Marketing to a particular demographic is a tricky business—just ask Honda or Toyota. Honda introduced the Element in 2003. Toyota brought us the Scion xB in 2004. Both machines were designed as funky vehicles to fit the twenty-something lifestyle. Needless to say, their room and versatility immediately found favor with the quintagenarian crowd. Now Kia’s taking a shot with the Soul. Our own Eddie Niedermeyer, squarely in the demographic Kia’s aiming for, liked it. But then there are us pesky demographic-bustin’ Boomers. Will we see more Souls parked at the old farts’ home than on college campuses?
Kia’s California design team obviously placed the xB in their sights when they designed the Soul. Fortunately, they managed to give it flair of its own, instead of simply copying Toyota. The Soul’s not as boxy as the original xB nor as bloated as the second gen. From its stubby hood to the “Li’l Coffin”-ish D-pillar, the styling works.
Kia offers the Soul in four trim levels. The base model starts at just over $13K, fitted with a 1.6L 122 hp engine. Upgrade to the Soul+ (Plus) and you get 400 more cc’s and 20 more horses. Going on to the Soul! (Exclaim) nets more toys: 18″ alloys, Bluetooth, sunroof and upgraded audio. Moving all the way to the Soul Sport (what . . . no punctuation?) adds a “sport-tuned suspension” and “unique front and rear fascias.” By now you’re pushing $18K, but that’s about as far as you can ride on the Soul train. That is, unless you spend too much time talking to the finance guy with the fat accessory catalog and pictures of his starving children.
What color was our Soul Sport tester’s paint? The Shadow knows. (For those who learned colors in kindergarten instead of marketing school, that’s black.) Depending on the model chosen you can also buy your Soul in Alien (pea soup green), Molten (red), Java (dark brown), Dune (beige), Titanium (brownish gray), Clear White or Bright Silver. The interior color is keyed to the model chosen, not the exterior color.
In the case of the Sport, you get a red instrument panel with black trim, and black seats and door panels with red trim. It looks a lot better in person than in the photos, and it’s a nice break from the sepulchral theme prevalent in other econobox interiors. After all, we Boomers will be spending a lot of time inside a dark box soon enough; no need in rushing the inevitable.
The Soul’s interior has enough space for four six-footers to sit comfortably if somewhat upright. However, if they’re going on a road trip, someone better have splurged for the roof rack from that accessory catalog. There’s adequate space behind the rear seats for normal errands; anything more will require folding the rear seats. Once that’s done, there’s ample cargo capacity for a couple of large dogs, a Costco run, or two or three walkers. There’s also a deep, subdivided well under the rear floor where you can stash the Depends, Metamucil or other such necessities.
Driving the Soul is bound to stir memories in those who drove an original VW Beetle in college. The seats sit upright and are fairly firm. The steering is light and the shifter has the same vague rubbery feel as the original Beetle’s. It’s kind of awkward, just like the first time you drove a Beetle, but you soon get used to the feel, clunking it in and out of gear without a second thought.
Also like the Beetle: you can drive the Soul flat-out and never break the law. It has more than adequate power for dealing with traffic. Its short wheelbase and tight turning radius let you pull off parking lot maneuvers you’d never attempt in the Crown Vic or LeSabre. If you really want to push it, the Kia Soul will make the run from zero to 60 in just under 9 seconds. Just be prepared for a Beetle-ish cacophony, this time coming from the front end instead of the rear.
One area that’s definitely un-Beetle-like: the braking. Hit the Soul’s center pedal hard enough and Kia’s four-wheel disks whoa you down from 60 in 119 feet. Safe! As the young ’uns like to say. I think.
Cruising at 70 (miles per hour, not years old) feels fairly relaxed. As you’d expect from the blocky shape, there’s a lot of wind noise. Never mind. Simply crank up Steppenwolf on the eight-speaker stereo and let the throbbing red front speakers drown out the wind with “Magic Carpet Ride.” Fantasy will set you free.
The speakers are gimmicks, and most Boomers will end up turning them off. However, everything else hits the mark. During my week with the Soul, I saw two other examples, both piloted by middle-aged white guys. Kia, I think you’ve found your demographic.
[Kia provided the vehicle reviewed, insurance and a tank of gas.]