>> Friday, March 20, 2009
A practical, upbeat errand hopper.
BY JOHN PHILLIPS
Kia needs a “breakout” vehicle that—like Hyundai’s latest Sonata—finally achieves what marketers call front-of-mind awareness. Kia’s Borrego V-8might have been that vehicle, had its debut not coincided with $4-per-gallon gas and the wholesale cratering of heavy-metal SUVs.
But hard on the butch Borrego’s heels comes the bubbly five-door Soul, awash in political correctitude and practicality. So excited is Kia about this car that it shipped one Korean-spec Soul to each of its 640 dealers just so buyers could peek at the thing before U.S.-legal cars alighted.
The Soul, which rides on a modified Rio platform, was styled in California and takes a pugnacious, upright stance that will naturally pit it against Scion’s xB and Nissan’s upcoming Cube. Compared with the latest xB, the Soul is 5.7 inches shorter and rides on two fewer inches of wheelbase. With the rear seats up and down, cargo volume is 19 and 53 cubic feet, respectively, versus the xB’s cargo room of 22 and 70 cubic feet.
The base Soul comes with a 122-hp, 1.6-liter engine mated to a five-speed manual. Amenities then accrue through three swankier models: the Plus (+), the Exclaim (!), and the Sport, all front-wheel drive. Naturally, we opted for a loaded Sport, which includes a 142-hp 2.0-liter, 18-inch alloys, and a suspension with stiffer springs, shocks, and bars. On the Sport, the only options are a four-speed automatic and a power sunroof, although Kia is keen to hawk 50-some dealer-installed gewgaws—everything from non-body-color side-view mirrors to “dragon tattoo” graphics. Soul prices range from $13,995 to $19,295.
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