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Kia Soul: Growing up painlessly

I suspect that on some level toddlers know growing up isn’t going to be much fun.

As in, “What’s going to happen when people realize my adorable personality is just a collection of annoying quirks?”

What’s true for kids also holds for cars. There should be a parlor game about cars that were cool in their first generation but lost it all in their second.

Fortunately, the second-generation 2014 Soul has grown up without giving up its cute.

The Soul is a little longer and wider this year, so its already-roomy cabin grows roomier still. A stiff new chassis and suspension upgrades calm what was once a jittery ride. A host of invisible updates isolate the cabin from noise, vibration and harshness, known in the industry as NVH. The more popular of its two engines grows more power. 

Kia campaigns the new Soul under the banner Totally Transformed, though a casual observer is hard pressed to see it. Mild sheet metal revisions include a more muscular front end and unique, body-colored “floating” lift-gate panel. They leave intact the Soul’s unmistakable profile.  

Inside, new and attractive soft-touch surfaces replace the previous model’s hard plastics. Materials quality is dramatically improved, reflecting Kia’s willingness to invest in its little superstar. Fit and finish bespeak careful assembly.

The original introduced a circular design motif, which is amplified here. Kia says the proliferation of circular shapes reflects 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

The real Soul comes into focus on the road, where its lightweight unibody and sweeping suspension revisions give the Soul a grown-up composure the first edition lacked. This car shrugs off road-surface flaws that would have sent shock waves through the old one.

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 doesn’t communicate road-surface information to the driver.

Combatting 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.

At speed, wind noise off the upright A pillars makes itself evident. Otherwise, the cabin is remarkably tranquil cabin.
Two engines are offered. A 1.6-liter four makes 130 horsepower and can be mated to a six-speed manual (which includes a hill-start-assist feature) or six-speed automatic. With either transmission, efficiency is rated at 24 mpg city/30 mpg highway/26 mpg combined. 

A 164-hp 2.0-liter four powers upscale trims. It can be paired only with the automatic and returns EPA numbers of 23/31/26. An available Eco package bumps the combined mileage to 27.

The larger engine is modified this year to produce more power at lower engine speeds, enhancing the Soul’s performance in city traffic.

Kia might easily have botched the Soul’s transition out of infancy. That it didn’t testifies to its own growing maturity.

Contact Don Adair at

2014 Kia Soul ! (Exclaim)
Vehicle base price: $14,900
Trim level base price: $20,300
As tested: $26,195
Options included automatic climate control; panoramic sunroof; Infinity audio system; speaker lights; HID low-beam headlights; keyless entry and ignition; leather seat trim; heated and ventilated front seats; heated rear seats; heated steering wheel.
EPA ratings: 23 city/31 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified

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