Full 2010 Kia Soul Review
What's New for 2010
The 2010 Kia Soul is an all-new four-door hatchback/wagon with avant-garde styling and many customizable features.
To fully understand the 2010 Kia Soul, it helps to know a little something about its native land. Everywhere you look on the highways of South Korea, there's a white Sonata, a big nondescript black sedan or a silverish compact SUV. The only way there could be less color on the road would be if someone set the entire country to grayscale.
What Korea needs (and, by default, what its car industry needs) is a car like the Soul, a funky little box-on-wheels hatchback that comes in such hipster hues as Molten, Java, Shadow, Dune and Alien. Houndstooth and glow-in-the-dark upholsteries are available. As such, this commuter-friendly hatchback is a game-changer for Kia that should be bought for more than just its typical low price and lengthy warranty. Pardon the pun, but this thing's actually got some soul.
With its boxy shape, the 2010 Soul clearly has the Scion xB in its sights. However, the Kia has more rounded edges and a more angled greenhouse that features sharp-looking, blacked-out A-pillars. Inside, a stylish design available in two-tone hues complements straightforward controls. In terms of size, the Soul slots in between the too-small original xB and the current too-big (for some) xB, providing ample interior space and just enough cargo capacity.
Underneath its quirky styling resides a heavily modified Rio platform (hardly a great place to start), but the result is nevertheless a surprisingly fun-to-drive small car. It's no Mini Cooper, but the Soul stays well-planted in corners and provides the driver with a decent amount of feedback. Around town, the Soul is comfortable enough, but its low-tech suspension design results in a busy ride at highway speeds -- a sensation exacerbated by the higher trim levels' bigger wheels.
And speaking of trim levels, the Kia Soul wins the award for silliest trim names: They consist of base, +, ! and Sport. Yes, that's right, the symbols "+" and "!" are trim levels. There's no word whether ~ and # will soon follow. Regardless of their pseudo names, though, they include an ample amount of equipment, including standard antilock brakes, stability control, a USB audio jack and satellite radio, plus available items like Bluetooth, an upgraded stereo, a sunroof and the aforementioned two-tone interiors.
We think the 2010 Kia Soul is a compelling new entry in the economy car market: one with a pleasant driving character, lots of space, good build quality, loads of available features, a low price and a lengthy warranty. There are other choices to consider, naturally, including the Scion xB, which offers more power and interior space, and the Honda Fit, which has livelier handling and surprisingly cavernous cargo capacity. The new Nissan Cube will also fall into this quirky inside-the-box segment. None of these, however, offers the Soul's particular hip brand of style and character. And that's certainly something we've never uttered about a Kia before.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2010 Kia Soul is a four-door hatchback/wagon available in base, +, ! and Sport trim levels. Standard equipment includes 15-inch steel wheels, rear drum brakes, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a tilt steering column, a 60/40-split rear seat and a four-speaker stereo (with CD/MP3 player, satellite radio and USB and auxiliary audio jacks). The Soul + adds a bigger engine, 16-inch alloy wheels, rear disc brakes, cruise control, keyless entry, tinted rear windows, a height-adjustable driver seat, glow-in-the-dark upholstery, Bluetooth, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and additional speakers.
Optional on the Soul + are a sunroof, foglights and an upgraded audio system. Those options are included on the Soul !, along with 18-inch wheels and two-tone upholstery. The Soul Sport is similar to the Soul ! but has the upgraded audio system as standard, a sport-tuned suspension, a red-black two-tone interior and unique exterior trim details. The sunroof is optional on the Sport.
Powertrains and Performance
The base 2010 Kia Soul gets a 1.6-liter four-cylinder good for 122 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque. It is available only with a five-speed manual. The upper trim levels get a 2.0-liter inline-4 with 142 hp and 137 lb-ft of torque. The five-speed manual is standard, but a four-speed automatic is optional. In performance testing, a Soul Sport with the manual went from zero to 60 mph in a respectable 8.8 seconds.
Standard safety equipment includes antilock brakes (front-wheel discs on the base Soul, four-wheel discs on all other trims), stability control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags.
Interior Design and Special Features
In recent years, Kia interiors have been models of straightforward, user-friendly controls that keep buttons and knobs to a minimum. They've also been duller than an all-gray wardrobe. The all-new Soul maintains its stablemates' practicality, but adds some design flair and a literal dash of color. The interior features lots of interesting shapes, including a center stack that juts out in a pod featuring those simple audio and climate controls. Available features like special upholstery and two-tone color schemes make the all-black Honda Fit and Scion xB cabins seem unimaginative and depressing.
The amount of interior room is impressive, with high-mounted seats granting all passengers (regardless of size) an ample amount of legroom. The tall roof line leaves lots of space for gelled coifs. With the backseat raised or lowered, cargo room is significantly lacking compared to the cavernous xB and Fit, although the Soul's boxy shape certainly helps when carrying large items.
The 2010 Kia Soul is the most sprightly small car the Korean automaker has produced. The Soul, particularly the Sport model, feels light on its feet and surprisingly well-planted in high-speed turns. However, the hydraulic power steering is unremarkable, offering a numb on-center feel and a nonlinear effort. Around town, the Soul is decently comfy, but on the highway, the ride quality can be a bit choppy. The upper trims' 18-inch wheels and tires can also cause excessive noise and some harshness over major bumps, but they certainly look cool.
The Soul's base engine is anemic, but given the fact that it's only available with a manual transmission, we're guessing most people will end up with the bigger 2.0-liter four-cylinder anyway. This engine is at home around town and in traffic, thanks to a solid amount of low-end torque and an eagerness to rev. The manual shifter is direct enough, but the throws are long and the clutch take-up is vague.