We are 107,000+ car owners sharing real-world car information.

Join Us

2014 Kia Soul Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

2014 Kia Soul front quarter view
1

Sign in or join to like this review.

Introduction

Hunting around for the best car to compare the new Fiat 500L with last summer, I settled on the punny tall hatchback from Korea. This match wasn't ideal, as the first-generation Kia Soul was nearing the end of its run. But it couldn't be helped, as the redesigned 2014 car had not yet arrived. The review concluded:

The FIAT 500L tops the Kia Soul in just about every area. It feels quicker, gets better fuel economy, handles and rides much better, has more comfortable front seats, and can hold more stuff. A redesigned Soul is on the way, but the changes for 2014 probably won't eliminate all of these deficits. On the other hand, the Soul's price should remain much lower. For many people, $4,000 can compensate for many shortcomings.

I've now had a chance to drive the 2014 Soul for a week. Was Kia able to fix many of the previously noted shortcomings with the redesign?

Soul Reviews: 2014 Kia Soul front quarter view

All-new, yet indistinguishable from the first-gen Soul at a glance. more Soul photos

Soul Reviews: 2014 Kia Soul interior

Better materials and more sophisticated design inside, but some fun sacrificed.

Tested: 2014 Kia Soul

4dr Hatch 164-horsepower 2.0L I4 6-speed shiftable automatic FWD

Compared: 2014 Fiat 500L

4dr Hatch turbocharged 160hp 1.4L I4 6-speed automated manual FWD

Why the 2014 Kia Soul?

  Compared to the 500L
Exterior styling  

When I reviewed the 2012 Soul, exterior styling was the foremost reason to buy one. It still is. The 2014 Soul looks much the same as the 2010-2013, just with some bolder (but well short of bizarre) details added and a little less starch in the creases. The tail has changed the most, with even larger tail lamps and a floating body color panel in the otherwise blacked-out tailgate. Overall, the new Soul appears a little less edgy but more sophisticated.

Given the minimal exterior changes, my evaluation of the 2012's styling remains apt:

Most people didn't care for the "so ugly its cool" original Scion xB, but those who "got it" loved it. Then the larger, more overtly styled second-generation xB was just plain ugly. Its archrival, the Nissan cube, flopped in the U.S. for a different reason. Too few Americans possess sufficient whimsy when buying cars. In contrast, Kia has hit the sweet spot the others missed (by miles) with the Soul. Kia's designers took the original xB's radically boxy box and, by angling the roof downward a few degrees, raking the belt line upward a few degrees, and artfully flaring the wheel openings, actually made that box stylish. Seeking a small car that doesn't look like the typical small car, but that doesn't try so hard to be different that it's not pretty? It's here.

And the Fiat 500L? Comparing the exterior appearance of the two remains a case of apples and oranges. The Kia is much better proportioned, and its exterior is more artfully executed. In comparison, the 500L suffers from an early adolescent level of ungainly. But disregard the hamsters in the Soul ads. The Kia doesn't do "cute and friendly" like the Fiat does.


Driving position & visibility
Driving position & visibility: Much better Better Worse

Want the high seating position and excellent outward visibility of a crossover, but in a compact package? The Soul provides. The redesign enhanced what was already a strength by employing more high-strength steel to make the A-pillars flanking the windshield nearly an inch thinner yet also stronger. As before, the seats are at just the right height--no need to drop down or step up. The most notable driving position issue of the first-generation Soul, a steering wheel that adjusted for tilt but not for reach, has been rectified. You can now position the steering wheel exactly where you want it.

The same can't be said for the 500L. Its wheel tilts and telescopes, but no amount of fiddling can both position the wheel comfortably and avoid blocking the tops of the instruments. The Fiat's driving position also suffers from a door-mounted arm rest too far away to use and a instrument panel so deep that an additional pair of pillars are required.



Soul Reviews: 2014 Kia Soul rear quarter view

Larger tail lamps, floating panel in tailgate.

Soul Reviews: 2014 Kia Soul instrument panel

Physical controls well designed, but voice recognition fail.

Materials & workmanship
Materials & workmanship: Much better Better Worse

Last time around, I praised the Soul's interior styling, but not its interior materials. The shapes were playful, but they were all rendered in hard plastic. Upscale the cabin was not. Not that anyone expected opulence, as the price was attractively low.

Ignoring expectations, Kia has taken a few big steps upmarket with the 2014 Soul's interior. The doors and instrument panel are soft to the touch. Load the car up, and the piano black and metal-look trim help deliver an upscale ambiance. Especially artful details include the tweeter enclosures at each end of the instrument panel and the oval shifter surround. Unlike in the Fiat, nothing appears cheap or haphazardly executed. The leather that covers the steering wheel rim isn't the slippery stuff Hyundai and Kia used to employ. It actually enhances grip (which is sort of the point of having it).

The interior would be nicer still if some elements--the Mercedes-like start button, the shifter surround, and the door handles--were real metal and not just silver plastic. But this is perhaps too much to expect at a price well under $30,000. As is, the Soul has become a very nice car.

But something has also been lost. We'll cover this in the "why nots."


Feature availability
Feature availability: Much better Better Worse

Upward mobility extends beyond the interior styling and materials to a slew of newly available features. The tested car, with all boxes checked, included a panoramic sunroof, xenon headlights, proximity key, a heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, a ten-way power driver seat, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, and power-folding mirrors. (Kia has taken to offering the last, historically restricted to luxury cars, in just about everything it sells.) Most of these features simply aren't available in the Fiat.


Price or payments
Price or payments: Much better Better Worse

All of the new features aren't free: a loaded Soul now lists for $26,195. But this is a tremendous amount of content for $26,195. A loaded Fiat 500L, with fewer features, lists for $1,700 more.

Plainer tastes? The base Soul, with a smaller engine and manual transmission, starts at $15,495, just $295 more than the 2013 even though it includes over $800 in additional content. Add $2,000 for an automatic transmission, which includes additional standard features. Step up to the mid-level + trim, and a $495 price increase (to $18,995) is easily justified by some additional standard features and the upgraded interior and chassis.

The basic warranty remains 5/60, plus a 10/100 powertrain warranty for the original owner.

The price hasn't increased nearly as much as the car has improved, making an already strong value proposition even stronger.


Why Not the 2014 Kia Soul?

  Compared to the 500L
Color choices
Color choices: Worse Better Worse

The Soul's new interior might be much nicer, but it's not nearly as playful (the continued availability of lighted rings around the front door speakers notwithstanding). Though the interior styling remains artful, with some choice details noted earlier, it's more restrained. I wouldn't mind this except the only interior colors you can get are gray and black. Unless you get the top trim level. Then you can only get black.

What happened to the red and sand interiors? The houndstooth cloth seats? Some killjoy executive sucked a lot of fun out of the cabin. They need to put it back.


Audio & nav systems
Audio & nav systems: Much worse Better Worse

The optional Infinity audio system sounds a little muddy at moderate and higher volumes. The Fiat's optional Beats system is both more powerful and much clearer.

After it failed to even misrecognize a spoken address, I gave up trying to use voice activation to program the nav system. Otherwise the nav is easy to use and works well.

Update: others have reported no such difficulty. It's possible that the Soul I tested had a bad microphone.


Soul Reviews: 2014 Kia Soul front view

New exterior includes chunkier grille surround.

Soul Reviews: 2014 Kia Soul rear seat

A little less roomy than before, but still adult-friendly.

Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: Worse Better Worse

As part of the redesign, Kia widened the opening of the tailgate by a few inches. Cargo capacity with the second row folded has increased from 53 cubic feet to 61. But this still isn't a match for the taller and longer Fiat's 68 cubes.

You still can't fold the Soul's front passenger seat forward to carry especially long objects. You can in the Fiat.

That's it. Unless you're looking for something the car clearly isn't, I'm out of reasons not to buy a Soul.


Other features of the 2014 Kia Soul

  Compared to the 500L
Powertrain performance
Powertrain performance: Better Better Worse

Though the Soul's 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is now direct-injected, peak output holds steady at 164 horsepower, albeit at a more accessible engine speed. Curb weight is up about 100 lbs, to 2,879, so acceleration remains adequate, nothing more, nothing less. There's no joy to be had winding this somewhat buzzy mill out.

At least the Soul's six-speed automatic transmission (a manual is offered only in base trim with the 1.6-liter engine) operates without calling attention to itself. The same can't be said of the Fiat's dual-clutch automated manual transmission and bipolar turbocharged 1.4-liter engine. You'll experience more drama with the 500L's powertrain, but much of it isn't enjoyable.


Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Worse Better Worse

A year ago Kia had to adjust the EPA ratings of many of its cars, and compensate owners accordingly. The Soul suffered the most savage cut, with its EPA highway rating falling from 34 mpg to 28. For 2014, half of this loss has been regained. But 31 still falls short of the Fiat 500L's 33.The EPA city rating remains 23 mpg, one below the 500L.

In real-world suburban driving the trip computer reported averages from 25 to 36, the lower number when driven without care for economy, the latter with a lot of care and some luck with traffic signals. The Fiat managed a bit better. On a 70-mph highway the Kia's trip computer reported 30.7, little better than the 2012 and well below the 35 reported by the Fiat's trip computer.


Handling
Handling: Worse Better Worse

It has long been unclear how Hyundai's and Kia's product strategies differ. Is one more sporty, and the other more luxurious? If the latest wave of redesigns is any indication, this matter has been settled, with Hyundai adopting a sportier position and Kia a more luxurious one. So perhaps it should come as no surprise that, while the Soul's handling is much improved, with dramatic gains in balance and composure, the Fiat 500L continues to feel more agile and direct.

One welcome feature: the Soul's steering effort now can be varied among three distinctly different levels. Though feedback isn't much affected, "comfort" feels best in casual suburban driving, while "sport" feels better at highway speeds (where "comfort" can seem darty) and when tossing the car through curves (where the Soul still leans quite a bit but no longer embarrasses itself).

The stability control systems on Kias used to cut in far too early and far too hard. I often felt the need to deactivate them when driving in the snow. While I wasn't able to test the new Soul in the snow, on dry and wet roads its stability control system accorded itself appropriately.

Overall, while the devil in me wouldn't buy a Soul because of how it handles, I'd no longer recommend against buying one for this reason, either.


Ride smoothness
Ride smoothness: Better Better Worse

When I reviewed the 2012 Soul, I wasn't able to come up with enough "why to buys" to fill all five slots. This time around I had the opposite problem. Kia has improved the Soul far more thoroughly than I imagined it would, or even could. (The also redesigned-for-2014 Forte sedan and Sorento crossover have similarly surprised.)

If I had a sixth slot, ride smoothness would have filled it. The bounciness of the 2012 Soul proved tiring well before the end of a 300-mile highway drive. Tar strips threatened to send that car into the next lane. The 2014 is far better behaved. The top-level trim's 18-inch tires still thump over some bumps, but their motions no longer disturb the car's composure. Add in much-improved sound insulation and the aforementioned interior upgrades, and the Soul now has the character of a $30,000 car rather than that of a $15,000 car.

Body motions are even more tightly controlled in the more firmly suspended (but about equally smooth) Fiat 500L. The Fiat doesn't seem as luxurious as the Kia, but this is more a matter of sound quality and interior ambiance than how it rides.


Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: Better Better Worse

The original cube, the Scion xB, had a shockingly roomy interior for such a small car. The first-generation Soul was larger on the outside but smaller on the inside. The new Soul is a little tighter still, with about an inch less combined legroom. Adults still enjoy sufficient legroom in the comfortably high second-row, but limo comparisons won't be happening. The Fiat offers a bit more rear knee room, but considerably less rear headroom when fitted with the optional panoramic sunroof. Passengers over 5-10 will become familiar with its headliner. This isn't an issue in the Soul.


Conclusion

I'm frankly amazed by how thoroughly Kia has improved the Soul. The new car might not look much different, but it drives far better, with interior upgrades to match its smoother, quieter ride. It's still not an especially fun car to drive, but tall vehicles rarely are.

A more unnecessary loss: colorful interior trim options. Hopefully these will return.For now, the Fiat remains the choice for those seeking a cute exterior or a colorful interior. The 500L can also carry more cargo. In just about every other area, though, Kia has eliminated the Soul's previous disadvantages, and then some.

Soul Reviews: 2014 Kia Soul engine

Adequate power, just don't expect any thrills

Soul Reviews: 2014 Kia Soul cargo area seats folded

Rear seat does not fold flat. Fiat can hold more.

Return to top

2014 Kia Soul pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2014 Kia Soul. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.
Sign in or join TrueDelta to post your own thoughts.

Return to top

blog comments powered by Disqus
See TrueDelta's information for all Hatchbacks
See TrueDelta's information for all Kia models.

Thanks for your interest in TrueDelta!