By on November 24, 2014

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About five years ago, I made a career decision that I wish I had made much earlier: I decided to get into the Learning and Development field. Unfortunately for about twenty or so people, I had spent the previous fifteen years managing sales people, and I fired a lot of them.

As a result, I also spent a great deal of time interviewing people. One of the things that every HR person will tell you about interviewing is that you’re supposed to look for what they call “contrary evidence.” As an interviewer, you’re going to form an opinion about a candidate pretty quickly—it’s human nature. So you’re supposed to ask questions that could lead to evidence that is contrary to your original impression. If you naturally like a candidate, you should ask questions that could reveal negative things about him, and vice versa.

Thus, when I selected a 2015 Solar Yellow Kia Soul Plus for my one-day trip to the ATL last week, I looked for things to dislike about it.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t find any.

I’ve always been a fan of the Soul. Why? Simple. It’s the closest thing to a compact wagon currently for sale in the United States. It’s a quirky-looking car, with love-it or leave-it looks. The hamster campaign from years ago was easily the best and most memorable ad run by an automaker in recent history. I’ve owned three Hyundais, and all were excellent cars, so I have no K-car bias. In fact, if I were in my mid-twenties, I’d be in the market to buy one.

Yet, as I bypassed some of my favorite rental selections to pick the Soul, including a V6 Impala, I realized that I had formed all of my opinions just like the best Facebook and YouTube commenters do—that is to say, I had never driven one. I figured it was time to fix that.

My first impression of the Soul? It’s much, much bigger inside than I expected. I hopped in the back seat just to verify, and my 5’9″, 165 lb frame would have been entirely comfortable on a journey of any length. But while the Soul excels at people carrying, the storage with the back seats up isn’t sufficient for a 27″ suitcase, or for carry-on luggage for more than two. Not a huge deal unless you’re planning to make it your primary vehicle for a family of four.

The interior is cleanly designed, with simple, intuitive controls. My rental only had about 2K miles on it, so I don’t know how it will hold up over time, but all the interior materials appeared to be of acceptable quality. Unlike my previous week’s rental, a 2015 Ford Escape SE, everything inside the Soul makes sense. My iPhone was easy to pair, and the stereo system lived up to its rapping rodent credentials. While the clarity wasn’t the best, it thumps out the bass with effortless joy. I didn’t get the upgraded UVO infotaintment in my rental, but I don’t know if I’d want it—this one seemed to work just fine.

The seating position is one of the best I’ve seen in any car—it’s upright but still very comfortable. The visibility is quite good through the windshield as well as through the mirrors.

However, the joy of driving the Soul was about to be severely tested by a commute from the airport to the Perimeter North part of town. In ideal traffic conditions, it should take about twenty-five minutes. In this particular morning’s rush hour, it took nearly ninety.

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No matter. The XM Radio gave me plenty of choices for music and/or talk radio, and the Soul handled the start-stop nature of the traffic without much consternation. The 2.0 liter, 164 HP, direct fuel injection motor is neatly paired with a six-speed automatic that never seems to search for the right gear. My rental didn’t have the Idle Stop and Go option, but still managed 24 MPG along the way, which is one of the best ATL traffic numbers I’ve seen.

Even so, the motor gives more than enough power when called upon, and definitely more than I expected from the little four-banger. Max torque can be found at around 4000 RPM, which helps in dealing with the seventh circle of traffic Hell known as “Atlanta.” I was able to dart and dodge through I-75 and I-85 traffic quite fluidly, as the size of the Soul made it easy to fit into the tightest of spots.

I swear I tried to find things not to like about this car. It just does everything well, and it does many things very well. The only thing I can really think of is the price. A Soul Plus optioned out exactly as my rental was stickers at $19,400, which just seems like a bit too much for this car. I’d probably look for a base Soul with the 1.6 liter four cylinder and manual transmission for my own car—but I would just be looking for an airport commuter and fuel saver. For those looking for a true daily driver, the Plus would be the way to go. Also, the Solar Yellow isn’t available on the base car…damn. Okay, I’d get the Plus, too.

Having previously driven the Cube and the xB, this car is, by far, the best choice in this category. The interior is light years ahead of the Toyota and Nissan offerings, and the motor is the equal of the ubiquitous Toyota 2.4 2AZ-FE in the xB (and so much better than the Cube that it’s not even funny). Although it’s purely subjective, I think you’d have a hard time finding anybody who didn’t think the Soul was the best looking of the trio, too.

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In fact, the highest compliment I can pay the Soul is that, for the only the second time ever after driving a rental car (which I do over 25 times per year), I went to the OEM site to configure and price one. The first time I did that, I ended up buying a Ford Flex. I’m not saying I’ll end up buying a Soul, but only because I don’t have a need for one right now.

So, yes, if I were interviewing the Soul, I’d hire it immediately. And if you’re currently interviewing compact cars, make sure that you bring the Soul in for a look. You’ll be glad you did.

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96 Comments on “Rental Review: Doing Some Soul Searching...”


  • avatar
    petezeiss

    Needs a giant lilly pad. And some flies.

    • 0 avatar
      Lie2me

      You win

      • 0 avatar
        petezeiss

        But I forgive all for something this tall.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          It’s taller then an Audi and only half the price

          • 0 avatar
            petezeiss

            But HOW DOES IT DRIVE?

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            I don’t know, but hamsters love it and they’re pedant enthusiasts

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            It looks like a Pikachu in this color.

          • 0 avatar
            krhodes1

            It drives like a tall Corolla. That is not a good thing. I have a couple friends who have Souls (neither are gingers), they both love them. Very practical, but not a lot of fun.

            I’d rather have a FIAT 500L for this sort of thing. More interesting.

          • 0 avatar
            petezeiss

            “It drives like a tall Corolla.”

            …that you can actually see out of. Well, the front half, anyway.

          • 0 avatar
            SC5door

            “I’d rather have a FIAT 500L for this sort of thing. More interesting.”

            In this segment features, reliability, and price rule.

            I would NOT look to a 500L for reliability at all.

          • 0 avatar
            Blackcloud_9

            I recently bought a 2014 Soul + (Kale green). Really nice car for a reasonable price. Easy entry/egress, can easily swallow my road bike with the rear seats folded. I am getting about mid 20’s for gas mileage. But the listed combined mileage for the car is 26 mpg, so it’s right on target.
            My two complaints about the Soul are:
            1) The stereo is sub-par. While I don’t consider myself an audiophile; I do want clean clear sound out my stereo. The Soul’s stereo is rather muddy sounding.
            2) Due to its short wheelbase and firm suspension, it has a pretty choppy ride on the freeway. I know this car was not designed to be a freeway cruiser so, I accept this.

    • 0 avatar
      theupperonepercent

      That’s the Juke you’re thinking of.

  • avatar
    theupperonepercent

    But it’s horrifically ugly.

    Those futuristic, ugly, sci-fi movie-grade panels should be reserved for a Prius SUV, or a Johnny cab.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    “The cloth seating The visibility is quite good through the windshield as well as through the mirrors.”

    So, is the cloth seating good through the windshield? I’m interested in how you tested this.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Serious note: I’ve tried both a and prefer the Cube: it’s better-packaged inside, with a lower floor thanks to not having any SUV pretensions, and thusly more space for both people and stuff. It feels much more expansive.

    The sightlines are about the same (some blind spots to the rear and brutal reflections at night) but it fits four people over six-foot-six, which the Soul cannot do.

    It is slower, but it doesn’t really want to be hurried, either.

    • 0 avatar
      Truckducken

      Yes, the powertrain and handling of the Cube were completely uncompetitive. Hence the recent euthanasia. The Cube was a decent appliance and I liked it, but the Soul ate its lunch for good reason.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    …and spamblocked.

  • avatar
    petezeiss

    I hate it when car reviewers show the tunes they play.

    It’s painfully embarrassing to see what others think makes them hip.

    • 0 avatar

      I think you’re projecting a bit here. I simply took a picture of the console as soon as I started the car. I’m sure your eagle eye noticed the “1/156” and the fact that the song starts with the letter “A.”

      That being said, James Carter is the man.

    • 0 avatar
      Felis Concolor

      With a music library that varies from Specials, String Cheese Incident and Sigue Sigue Sputnik to Judee Sill, X Japan, Franz Ferdinand, Nakajima Miyuki and a bunch of the Russians, I enjoy being pointed and laughed at; it’s fun knowing how narrow the other’s musical horizons truly are.

  • avatar
    Occam

    One of my coworkers just bought one. I didn’t like how high it sat (I like the low legs-forward driving position over a kitchen chain), but it seemed very nice and well built.

    “I hopped in the back seat just to verify, and my 5’9″, 165 lb frame would have been entirely comfortable on a journey of any length.”

    At 5’9, 165, you should be able to comfortably fit in the back seat of any car short of an FT-86!

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Exactly. At 5’9″ this guy will fit into S2000 and will be able to recline in it as well. Funny, how someone can exaggerate his size. My friend is 6’2″ at 210lb and drives a mini without complaint.

      But I totally like Soul interior. It is may be the best interior in cheap car segment. However, no manual on 2L engine and lousy fuel efficiency turn me away.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    I personally know 2 retirees who have Kia Souls as a ‘city car.’ Both love them for the visibility, simplicity, and ability to throw grandkids’ car seats in the back without issue. If I were retired and had a Shelby GT350 on order, I could easily see myself having one of these as a second run-about or when I didn’t feel like degrading the ‘stang with a trip to pick up Ensure from Walgreens.

  • avatar
    strafer

    If the Soul interior was taller and a bit longer, it would replace my Element.

    • 0 avatar
      petezeiss

      You *can’t* replace an Element. I’m SO kicking myself for never getting one.

      • 0 avatar
        strafer

        If Honda had updated it with better aero and same efficiency and NVH gains as CR-V, I think lots of older Element owners would have traded up.
        I’ve had mine since 2003 and would have been one of those trading up.

        • 0 avatar
          petezeiss

          “better aero”

          NOOOOO! That get’s you a 30-degree slant on the A-pillar, a 3″ lower roofline and severe mirror-in-face.

          And they never stop there; they’d also slope the rear roofline downward to where the hatch area would be 40% less.

          Aero is the bane of any tall box’s existence, usually ending it.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          I was noticing how utterly derpy the Element looked at the front, with the grille taller than the lights. The SC version (Sports Car?) improved it greatly with the revised fascia. I think it’s the only one I’d have. But those were only available with manual?

          I don’t understand the Element range.

          • 0 avatar
            petezeiss

            Wiki does a nice job:

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Honda_Element

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            Thanks. Sounds like 09+ SC is the way to go for those looking. I don’t see many 09+ regular versions with the revised Ridgeline fascia, though it was a great improvement.

            That being said, boy it didn’t have much power @ 156 HP, and 19/23/20 mpg. Holy crap!

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            pete likes dogs and the Element was certainly one of those

          • 0 avatar
            This Is Dawg

            Nah Corey, I’ve got a friend with an automatic SC. I like most things about the car except the fact that the back seat not only divides right down the middle, and therefore has a huge crevice there, but they put permanent cup holders and plastic there so you CANNOT sit a fifth person in the thing.

            Can’t say I’ve driven it either, but it’s a comfy roadtripper.

          • 0 avatar
            Russycle

            @CoreyDL, you can easily beat 23 mpg highway in an Element. I usually get about 27-28 if I keep it under 70. And with Honda sound insulation and gearing, you really don’t want to spend much time over 70 anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      jconli1

      I dig the Soul, and have been impressed by Kia so far based on my wife’s ’13 Rio, but the secret to understanding the Element’s (easily misunderstood) magic is to realize it’s a van. The completely flat floor and easy step-through from the driver’s seat to the cargo compartment… not even a Transit Connect can do that.

      Her dealer’s tried to get my Element on trade for a Soul a few times… (and the TSX wagon also pulls at my heart) but a manual-trans, 25mpg, AWD compact van is pretty much irreplaceable at this point, so we’re aiming for 300k or more.

  • avatar
    bryanska

    I’d be interested to see a comparo between a loaded Soul with the Umber package and a loaded Golf.

  • avatar
    Toad

    The Soul is a nearly perfect affordable daily for most people that are not hauling around a passel of kids. Plenty of room, great seating position, efficient, lots of storage space (with back seats folded down) when you need it, the list goes on.

    As far as automobiles go one of the few good things that came out of the 1970’s was the economical hatchback, and the Soul is a great update on that design.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I read this first as “hauling around pastel kids.”

      I’m like what is this some racist statement about Soul buyers!?

      But literally only white people buy them, so that’s ok.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    I guess this car serves it’s purpose for some. I’ll be honest, I couldn’t care less how great it is. I can’t get past the looks and it’s 8.5 sec 0-60 time. Probably more like 9 seconds with passengers. There’s just something comical about this car. I feel like it’s the city version of a mini-van.

    • 0 avatar
      gnekker

      I guess that mini-van origin and 8.5 seconds 0-60 are are ultimate insults in your language :-)
      So, I would like your opinion on my choice of transportation: Citroen Berlingo first generation (it IS really a passenger version of delivery van) with 1.6 l turbodiesel with mighty 75 PS. Sitting position is high, acceleration time around 15 sec, max speed around 150 KMH, and I enjoy it :-)

      • 0 avatar
        petezeiss

        You are my clone (or I’m yours). But I can’t get those great Euro MPVs.

        Thanks for posting that.

        • 0 avatar
          Lie2me

          pete, there are Transit Connects in dealer shelters everywhere just looking for a good home. They’re quite friendly, good with children and most people can’t tell a Citroen Berlingo from a Transit Connect if they tried

          • 0 avatar
            petezeiss

            You try and find one with windows around here. For months I’ve pestered dealers about the “unminivan” but none ever appear.

            Last time I did an online check the nearest were in MKE, two white ones.

          • 0 avatar
            Lie2me

            There’s a dark blue Wagon XLT (windows) 2012 with 23K miles on it for $18,500 in Sauk City

          • 0 avatar
            petezeiss

            I didn’t think there *were* 2012 wagons. All that “unminivan” hoopdeedoo was just this past spring.

            Now me way curious, will look. Thanks.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      If you’re complaining about an 8.5 second 0-60 time, we’re spoiled. That’s entirely adequate for daily driving, and most of these will never be pushed that hard anyhow.

      Besides, for a few thousand more, you can get a turbocharged Forte5.

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      What about the Skoda Yeti instead. :D

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    As long as they hold up well these will be great first cars for the kids who are in middle school now.

    If I was looking for a city runabout the Soul would be on the short list. Anyone who complains about looks should look at the competition.

    • 0 avatar
      strafer

      Not much of a competition anymore in the square car club.
      Element and Cube are discontinued, and Xb just…exists.

      • 0 avatar
        Felis Concolor

        After a test drive in the Soul, we hopped to the Toyota dealership to look at the bB. We never even opened the door; one glance and she said, “not just no; Hell no!”

        • 0 avatar
          30-mile fetch

          Opening the door wouldn’t have changed your opinion.

        • 0 avatar
          CoreyDL

          Once, a man came to look at an Audi I had for sale, as he was searching for a used car for his son.

          He pulled up in his silver base model xA, and in conversation (after the test drive of Audi) I mentioned I had been in one before. He said, “Oh, so what did you think about it?”

          I responded that I found it rather cheap and plastic inside, and that it was buzzy and uncomfortable.

          I did not sell my Audi that day.

  • avatar
    Felis Concolor

    I’ve been spending the past year taking my SO to all the auto dealers in town and some in surrounding areas to test out various small and/or tall vehicles to select as her daily driver. After dozens of tests and re-tests, the choices have boiled down to Ford’s C-Max, Honda’s Fit and Kia’s Soul. The seating height, interior room and package value in the Kia made it stand out from the rest of the field early on, while the size reduction from the Roadmaster she’s currently enduring makes a better match for the crowded city driving conditions she encounters on a daily basis. And though its fuel consumption isn’t anywhere near the top of the current class, it’s a damn sight better than the LT1’s thirstiness.

  • avatar
    madman2k

    We have one of these (14 model), it’s my wife’s car. We got the exclaim model, in white, with the 18″ flat gray/silver wheels because it was the best looking IMO.

    Pretty comfortable car, the seating position is good and the visibility out of it is a lot better than my Prius (although dark tint isn’t doing that any favors at night).

    We average around 30 mpg in light traffic city driving, short trips mostly. Battling headwinds at 80mph on the interstate results in about 21, but a day of rural sightseeing driving fully warmed-up with light A/C use averaged 34.

    It’s a well put-together car and we intend to keep it until 100k miles, which should be 2021.

  • avatar
    Maymar

    If tomorrow, my wife needed a car, I’m fairly sure our first and only stop would be to find one of these. Do not pass go, do not look at the Fit I’d rather have. Which makes sense, it does everything a normal car is supposed to do adequately, looks like it has character, and she’s not soured on Korean cars (I, on the other hand, refuse to look at one for about a decade).

  • avatar
    30-mile fetch

    Kia really slammed one out of the park with this car. It’s just an easy, pleasant car to deal with. There’s nothing particularly enjoyable about driving it, but the power is adequate, it’s comfy enough, quiet enough, cheap enough, and more than roomy enough. Wrap it in interesting sheet metal and air an ad campaign that hits the mark, and you’ve just robbed Scion of any reason to exist.

    Kia kept on top of the ball updating this thing over the years as well. I drove one the first year they came out when the top engine was a 140 hp w/ 4 spd auto. Loud, coarse, unresponsive & slow. Was not impressed at all. Rented one a few years later with the same powertrain as Bark had. Combined with some interior improvements & additional noise reduction, and it transformed the car.

    • 0 avatar
      ZCD2.7T

      Agreed on all counts.

      After we bought our ’12 !(Exclaim!!111ELEVENTY!), I had the opportunity to rent an ’11 on a weekend trip. Based on that weekend drive, I would NEVER have purchased the first gen Soul (’09-’11). Crude, slow (a 4-speed automatic?!?!), loud, slow and did I mention LOUD?

      The 2nd gen (’12 and ’13) are vastly improved, and the ’14 and newer are better yet.

      Also, the author isn’t the only one to have found little to complain about in the current model – that seems to be a common theme running through the various tests I’ve read.

      It’s a great little car, and I don’t mind saying that I enjoy driving it almost as much as I do my DD, despite the Soul’s ~270 hp deficit.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I like the Soul, and I wanted a Soul, but then Kia decided the only way to get a stick shift was to get the model that’s so stripped out it doesn’t have keyless entry, so there’s no way to open the hatch from outside the vehicle.

    To open the hatch on a stick shift Soul:

    open the driver door with the key. (there are no other keyholes on the vehicle)

    push the power lock switch to “unlock”

    Close the driver door.

    Walk back to the hatch and open it.

    Way to go on that one, Kia.

  • avatar
    darkwing

    When 75/85’s that bad, sometimes you’re better off just getting on 285 and taking the long way around.

  • avatar

    Having test-drove the base 1.6-liter when Grandma bought a 2014 Soul earlier this year, I can tell you to avoid that one like the plague…even with the manual gearbox. The DI 2.0-liter is a lot better, although it makes the most dreadful noise if you mash the accelerator pedal. Grandma has a Soul Plus, but she ponied up for the full navigation system, and I think it outclasses those of cars costing five times as much.

    • 0 avatar
      gtemnykh

      Not having driven the 2.0, I can only agree about my negative impressions of the 1.6. Gruff little unit that gets very rough past 3k rpm, highway mpg very mediocre due to the lack of aerodynamics and large frontal area. Visibility good out the front but poor out the rear. Brake pedal was awfully sensitive, and the ride is not particularly well controlled but nor could it be called cushy. Passenger space is decent, but cargo space is actually quite poor considering the exterior dimensions. Lazy job on the packaging efficiency by the engineers IMO.

      Not to say it’s a bad car all around, just thoroughly mediocre, not excelling in any one area. I haven’t tested an xB or Cube.

  • avatar
    superchan7

    My wife and I shopped this for a baby-friendly car. At the time, the outgoing Soul was a bouncy ride. This looks to have improved both the ride and the interior, but space is still a little small if you’re looking to stretch out in the back.

    They must be selling reasonably well; it looks like a great all-around car for a mix of suburban and urban usage. My wife hates large cars, and I approve. We ended up with a 500L; the tailgate opens in our baby-clutter garage–with the garage door closed. Win.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    Nice review Bark. I’ll add it to the list if this class comes up.

  • avatar
    drw1926

    “…I realized that I had formed all of my opinions just like the best Facebook and YouTube commenters do—that is to say, I had never driven one.”

    You forgot to add: “and most TTAC commenters” as well.

  • avatar
    Wheatridger

    Gee, I thought the five-door Jetta, described on the same page here, was a also a compact. Or don’t you count “wagons?” That’s the same car, more or less, with a heavy blanket of “aero” draped over it.

    What did we learn here today, class? That the Soul is a boxy, roomy car that doesn’t suck on a short drive on a crowded freeway. I has a nice interior and a decent stereo. Sorry to bark back here, but that’s not much to hang a catchy headline on. In the past years, I’ve read some excellent motor journalism here, with detailed reviews from the likes of Karesh and sparkling prose from Baruth. This piece doesn’t meet that standard, or much of any standard.

    At least Brother Baruth has the good sense to act out his racing instincts at the track, not on a crowded freeway. So the Soul had enough power to “dart and dodge,” eh? Any car has that kind of power with a reckless jerk at the wheel.

  • avatar
    sgeffe

    I just can’t help but think every time I see one of these things that the ghost of AMC is calling and wants its Gremlin back!

  • avatar
    rickentropic

    The best small real econoboxes were 1967 Microbus, then the 2006 Xb. Soul was lucky to have ToyScion design idiots shoot themselves in the foot with “new & improved” gen2 Xb. Follow the tuners & aftermarket for the most interesting small vehicles.

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