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Review: 2014 Kia Soul

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On: Fri, Mar 28, 2014 at 1:18PM | By: Jon Summers

Review: 2014 Kia Soul

With the exception of the Mini, it seems we need a French or Italian car company to serve us up an economy car which actually has some design flair to it. The cliches here are the Fiat 500, the Citroen 2CV, the Peugeot 205. Since even high-priced Japanese and Korean offerings have typically been devoid of much original or interesting, low-priced models truly crossed the line between the romance of motoring and the practicality of a white good. With the Soul, Kia seem to be bucking that trend.

You know the Soul, you remember the commercials—the hip-hopping hamsters, right? Kooky, annoying, memorable. Our test car was pressed into service as a film shoot chase car, and one crew member, a self-confessed “non-carguy”, referred to it as “the hamster” throughout the shoot weekend. Our example was in that metallic slime green you’ll be familiar with from the advertising. Looking closely at the detailing on the nose—the insect-like protruding headlights, the overwrought grille, the valance/bumper which resembles a human face with an oversize jaw/under-bite—it seems willfully ugly, and given that the Soul is aimed squarely at the niche created by Toyota’s Scion XB, that was perhaps what the designers were going for. Nevertheless, the Soul is unpretentious—one has the sense that it might be bought by the same people who like pugs and bulldogs.

Our example was showing 29,000 miles, something which I noticed only after seeing how worn the tires were. Looking more closely, there was shine on the steering wheel, but no other evidence that the car wasn’t almost showroom fresh: a high standard of build quality then. Controls fall easily to hand, and the driving experience is thoroughly predictable and unremarkable.

The task we put in front of our Soul was challenging—to be camera car and baggage wagon to a 400hp race-prepped 1966 Mustang—and it was underpowered for the job. It did struggle to swallow all the kit we needed it to. We did nearly end up in a ditch when my driver, normally a yacht captain, asked it to turn about a little too sharply and inadvertently discovered exactly where the limit of adhesion was. But this role is normally occupied by much bigger, more powerful cars—indeed, movie companies rent Porsche Cayenne Turbos with booms atop them to capture the motion and speed we were hoping for in our production—so that the Kia was almost up to the job is praise indeed.

Having now recently sampled mid-range and top-of-the-range Hyundais and Kias, this tester feels that without question they are the most interesting car maker around at the moment, pushing boundaries and taking risks in all market sectors, including the hyper-competitive budget car niche. The Soul proves cheap does not need to be nasty, or boring. If all you need in a car is getting from “A to B”, it is now very difficult to justify spending more that a Soul costs.

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