As of this week, the 2014 Kia Soul has arrived at West Coast ports and is making its way to dealerships across the country.
For the faithful -- and their numbers are legion -- this amounts to high drama. In its short lifespan -- it was released in 2009 for the 2010 model year -- the funky little hatch has become a surprise sensation. Last year, in its fourth year of production, when sales could reasonably be expected to fall off, an astonishing 115,788 Souls found new homes.
At the outset, Kia would have been happy with annual sales of 30,000.
Kia will campaign the new Soul under the banner Totally Transformed, though a casual observer will be hard pressed to see it. Mild sheet metal revisions -- including a more muscular front end and unique, body-colored “floating” lift gate panel -- leave the Soul’s unmistakable profile intact.
Likewise, power trains carry over from last year, though they’re tweaked for improved responsiveness at low speeds and on city streets, where Soul proliferates.
Inside, where hard plastics once reigned, new and attractive soft-touch surfaces prevail. Materials quality improves dramatically, reflecting Kia’s willingness to invest in its new superstar. Fit and finish are unassailable.
A new circular design motif underscores what Kia says is the typical Soul owner’s affinity with music. It’s the idea of the “sonic ring” -- the way sound flows concentrically from its source, like ripples in a pond -- Kia execs said at the car’s national press launch in Minneapolis this week.
It’s only when the Soul is underway that its real transformation comes into focus. A lightweight new unibody and sweeping suspension revisions give the Soul a grown-up composure absent from the first edition.
Road surfaces in central Minnesota and neighboring Wisconsin are good enough to turn Inland Northwest drivers green with envy. Still, expansion joints and the occasional foray onto secondary roads gave the new suspension a chance to shine.
The second-generation Soul shrugs off road-surface flaws that would have sent shock waves through the old car’s cabin. Body roll is well controlled during high-speed cornering, though nothing about the Soul encourages aggressive driving.
A new one-piece steering assembly improves steering responsiveness and feel at all speeds. On-center feel is excellent and, despite the Soul’s upright stance, crosswinds don’t upset its composure.
Unfortunately, the electrically assisted system refuses to communicate road-surface information to the driver.
To reduce cabin noise, Kia added new subframe bushings, relocated the steering box and front stabilizer bar, reconfigured the rear shocks and used a new type of foam insulation.
Very little road noise makes its way into the cabin, even at freeway speeds, and wind noise off the upright A pillars is noticeable only in crosswinds.
Two engines are offered, a 1.6-liter four that makes 130 horsepower (24 mpg city/30 mpg highway) and a 2.0-liter four rated at 160 hp (23/31).
For 2014, the base, manual-transmission Soul gains $530 worth of new content and a price bump of $300 to $14,700. Automatic-transmission trims receive $705 of new gear and a $500 bump. Shipping adds $795.
At the launch, Kia announced plans for an electric Soul. To be released in 2014, it will be available only in limited markets.
With the new Soul, Kia proves what many already knew. Maturity does not extinguish the fun.
Contact Don Adair at email@example.com.