Not So Square After All
Well, that went by fast. After a year of manning the 2014 Kia Soul long-termer, the hamster-mobile has warmed my heart in more ways than one. I never would’ve thought I’d be sad to see the Shrek-colored boxcar go, but after living with it for a full year, I can understand why the Soul has continued to dominate sales charts.
In the year I had it, I’ve moved twice and stuffed the Soul to the max. I wasn’t the only one to take advantage of the Soul’s spacious interior, as it was requested as a support vehicle for photography purposes on multiple occasions. Other staffers found themselves loading it with their snow gear and skis, as well as party tables and chairs.
Although it looks funky on the outside, the Soul is surprisingly refined inside with leather-wrapped elements and just enough shiny black and aluminum plastic trim to make it look nice, not cheap. The dash is covered in soft-touch material, and the black stitching on the perforated black leather is tight and nicely constructed. The interior survived the year unscathed except for minor scuffs left by snowboards on the back of the passenger seat and on the black shiny plastic trim on the right rear passenger’s door panel. Some other (more expensive) cars have just a mesh lining covering the panoramic sunroof, but the Soul’s was thick enough to completely keep out the sun. Even though its interior proved to be very much grown up, the Soul still stayed true to its funky roots with unique elements such as the tweeters mounted on top of the HVAC vents.
Reactions from almost everyone who first stepped inside the Soul went a little something like this: “Whoa. It’s actually really nice in here.” It never failed. Not once did anyone ever complain about legroom or headroom, and I personally appreciated the easy ingress and egress. Even though I don’t have any little ones yet, I’d image the Soul would be a stylish alternative for small families. That’s because over the past year, I watched my puppy grow from a little 8-pound thing to a 46-pound beast in the Soul, and strapping his doggie seatbelt into the back seat was always a breeze thanks to the easy entry and exit. He also enjoyed himself back there, as the seats had a good seatback-to-seat-cushion ratio, allowing him to sit upright in a comfortable position. He seemed to think overall visibility of the Soul was great, too, especially because he could easily see out the large windows and rest his head on the low sill.
While I drove the Soul, the hatch proved relatively inexpensive to maintain. Aside from a piece of loose, black liftgate trim, we had no issues with the car, and spent just $127.32 in maintenance costs. Our long-term Mazda3 S GT, which carried an as-tested price of less than $1,000 more than our $26,635 Soul, cost $162.55 to maintain. Our all-wheel-drive 2012 Subaru Impreza Sport Limited cost $315.01 and our long-term 2013 Kia Rio SX, which traveled about 16,000 miles more than our Soul and visited the dealer for maintenance more often, cost $215.55.
So what will I miss the most? Well, let’s see: heated front seats, heated rear seats, cooled front seats, the massive panoramic sunroof, and the 18 radio station presets. It seems like I’ll just miss the premium features more than the actual car, but that’s not entirely true. The Soul did surprise me with its capable performance, which I really became familiar with on a new route home from work. Instead of driving on the traffic-choked 405 freeway over the notorious Sepulveda Pass, I started taking a detour through the canyon, and the Soul was able to hang through every quick turn. I underestimated the top-heavy Soul, thinking it was going to exhibit tons of body roll through the curves, but it stayed level and planted with each flick of the steering wheel. It may not handle like our long-term Subaru WRX STI, but it’s still more than stable enough to keep the average driver feeling confident on winding roads. If the Soul Exclaim’s 164-hp, 2.0-liter four-banger left me wanting a bit more, I can’t imagine what it’d be like driving the base model, which makes an anemic 130 hp by way of a 1.6-liter I-4. But if engine performance isn’t a big priority, the Soul’s blend of refinement, value, and fun styling should be more than enough to win consumers over. Although the models come standard with plenty of niceties, I highly suggest opting for some of the packages offered if you’ve got some extra cash lying around, because the premium features definitely helped the Soul earn some very high marks.
Of course, it wasn’t all perfect. Although the UVO infotainment system was super easy to use with a very responsive touchscreen, I wish it had more smartphone-like capabilities for things such as viewing the map. It’s hard trying to zoom in by pushing buttons on a touchscreen, so it’d be cool to just use the same gestures one would use to zoom in and out on a smartphone. Either way, the screen is good quality, which becomes apparent when the sun hits it. There’s no reflection, and it does a good job of hiding fingertip smudges. Back to the downfalls. The voice-control system is not the best, requiring me to repeat myself several times in certain instances. There was just the one aforementioned fit and finish issue with the black plastic trim on the tailgate was starting to lift. After a year behind the wheel, I grew to appreciate what the Soul was good at, realizing that it has more pros than cons. I never would have considered the Soul before my time in it, so it definitely proved me wrong.