Speed Read: 2010 Kia Soul Sport

Exterior Photos by Zerin Dube, Interior Photos Courtesy of Kia Motor Company
Vehicle: 2010 Kia Soul Sport Price-as-tested: $18,345 incl. $695 destination Major equipment: 2.0L inline four-cylinder engine, 5-speed manual transmission, power sunroof ($700 option) Approximate mileage driven: 175 If ever there was a car doomed to fail in the American market, surely it was the first-generation Scion xB. The underlying idea --- hastily converting a Japanese-market "room-on-wheels" based on the showroom-poison Toyota Echo to left-hand-drive --- was so terrible that one wonders exactly what kind of blackmail took place behind the scene to make it happen. Of course, the little xB turned out to be Scion's success story. Nominally aimed at artsy college kids and even-artsier bohemians, the xB turned out to be a massive hit with small businessmen, housewives in search of a shopping-cart-sized shopping car, and older people who appreciated the basic utility of Toyota's no-frills wagon. The xB's runaway success was an object lesson in the fact that some people really do want an affordable urban utility vehicle, but Toyota chose to ignore that lesson by making the second-gen xB half as again as powerful, hundreds of pounds heavier, and utterly devoid of the original car's simple charm.

With the new Soul, Kia aims to pick up Toyota's dropped ball and introduce an entirely new group of consumers to its brand.  Size wise, the Soul fits squarely between the first and second generation xBs.  Though the Soul is nearly six inches shorter overall than the current xB, it is wider by a full inch. The Soul's cargo volume is 19 cubic feet with the rear seats up, and 53 with them down compared to the xB's 22 and 70 cubic foot capacities, respectively. Kia will sell your Soul in four trim levels ranging from the base model with a 122-hp, 1.6-liter inline-four to the range topping Soul Sport which features a 142-hp, 2.0-liter inline-four.  Our Sport trim tester was also equipped with a five-speed manual transmission rather than the optional four-speed automatic.  As is often the case with econoboxes in general, the shifter in the Soul is extremely sloppy and the clutch has almost no feel to it.  

Though the 2.0 does a good job at getting the Soul up to city speeds, the engine feels rather anemic in the upper ranges of the power band.  This makes passing in the Soul at highway speeds something you have to plan well in advance since accelerating from 70 to 80mph seems to take hours rather than seconds.  Also be aware that the Soul rides right in the middle of its rev range in top gear at 70mph, so the noise and vibrations from the engine can become a little intrusive after a while. 

This will come as a surprise to anyone who has ever driven a Rio of any vintage, but the "new Kia" is very focused on vehicle dynamics and driving feel.  I never once felt like I was driving a box when behind the wheel of the Soul.  Steering feel is excellent, and reminded me of my old 4th-generation Volkswagen GTI in way that it was weighted.  Interior quality of the Soul is much higher than I expected as well.  The red and black interior provided a nice contrast without being too in your face while driving.  The seats are extremely comfortable even after extended driving sessions, and the materials used throughout the interior look to be durable and of high quality.

The instrument cluster and center stack are very well done, with all gauges and controls clearly marked and within easy reach of the driver.  I do have to make a point to compliment the Soul's stereo system as well.  This is the best standard stereo system I've heard in a car at this price point, and I will go so far as to say that it's better than the stock system in my Audi TT.  Not all of the little Kia's features are up to Audi spec, however; witness the red LED light rings in the front speaker pods.  With the twist of a knob, the speaker enclosures become "mood" lighting, or can be set to flash with the beat of the music.  Fortunately there is also an "off" position to kill the lighting all together.   Still, it goes to show that Kia has clearly done their homework and is definitely trying to appeal to the A.D.D. ridden youth of today.

MoodLighting.jpg

All things considered, I actually enjoyed my experience with the Soul.  In the few days I've had with the Soul, it's already grown on me more than the Scion xB has in the six years it's been on the market.  The Soul is the type of fun, practical and affordable vehicle that Kia needed to bring youth buyers to their dealerships... and don't be surprised to see some of those small businessmen, old folks, and back-to-basics types sneaking in the showroom doors behind the hipsters.

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9 Responses to “Speed Read: 2010 Kia Soul Sport”

  1. March 31, 2009 at 3:18 pm #

    As an ADD-ridden Millennial, I have to say the reactive trim lighting is both compelling and charming in its kitsch. I've seen too many xBs. I've seen too many Corollas. All of my favorite subcompacts have become boring and severe — I much prefer a weird personality over a bland personality.

    The Treatise on the xB had to happen, Zerin. Nobody talks about just how tragic the second-generation xB redesign was. They marginalized it and tried to make it a volume seller. It fell flat on its face with sales down 35-40%. That's what I call justice.

    • March 31, 2009 at 4:19 pm #

      "Nobody talks about just how tragic the second-generation xB redesign was."

      Dude: Everyone talks about how tragic the 2nd get xB was.

      Last year, my younger brother (DOB 12/89) was shopping for an "off to college" car. New xB, xD, Fit and used xB.

      He got the used xB with a 5 speed.

  2. March 31, 2009 at 4:07 pm #

    I have been trying to convince my wife to look at this car and she will not do it… If anyone is testing a Kia Soul in the southern california area please swing by Huntington Beach so I can show it to her…

    Also, the photos are excellent in this review Zerin – great colors and perfect background for this type of vehicle.

    • March 31, 2009 at 4:13 pm #

      Jeff, what are her objections?

      • March 31, 2009 at 4:18 pm #

        well… we are upside down on our current Altima (because of an 1999.5 Audi A4 1.8T) so she, wisely, wants to wait the 2 more years we owe on the Altima to get into something better down the road with no extra moolah tacked on the end to worry about. She is right, I am just sick of the Altima though – her main point is that I just want the Kia Soul because it is a brand new car, after a year or so I will be sick of it and want something else, which we could have purchased if I waited for the Altima to be free and clear – and she is 95% right (5% goes to the fact that the Soul seems pretty good, especially for the price point).

        So to sum up… I want to get something new(er) but have to suck up the fact that we just need to wait – she is right (again)…

        • March 31, 2009 at 4:27 pm #

          Tell your wife that the contrast red upholstery feels like B&B Italia… she'll know what I'm talking about. Very fashion-savvy interior.

          • March 31, 2009 at 4:31 pm #

            I don't think she is into furniture that much … (thank you Google…)
            She doesn't really care about cars but she LOVES the Infiniti FX and the Nissan Murano… in a few years, once the 2009 FX50 hits the CPO/Used market I think I will push her in that direction

          • March 31, 2009 at 5:12 pm #

            Haha, worth a try :) It's always incredible to me that manufacturers are actually using the entry-level segment to experiment with new materials, textures, and design ideas. As you move upmarket in most marques, designs get more conservative instead of more avant-garde. It's a sad reality, but the upside is that some of the cheapest cars out there are also some of the most cleverly appointed.

  3. Lisa
    September 29, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    Just bought a used 2010 Kia Sport. My husband did research and we thought we would try it out. Its very peppy. Loved the interior. Its bigger on the inside that what it looks like on the outside. My husband is 6'3 and his head does not touch the ceiling. Plenty of leg room in the back when my twins are in the back (they are 6'). We drive on alot of country roads and it takes the bends and curves really well. Only have had it a short time soo we will see, but over all we like it alot.

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