The 2010 Kia Soul is a practical new four-door hatchback that provides copious passenger space in a well-equipped package that emphasizes value. If you enjoy some quirky exterior styling to go along with those pragmatic charms, the Soul will exude even more appeal. Frisky and with low-effort controls, the 2010 Kia Soul Sport joins a growing cadre of compacts that combine impressive function and frugality in an affordable set of wheels.
Though marketed toward a younger set with a host of colorful customizing options, the all-new Kia Soul will appeal equally to the young-at-heart crowd. Empty nesters will appreciate the extensive warranty and just-right elevated seat height. If boxy cars for less than $20K are your thing, the Soul's not your only choice in the segment, with the new Nissan Cube joining Scion's xB in the angular compact crew. If you prefer your economy and function with a little more swoop, Honda's Fit, Scion's xD and Suzuki's SX4 are also class players.
The 2010 Kia Soul is available with either of two inline-4 engine choices, a 1.6-liter producing 122 horsepower in the base model and a 142-hp 2.0-liter mill in the Soul Plus (+), Soul Exclaim (!) and our Soul Sport (sport) test car. The smaller power plant is available solely with a five-speed manual transmission, while the larger engine can be had with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic. Our well-equipped Soul Sport arrived with the five-speed transmission and no options.
The five-speed tranny is functional and shift effort is light, but shifter feel is kindly described as vague. The steering is also light but is quick to respond to driver inputs. Complementing the low steering and shift effort, the 2010 Kia Soul has one of the lightest clutches in recent memory. For a tallish vehicle, body roll is noticeable but not excessive, and the standard 18-inch tires on the Soul Sport provide a secure sense of grip. When combined with the car's responsive steering, this playful tuning adds to the Soul's spritely feel.
At the test track, our Soul Sport scooted to 60 mph in a class-competitive 8.8 seconds, though it feels a bit breathless at higher freeway speeds. It also produced solid braking numbers, halting from 60 mph in 128 feet.
Quick moves at an interstate pace can make the Soul feel twitchy, requiring consistent attention at the wheel. At elevated speeds, the Soul never feels hunkered down, but the Soul Sport's flinty freeway traits pay dividends when it comes to carving up surface streets in the daily grind.
In town, the Soul Sport's quick reflexes make it a responsive and fun machine to squirt through traffic. At low speeds, the Soul's 2.0-liter mill is peppy, with a throttle tuned for energetic stoplight leaps, and the gearing of the five-speed seems well matched to the engine's power band. On the open road, the Soul has plenty of urge to run in the fastest freeway lanes, but a driver's calls for more speed once at this pace are met more with engine sounds than meaningful acceleration.
The 2010 Kia Soul does reasonably well at the pump, earning a 26/31/28 (city/hwy/combined) EPA mpg rating for the base 1.6-liter engine, and an only slightly worse 24/30/26 rating for the 2.0-liter mill. During its brief stay with our staff of leadfoots, the 2.0-liter Soul Sport still averaged 23.4 mpg.
The Soul features wide, tall doors that make it notably easy to enter/exit, and the generous openings also ease child safety seat installation. The elevated roof line gives the Soul loads of headroom, even for rear passengers, allowing a chairlike height for all seats. The rear bench is plenty comfy for two, though three abreast should be limited to kids or short trips.
Legroom is adequate even for rear-seat occupants, with much appreciated toe space under the front seats. The front seat's cushioning is on the soft side, which works well for quick trips, but lacks the support for longer stints behind the wheel. Cabin noise on rough freeway surfaces is on the high side, even for cars in this class.
Ergonomic layout within the Soul's cabin is sensible, with all the major controls logically arranged and within easy reach of the driver. The analog gauges are clean and legible, and with a simple three-knob climate control setup and two-knob audio system, there are no fancy interfaces or navigation systems to decipher. The 2010 Kia Soul Sport features an upgraded audio package with more power and a dedicated subwoofer cleanly cached in the rear cargo area. Audio quality is plenty sufficient for the MP3 generation or baby-boomer talk radio.
The stereo system's simple face with large source buttons hides some impressive functionality, including AM/FM/CD/MP3 capability, plus satellite radio and Bluetooth phone integration. The lower front console features both auxiliary audio and USB inputs for your MP3 player or iPod. Also impressive at the Soul Sport's price point is a leather-wrapped steering wheel deftly peppered with audio, cruise control and Bluetooth phone controls. Full iPod control is available via the head unit or the steering wheel controls.
Thanks to the higher seating position and large greenhouse, overall visibility is excellent. Rear visibility is decent even through the smallish rear glass, and the large side mirrors are eminently functional. The Soul's ride height will appeal to many. A just-right elevated position gives you a secure sense in traffic without making you feel as if you are teetering above the pavement or blocking the sight lines of smaller vehicles.
Unlike several of its competitors, the Soul's interior feels as if it was optimized more for real-world passenger comfort than cargo flexibility. Storage nooks are adequate, with each door getting a shallow bin and bottle slot, and the split-level glovebox is surprisingly deep. The rear load floor is at an easy height for loading, though space behind the rear seats is limited to a very vertical 12 cubic feet. The rear seats tumble forward in a 60/40 split to create more cargo area, but do not lie completely flat.
Design/Fit and Finish
The 2010 Kia Soul's boxy exterior shape provides styling cues that add just enough sass to make it compelling, and help hide the Soul's height. The Sport's standard 18-inch wheels are a perfect fit for its arched wheelwells. Though it may remind you of a giant roller skate, the Soul's odd stance grows on you, as it always looks ready and willing to go romp around the neighborhood.
The Soul Sport's bright two-tone red-black dashboard should be witnessed firsthand before committal, but it's an effective way to cheer up what would otherwise be an expanse of hard black plastic. Panel gaps on the Soul's dash are impressively tight, and Kia has done a fine job of creating the impression of more expensive materials.
The dashboard materials appear soft to the touch (they aren't), but the hard surfaces feel durable and appear likely to maintain their finish. The Soul's switchgear lacks any real sense of heft, but slick little touches such as the rubber-ringed climate control knobs lend a thoughtful appeal.
Who should consider this vehicle
With the Soul Sport's sub-$18K sticker price, recent grads will appreciate the funky styling and impressive tech lineup (iPod, sat radio, Bluetooth). More mature shoppers will likely be swayed by the comfortable seating position and full-coverage warranty.
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