With hip-hop styling and a low MSRP, the you don’t have to save for a Soul


SOUL FOR THE FOOD | At well under $20,000 and impressive fuel economy, the Kia Soul makes up in savings what it lacks in power.

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

Legend has it the offspring of a Kia manager gave a class of vehicles that are not quite crossovers, but too big to be stations wagons, the term “toaster.” Scion’s xB was the first, but the Kia Soul objectifies the idea of a big rounded box that has the cavernous space of an auditorium, handling of a sedan and the economy of a compact. Kia’s funky car bears its toaster soul.

When it debuted in 2009, the Soul was an appliance of uncommon style for the Korean brand. While the rest of Kia’s vehicles were as boring as your mother’s bloomers, the Soul was fun … and economical. The car looks something like a four-door Smart. From the front, it looks like a bulldog. A side view absorbs a cross between a Jeep and high-heel pump. The rear is pure sculpture.

Designers gave the car a facelift for 2012 to finesse the front fascia and interior without losing any of the car’s cachet.

Sliding inside to the high-top seating turns up more funk. There’s nothing wrong with the base interior’s cloth seats and rubber steering wheel, but fashionistas will choose two-tone leather or houndstooth upholstery — preferably heated in front. The pod of a starship contains radio and climate controls in the center dash while large cupholders keep everybody hydrated. Satellite radio, USB iPod input and CD player provide entertainment. Bluetooth keeps hands on the wheel while negotiating the big deal (or just calling your lovey for dinner). Push button starting and automatic climate control are optional, but there’s no need for either.

Proving there’s a little geek under the cool duds, a new ECO mode features innovative Idle Stop and Go Technology that shuts down the engine at stoplights and automatically re-starts upon lifting your foot from brake to throttle. Hybrids had this function for years, but it is a relatively new idea for regular gasoline-burning cars. It’s already big in Europe, so you can expect more cars to have the technology here. Checking the ECO box also grants low rolling resistance tires, upgraded battery, dual illuminated vanity mirrors, power outside mirrors and tweeter speakers (not sure how the last three save gas).

This starting and stopping really pays off. The standard 138hp 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with ECO mode won’t burn much bread, but it achieves 27/35-MPG city/hwy., most excellent for a small crossoverish car. Sporty Soulsters can step up to the 164hp 2.0-liter that achieves 26/34-MPG. It does a better job of scorching breakfast, but the base engine seemed plenty peppy. No matter which setting you choose, Hyundai will throw in electronic stability control, hill start assist, four-wheel anti-lock brakes and traction control to direct your spirit in the right direction.

Let’s face it, some of us like toasters. My favorite is a vintage chrome Sunbeam with automatic retract. Others prefer a four-space bagelatorium that does everything but butter your undersides. The Kia Soul is more like the Sunbeam — plenty of style and features to get you by, but little you don’t need.

Including Kia’s standard 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, the Soul is a pretty good deal with a base price of $14,000 or $17,545 as tested. It’s certainly hard to complain about the quality of the toast.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 1, 2012.