2013 Kia Soul Review
By Graeme Fletcher, National Post
Kia Soul gives drivers more to love.
The Soul was a different sort of urban crossover when it debuted – it had the right utility, but with a style that proved to be far less offensive than the Nissan Cube. It also ushered in a new era for entry-level safety. Until that time, purchasing something for less than $20,000 that arrived with six air bags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control as standard equipment was unheard of – it could be argued that the Soul forced the purveyors of competing entry-level rides to smarten up their safety act.
The Soul was not, however, without its warts.
As the former owner of a 2010 Soul 2U, I liked the look in spite of its somewhat homely nature. The 2013 model has been reworked to give it some needed visual zing, especially the 4U Luxury tested. The look is now far more upscale, thanks to the projector headlights (which are also far more effective at night than the regular lamps), LED daytime running lights, LED tail lights and LED turn signals. Factor in the wider-looking stance, and it has some substance.
The powertrain has also taken an enormous step forward. While the former engine produced enough power (142 horsepower) to motivate the Soul reasonably well, the hitch was the four-speed automatic transmission – it forced the engine to work at 3,400 rpm when cruising the highway at 120 kilometres an hour. This was not good for ears or the fuel economy.
The 2013 Soul is very different. To begin, the 2.0-litre engine now produces 164 hp and 148 pound-feet of torque, which gives it a much more enthusiastic work ethic. More importantly, it is the addition of two extra gears that makes the real difference. The six-speed manumatic delivers much better low- and mid-range performance, while the leggier top gear cuts the highway rev rate to 2,400 rpm. This brings a significantly quieter ride and much better fuel economy – a test average of 8.1 litres per 100 kilometres in the 2013 model compared to the 8.7 L/100 km I averaged in my 2010 Soul.
The tester also featured Kia’s Active Eco system. It remaps the throttle and alters the transmission’s shift pattern to extract better economy. While it does bring an improvement in overall economy, the lacklustre nature of the throttle’s response dissuaded me from engaging it. It also left me wondering why Kia did not adopt Eco as the regular driving mode (it would also be able to post the better fuel economy numbers the Eco mode brings) and replace it with a Sport button should the driver want a more enthusiastic drive. After all, Sport sounds so much sexier than Active Eco.
The next major improvement was with the ride quality – the original Soul was widely criticized for being too harsh over anything but a perfectly smooth road. It prompted me to change the rear shocks on my car, which improved things noticeably. The new model suffers no such malady. The ride is now comfortably compliant without making the Soul feel as though it is about to go shiny-side-down when pushed through a fast on-ramp. Likewise, the steering, especially when it’s teamed with the 4U’s upsized P235/45R18 tires, has a more refined feel and better feedback. In the end, the combination adds some needed sportiness to the drive without impinging on the quality of the ride.
Where I did not recognize the 4U Luxury, at least when compared to my 2U, was how the cabin has been cleaned up – the materials are noticeably better, the instrumentation is cleaner and, in the Luxury, a navigation system with a large touchscreen takes top spot on the centre stack. The changes not only impart a richer feel to the cabin, the touchscreen made everything easier to use. The other big improvement proved to be the audio package.
I had to replace the speakers in my car because of the distortion whenever the volume was turned up above a whisper. The 4U Luxury earns a solid Infinity system that fills the cabin with clean sound, even when it is cranked. The overkill came in the mood lighting – when turned on, the ring around the front door speakers either transitions through a number of different colours or the lights flash in time to the music. Talk about a throwback to the disco era.
As for the rest of it, little changes. The driving position remains excellent, the sightlines are surprisingly clean and uncluttered, and there is the required utility. With the rear seat upright, the Soul accommodates 19.3 cubic feet and a generous 53.4 cu. ft. with both halves of the 60/40-split/folding seats down. More impressive is the lack of intrusion into the usable space – the tailgate opening is square and the rear suspension does not eat into the width of the floor.
Having lived with a Soul for the better part of three years, I felt I had a handle on what to expect of the replacement vehicle. I was more than surprised by the improvement. Not only have all of the issues I identified been addressed – the improvements to the ride quality, powertrain and interior quality – it has been transformed into a significantly better all-round package.
2013 Kia Soul in Review
Type of vehicle Front-wheel-drive compact crossover
Engine 2.0L, DOHC, inline four
Power 164 hp @ 6,500 rpm; 148 lb-ft of torque @ 4,800 rpm
Transmission Six-speed manumatic
Brakes Four-wheel disc with ABS
Base price/as tested $16,795/$25,795
Destination charge $1,650
Transport Canada fuel economy L/100 km 8.8 city, 7.1 hwy.
Standard features Automatic climate control with filtration, power locks, windows, heated mirrors, power moonroof, cruise control, height-adjustable driver’s seat, heated leather seats, tilt/telescopic steering, AM/FM/CD/satellite radio with eight speakers, USB/iPod inputs and steering wheel-mounted controls, navigation system with back-up camera, outside temperature readout, trip computer, Bluetooth, smart key with push-button start, auto-dimming rearview mirror, rear washer/wiper, rear spoiler, fog lights