Kia Soul — It has the hamsters dancing

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The dancing hamsters have got to be loving life these days. The first Kia Soul "driven" by these amusing rodents has been transformed into a second-generation Soul that includes an upgraded interior, more cargo space, loads of desirable options, a panoramic sunroof that boldly brings the great out-of-doors in, and improved performance from a beefed up platform and a revised 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine.

We spent more than 1,000 mi
les in a top-trim Soul! (pronounced Exclaim) and discovered to our delight that the little car is loaded with style and character. Its cabin exuded quality, and we found it was pleasantly comfortable be it on a long rather arduous winter trip through some of the worst weather we can remember in terms of constant rain that included periods of torrential downpours or under the blazing sun of the southwest. The Soul handled all quite well exhibiting a smooth ride while providing us with more than adequate solitude.

The remarkably quiet interior is the result of more NVH materials in the door cavities reducing wind and road noise, an "isolation pad," and layered carpet to further reduce interior racket.

Kia has done a good job revitalizing the Soul by eliminating most of its shortcomings. Soul gets more aggressive with a slightly lower roofline and a wider (0.6 inches) stance, a restyled grille and more angled windshield pillars. It's in the rear that the Soul has really been transformed by extending the wheelbase by 0.8 inches.

The Soul's boxy design results in excellent head room for both rows of passengers while providing a good field of vision in all directions. Cargo space has grown by half a cubic foot to 24.2 cubic feet and with the seats folded the Soul now has a useable 61.3 cubic feet, nearly 8 cubic feet more than the 2013 model. The enlarged tailgate is defined by black glass that morphs into gloss black trim that runs around the back and surrounds the large vertical taillights. It's very fetching.

The Soul is still powered by a choice of two four-cylinder engines, a 1.6-liter making 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque and a new 2.0-liter making 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic. A six-speed manual is available with the 1.6-liter engine.

Despite the same horsepower rating, the 2.0-liter has been significantly revised — now with direct injection — and feels considerably peppier than the previous engine. To back up this seat-of-the-pants perception, a major magazine found the 2014 model 1.2 seconds faster from 0-to-60 measured at 8.4 seconds.

This performance achievement comes with a significant improvement in gas mileage. The new Soul with automatic transmission is rated at 23 city, 31 highway and 26 overall compared to 23/28/25 last year. Surprisingly there is virtually no difference in mileage between the 1.6-liter (rated at 24/30/26) and the 2.0-liter. So the only reason to purchase the smaller engine is cost. While we applaud these gains in frugality, the Soul still trails much of the competition when it comes to gas mileage.

While we found the 2.0-liter engine capable of handling all situations, it isn't by any stretch of the imagination a track star, but overall we had no complaints over performance.

Inside the Soul, gauges and controls are intuitive and easy to read. We enjoyed the upgraded Infiniti audio system in our test car and we found the navigation system excellent, providing meticulous information including easy to read informative boxes on the large eight-inch touchscreen that made navigating easy.

The Soul is perhaps on the pricey side when compared to other vehicles that are shopped with the Kia. But with the Soul's unusual quality and high level of standard equipment, we have no problem with its pricing, which starts at $15,695 for the base car with manual transmission. Most people will probably purchase the + (Plus) trim or the Soul! (Exclaim) trim starting at $19,195 and $21,295 respectively.

There are a couple of desirable packages available including the Sun and Sound package at $2,600 that brings the large panoramic sunroof, automatic climate control, navigation, and the upgraded Infinity Audio System; and the $2,500 Whole Shabang (no kidding) package that adds such items as leather-trimmed seats, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats and push button start. Our test car was an Exclaim trim that included both packages bringing the bottom line to $26,195.

We think people shopping for a small hatchback or family car would be wise to discover what the hamsters already know, the 2014 Soul is a winner.

Base price: $15,695; as driven, $26,195
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 164 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 151 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Length: 163 inches
Curb weight: 2,714 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 24.2 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 61.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14.2 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 31 highway, 23 city
0-60: 8.1 seconds (Car & Driver)
Also consider: Scion xB, Chevrolet Sonic, Honda Fit

The Good
• Loaded with attitude
• Quality interior, user-friendly controls
• Fun-to-drive
• Good performance from 2.0-liter engine

The Bad
• Desirable options buried in packages

The Ugly
• Not-so-stellar gas mileage