Rental Review: Doing Some Soul Searching

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth
rental review doing some soul searching

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.

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.

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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  • Sgeffe Sgeffe on Nov 28, 2014

    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!

  • Rickentropic Rickentropic on Dec 05, 2014

    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.

  • SCE to AUX Probably couldn't afford it - happens all the time.
  • MaintenanceCosts An ugly-a$s Challenger with poor equipment choices and an ugly Dealership Default color combination, not even a manual to redeem it, still no sale.
  • Cha65689852 To drive a car, you need human intelligence, not artificial intelligence.Unfortunately, these days even human brains are turning into mush thanks to addiction to smartphones and social media.
  • Mike1041 A nasty uncomfortable little car. Test drove in 2019 in a search for a single car that would appease two drivers. The compromise was not much better but at least it had decent rear vision and cargo capacity. The 2019 Honda HRV simply was too unforgiving and we ditched after 4 years. Enter the 23 HRV and we have a comfy size.
  • SCE to AUX I wonder who really cares about this. "Slave labor" is a useful term for the agendas of both right and left."UAW Wants Auto Industry to Stop Using Slave Labor"... but what will the UAW actually do if nothing changes?With unrelenting downward pressure on costs in every industry - coupled with labor shortages - expect to see more of this.Perhaps it's my fault when I choose the $259 cell phone over the $299 model, or the cheaper parts at RockAuto, or the lower-priced jacket at the store.Do I care about an ethical supply chain? Not really, I just want the product to work - and that's how most consumers are. We'd rather not know.Perhaps the 1990s notion of conflict-free, blood-free, ethically-sourced diamonds will find its way into the auto industry. That would be a good thing.
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