.  The optional 2.0L turbo engine adds 40hp and cuts the 60mph sprint by over a second.  All 3 engines achieve nearly identical fuel economy at 25 city and 30 highway, but 2.0 liter turbo has the help of a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.  In my day with the Soul, I struggled to keep the trip computer above 25mpg even on a few highway trips.  I finished the day at rather disappointing 25.5, but not surprising considering the RPM gauge was flowing freely.  The 6-speed automatic was smooth into all gears when accelerating, but it downshifted from 6th to 5th at the slightest incline.

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The ‘trunk’ area is small if hauling 4 or 5 people is the duty of the day, but bigger than the Buick Encore of a few months ago.  At a base price of $20,500, the Soul seems to be a little pricey with having such a sparse cabin.  The Soul is one of very few cars on the market that is available with a 6-speed manual (starting at only $16,200) and available on the other end of the spectrum is the loaded electric version at an eye-popping $33,900.

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The backseat is just as sparse as last weeks Kia Niro, but with better seats.  The front seats were just right on my lower back and legs without the need for power adjustments. 20190208_140353

What the driver’s seat lacked in pizazz, it made up for in comfort.  It’s odd for me to get into a rental car and only adjust the distance from front to rear and be instantly ready to drive 500 miles.   The condition of the driver’s floormat is another example of the rough life this Soul has had in it’s 25,000 miles.

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The center stack was very simple with zero extras, but every button was perfectly labeled and presented with no surprises except for the oddly marked 180w and 120w power supplies below the HVAC controls.  The stereo wasn’t great, but light years better than the Niro.  An optional Harman-Kardon 7-speaker stereo with subwoofer and external amp is available.

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The ergonomics of the Soul was a favorite of any rental vehicle so far.  Everything was perfectly laid out and at night was aglow with the famous orange hue with no gaps in labeling.  It was refreshing not having any guesswork involved with changing a setting.  For some reason, I was really enthralled by the design of the outside A/C and defroster vents.  They were creative, well done, and so unique it almost appeared the car was built around them.

I don’t think I’d rent the Kia Soul again unless I could try an electric version.  The fuel economy was much lower than a similarly sized Sentra or Corolla, but the Soul has a higher SUV-like seating position.  I hope to scope out the Elantra and Corolla soon to compare and contrast.

SEAT COMFORT:
85 out of 100
ERGONOMICS:
95 out of 100 – only gripe was the RPM gauge seemed squeezed.
SOUND SYSTEM:
75 out of 100
TRUNK/STORAGE:
60 out of 100
ECONOMY:
55 out of 100
HIGHWAY CRUISER:
50 out of 100 – unforgiving ride on anything but fresh blacktop.
CITY COMMUTER:
60 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO RENT:
45 out of 100
RECOMMEND TO BUY:
60 out of 100 – A 3 yr old used car would be hard to ignore over a much pricier Corolla.
585 points