Even those who didn't appreciate the first Kia Soul's eye-catching exterior would acknowledge the Soul was a car that majored on style.
Replacing the underlying platform, updating the interior, and adding features are, to a degree, a set of secondary concerns in a car like this. The new Soul had to look every inch like the Soul, but if it didn't look new, it may not incite the necessary reaction from the style-conscious portion of the car-buying public.
Let's not bore ourselves with the details: the plentiful black surround on the tailgate, the headlamps that no longer grow deformities out of themselves, and the tiny but meaningful increases in length and width. To my eye, it looks like a more modern Kia Soul. Job well done. You are welcome to be the final arbiter.
As much as the exterior is an important section on the 2015 Soul's resume, I had high hopes that the rest of the car would undergo the more serious makeover. The first-generation Soul was obviously a marketplace success, but not because it rode smoothly, steered sweetly, or made efficient use of its powerplants, and not because it felt as well-built as the vehicles Kia has introduced since 2009.
In the 2015 model I drove around last week, superior ride quality was the most dramatic dynamic improvement. You'll continue to suffer from a few unwelcome encounters out back where there's still a torsion beam, but if poor ride quality was the key factor restraining a potential Soul buyer a year ago, they won't feel the same way now. Losing the 18-inch-wheels from this fully-optioned SX Luxury model (a $21,095 ! with The Whole Shabang Package for $26,195 including destination, in U.S.-speak) may further isolate road imperfections.
Kia's FlexSteer, which allows you to select one of three steering weight modes, is not uncommon in its lifelessness. I'd take GoodSteer from the latest Mazda 3 over the Soul's trio of optional steering modes, but the Soul’s rack isn't offensive. Nor is the handling anything worse than perfectly adequate. This isn't a sporting device; there is no great level of athleticism. But as with any properly small car, the Soul is delightfully agile in urban scenarios, and the new Soul is also pleasantly quiet during highway jaunts.
I would appreciate the availability of a manual transmission with the 2.0L engine. Subcompact-like dimensions and 164 horsepower sounds fun at first. This Soul, however, is carrying around 3100 pounds, and it's fitted with a 6-speed automatic that favours smoothness over swiftness. The 2.0L-powered Soul Exclamation Point isn't slow, but there is a sense of weight you don't expect in a car that's only 163 inches long.
Regardless of its on-road characteristics, the Soul has proven to be a winner because of its engaging design, outside and in, and its vast interior. Rear leg room is terrific, and thanks to our slim Diono car seat, two adults could sit in the back with the baby and voice no complaints. The driver's seat doesn't have the top-end Forte's extendable seat cushion, but I still enjoyed the chair-like seating position and the improved material quality in all the places no car owner ever touches except when cleaning. The driver's seat is powered in all sorts of ways, including lumbar, but the passenger makes do with basic manual adjustments. Both receive heated and cooled cushions, however. Living alongside the north Atlantic as I do, those ventilated front seats sure do come in handy for a long stretch during, well, the first week of August.
A bit longer than a Rio hatchback and a bit shorter than a Forte hatchback, the Soul's interior only forces you to sacrifice when it comes to seats-up cargo capacity. It's decidedly more subcompact-like than compact-like (18.8 height-assisted cubic feet compared with 15 in the Rio hatch and 23.2 in the Forte) until you fold the seats down. At which point, the Soul's boxy shape creates greater space than you'd get in, say, hatchback versions of the Mazda 3 or Ford Focus.
The Soul also feels like a much better-built car than the majority of, if not all, subcompacts. The rear doors thunk just as well as the front doors, rather than the thunk/thwack front/rear disagreement endured in many small cars. Kia's UVO system continues to operate at an above-average level, with multiple menus visible on the screen at any given time, quick responses, and conventional controls for most features.
For way less than $30,000, the level of luxury content in this Whole Shabanged Exclamation Point Soul is impressive, from the panoramic sunroof to the upgraded Infinity stereo, navigation, and heated rear seats. Plus, power-folding mirrors that unfolded and folded back a thousand times while I did yardwork beside our driveway with keys in my pocket, wondering all the while what that faint buzzing sound was.
The Soul still isn't sufficiently fuel efficient relative to most small cars, with EPA ratings of just 23/31 mpg. There is also genuine potential for a hot hatch here, and it would be wonderful if the Forte's turbo and manual transmission made the trek over to the Soul. It's easy to suggest that halo models are insisted upon only by non-buying enthusiasts but won’t turn out to be profit generators. Yet the Soul's audience has become so numerous that I have to believe a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive, sport-suspended Soul would gain more than just a small cult following.
Perhaps not. I won't argue with the merits of the car in its current state, nor the level of success Kia has stumbled upon with the Soul since it arrived in 2009. Through the end of May, Americans have registered nearly 500,000 Souls. Sales have improved every year, rising above 118,000 units in 2013. So far this year, U.S. Soul volume is up 21%, and it's outselling all "small" cars other than the Corolla, Civic, Cruze, Elantra, Focus, Sentra, and Jetta.
Kia Canada provided the vehicle and insurance for this review.