Patrick Rall's picture

2014 Kia Soul! Review: The Spunky Little "Hamster Car" Gets Even Better

In my time writing about the automotive industry, no vehicle has had a marketing campaign that has gotten more attention than the Kia Soul, but with the introduction of the new and improved Soul for the 2014 model year – Kia has improved on an already very good compact vehicle that delivers great fuel economy, awesome driving dynamics, a ton of space and an impressive number of features for a surprisingly low price.

In the past few years, I have spent several weeks driving the Kia Soul and when people ask me what I'm driving and I tell them that it is the Soul, many of them cannot place the vehicle. However, when I say “I’m driving the hamster car” – everyone knows exactly what vehicle I am driving. It is great that so many people know and love the jammin’ hamsters as that shows that the company hit a home run with their marketing campaign, but the truth is that the 2014 Kia Soul is unquestionably a vehicle that American can buyers should know because it’s an awesome vehicle and not just because imaginary hamsters cruise in the Soul while listening to LMFAO’s Party Rock.

One of the “problems” with the Kia Soul is that it competes in a very small market with the only real direct competitor being the Scion xB. These vehicles aren’t quite crossovers and they aren’t quite compact hatchbacks. If anything, they are small crossovers but they don’t offer anything other than front wheel drive while still packing tons of space for both passengers and cargo. Kia calls it a crossover, but it is really in a class of its own as it is a far more engaging drive than any other small crossover currently sold in the US market. Most importantly, the Kia Soul is amazingly entertaining to drive and while this has been true since the Soul was introduced a few years back, the 2014 Soul has a new face that makes this funky little compact an even more enticing buy.

14 soul side

My 2014 Kia Soul test vehicle was an exclamation point package - technically called the Kia Soul! – and that is the top of the line trimline for the 2014 model year. On top of that base trimline, my test Soul! was equipped with The Whole Shebang Package (yes, they actually call it that) which means that it comes with pretty much every major feature available for the compact Korean crossover. From heated leather seats to a massive panoramic sunroof to a high tech infotainment system – my 2014 Soul! tester had it all and with a price of just $26,195, this fun little 5-door offers luxury amenities for a surprisingly low price.

The Exterior
The Kia brand has gotten significantly more aggressive in terms of styling over the past decade or so and the 2014 Soul is a fine example of why that direction is a very good choice. The original Soul (2010-2013) had a very striking design that lined up nicely with the other newer models from the Kia brand during those years and that aggressive design went a long way in helping this little compact crossover appeal to the US market. While other “econoboxes” like the Scion xB took a more subtle styling approach and received a great deal of flack for being quite bland, the Soul stormed onto the scene with an exterior design that was eye catching, modern and very high tech. For the refreshed 2014 Soul, Kia took that aggressive design a step further so while it is clearly an evolutionary refresh – it goes a very long way in attracting new buyers to the brand while still bringing back those folks who bought a previous Soul.

14 soul front

Across the front end, the 2014 Kia Soul has a face that is similar to the previous models, yet it is far more refined. The earlier Soul models had large, rounded headlight lenses with projection headlights and LED daytime running lights that gave the vehicle a very surprised, wide-eyed look. For 2014, those headlights still feature the high tech LEDs and projection assemblies, but the smaller, sleeker headlight housings give the new Soul a much sportier, angrier look. The large lower fascia opening has carried over, as have the three smaller front end vents and the low mounted circular fog lights, but for the 2014 model year the three vents have been moved above the large lower fascia opening and the fog lights have been moved slightly inboard. These changes are subtle enough that the average driver may not be able to pick between the two, but this facelift has gone a very long way in making a good looking vehicle even more striking from the front.

Along the sides, the 2014 Kia Soul hasn’t changed all that much from the previous model year shy of some new wheels, some new badges and the little impact that is had with the introduction of the new wrap-around headlights. The 2014 Soul maintains the squared off roofline that extends from the slippery windshield all of the way to the rear of the vehicle where it is punctuated by a very upright rear hatch.

14 soul rear

Out back, the 2014 Kia Soul sports an even more extensive refresh with huge LED taillights that seamlessly blend in with the gloss black trim that surrounds the big rear hatch. While the previous Soul had mostly body colored paneling across the back, the 2014 Soul features gloss black trim that encases the large taillights, the rear hatchback glass and even an interestingly placed body colored panel in the middle. The lower portion of the rear fascia now holds two bright red reflectors that are molded into the heavily chiseled fascia with a black trim piece running across the bottom for an extra dose of sporty styling.

I liked the look of the original Kia Soul a great deal and while a compact 5-door crossover isnt my ideal ride – I really enjoyed the look of the vehicle. For 2014, Kia has taken everything that was good about the previous Soul and improved on them without making it look like a different vehicle. While this is really just a midcycle exterior refresh, it is one that has really helped to lift the Soul to the next level. Of course, it would be awful if I didn’t point out that my test Soul was finished in the new Alien II color that replaces last year’s Alien paint choice, with the newer metallic green paint offering just a touch more bright green pop than the other models. Were I to buy a 2014 Soul, Alien II would most certainly be my color choice.

The Interior
Where the 2014 Kia Soul really stands apart from the previous models is in the cabin, as the high tech feel of the original Soul has been expanded on for the 2014 model year with a newly designed cockpit that really provides a higher end feel. The 2012 Soul that I drove a few years ago had pretty much every gadget that I could ask for at the time, but it packed those features into a cabin that was almost too spacious. The interior offered plenty of space, but it had a strangely minimalist feel – almost like they had added all of the high tech goodies after designing the layout of the interior. ON the other hand, the 2014 Soul has all of those same features and more (thanks to The Whole Shebang Package), and it has these amenities in a cabin that is far more welcoming than the previous models. While it is tough to describe, the 2014 Soul has more of a cockpit feel than the previous models, with everything wrapping around the driver, and this is a design that I really enjoy.

The most significant change for the 2014 Kia Soul is the shape of the dash, which has a very horizontal design that runs from door to door with the infotainment system, the gauge cluster and all of the necessary controls added in a way that provides a very fluid design. In the previous models, the infotainment system was mounted in a console that jutted out of the center of the dash so you didn’t get the side to side flow like you do with the new models. Needless to say, I prefer the flowing interior of the 2014 Soul. That flow continues through the shift console that extends down out of the dash and reaches back to the central armrest that gives the driver and front passenger a place to lean while cruising in the Soul.

14 soul dash

The 2014 Kia Soul also benefits from a new, large infotainment screen which puts the controls for pretty much everything inside of the vehicle at the driver’s reach via a big, bright touch screen. A collection of buttons and knobs line each side of the touch screen for those who wish to control the navigation or sound system while another panel of buttons and knobs runs from side to side under the touch screen with full HVAC controls – all of which are ideal for those folks who prefer traditional buttons and knobs over touch sensitive controls. Of course, there is also a spread of buttons on the redesigned steering wheel that allow the driver to control the hands free phone system, the radio, the media player, the navigation and the driver information center without taking his or her hands off of the steering wheel. This steering wheel looks great and also feels great in cold weather thanks to the heated steering wheel feature while a similar heating system is applied to both front leather wrapped seats. Should the weather get hot, the front seats also offer a cooling feature that works quickly on even the hottest, sunniest days so you don’t have to suffer because you bought a vehicle with black leather interior. When you add in the push button start system, the speaker trim pieces that flash with the bass of the music and the huge panoramic sun roof that I absolutely love – the 2014 Kia Soul has an interior that checks all of the same boxes as many luxury vehicles that cost two or three times more than this fun little crossover.

14 soul front seats

In addition to packing all sorts of high tech goodies that would have been previously unheard of for such an affordable vehicle, the 2014 Kia Soul offers a tremendous amount of space for such a small vehicle. The power front seats move enough to accommodate both very short and very tall drivers and front passengers and – more impressively – the rear seats provide an stunning amount of leg space for rear riders. This ample rear leg room is becoming harder and harder to find in the compact segment and when you consider the amount of leg space for the folks up front and the amount of cargo space behind the rear seats, the rear passenger spaciousness is really something special. This is great vehicle for a small vehicle, but it also has plenty of room to haul around 4 adults in comfort while still having plenty of space in the rear cargo area for large boxes or luggage. Thanks to the low slung seating and the relative tall roofline, taller drivers and passengers should find ample head room in addition to plenty of room for elbows, knees, shoulders and the rest. Compact often means little passenger and cargo space but that couldn’t be any further from the truth with the 2014 Soul.

14 soul rear seats

The 2014 Kia Soul looks great on the outside, but the changes made to this refreshed model really allow this compact crossover to stand out in the segment – and segments above it. It has tons of space for passengers in the front and rear, a large cargo space for a vehicle of this size and comparable interior amenities to many of the world’s most expensive brands so those car shoppers looking for something that is small on the outside but very large on the inside – the 2014 Kia Soul will not disappoint. In short, the amount of goodies and the overall feel of the 2014 Soul shatter every misconception about the interior of Korean cars being cheap and barebones…all without putting the price through the roof.

The Drive
My 2014 Kia Soul! was powered by a 2.0L engine that sends 164 horsepower and 151lb-ft of torque to the front wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission. That doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but in this relatively lightweight compact crossover, it makes the Soul a pretty fun little vehicle. Now, I’m sure that more than a few of my regular readers who are aware of my passion for rear wheel drive performance cars with big power are blown away by the suggestion that the 164 horsepower, 5-door Kia crossover is fun to drive – and I am almost as blown away by the fact that my suggestion is 100% true. While I would much rather have a manual transmission, the Soul’s 2.0L mill provides plenty of acceleration from a stop and out on the open road. Don’t get me wrong…this isnt a vehicle that is going to break the hearts of many sports car owners but in the world of compact 5-door crossovers, I believe that the Soul is the most entertaining to drive. It has no qualms about cruising at well above the posted speed limit on the highway (if that is your thing) and when you need to put the hammer down and pass slower moving traffic, the Soul is quick to oblige. Around town, that highway speed translates nicely into strong low end acceleration whether you are zipping through a back country road or hurrying away from a stop light.

14 soul driving front

In terms of handling, the 2014 Kia Soul! continues to deliver, with an amazingly planted feel even when pushing the 5-door to its limits. I spent some time with the Soul on some of the same twisty roads where I have tested sports cars like the Boss 302 Mustang and the Dodge Charger SRT8 and while the Soul obviously wouldn’t hang with those high performance beasts – it willingly cut through the curves better than any crossover I’ve driven and honestly, it handled in those hard, quick corners as well as any non-performance oriented compact I’ve tested. Like most (if not all) other current Kia models, the Soul comes with a driver selectable steering system that features three modes - Sport, Comfort and Normal. In Sport mode, there is the least amount of power assist and due to that, the driver has the best feel for the road and the most direct level of input and feedback. Switch to Comfort and the system goes to the other end of the spectrum, with more power assist making it easier to steer the Soul while providing less feedback through the wheel. Normal, as you might have guessed, works to average out the amount of power assist and steering feedback. I spent the vast majority of my drive time in Sport and I would venture to bet that most people who enjoy cutting through hard turns and feeling more closely connected to the road will do the same. This system really doesn’t make the Soul handle any better, but it most certainly makes the compact crossover more fun to drive.

The Kia Soul isn’t a sport or performance model so while it handling and fun to drive factor was obviously a concern, the Korean automaker needed to balance handling with ride quality and they have done so with great success. Whether I was driving along Metro Detroit’s battered highways or the rougher roads in rural areas, the Soul does a fine job of muting the road noise before it reaches the cabin. While you still feel more of the bumps and inconsistencies in the road surface than you would with a high dollar luxury car, the Soul provides a smoother ride than the vast majority of the similarly priced compact options on the market today. Unlike so many other affordable compacts, riding on a rough highway in the Kia Soul won’t give you the feeling of riding in an empty beer can that rattles constantly and beats you up every time you hit a seam in the road.

14 soul driving rear

Finally, the 2014 Soul! with the 2.0L engine promises fuel economy measures of 23 around town, 31 on the highway and 26mpg combined – all numbers which I found to be very accurate during my testing. I did not drive the Soul gently and I was still able to achieve slightly better than 26mpg (using the method of miles driven divided by total fuel used). I would expect that a driver with a lighter right foot who spends a great deal of time driving on the highway will be able to exceed those EPA numbers on a regular basis.

The Final Word
If you are in the market for a small compact crossover with tons of interior features and tons of interior space that is efficient, fun to drive and affordable – the 2014 Kia Soul should absolutely be on your list of vehicles to drive before you make your next big purchase. With room for four adults and quite a bit of cargo, an infotainment system that will stand toe to toe with the best in the industry, plush leather seats and a gorgeous glass roof option, the interior of the 2014 Soul will quickly make you forget that you are riding in (or driving) a vehicle that costs well under $30,000. At the same time, the peppy yet efficient engine paired with a nimble chassis and suspension setup makes this little hatchback a ton of fun to drive across town or across the country so whether you are single and looking for a roomy, fun and high tech vehicle that won’t break the bank or you have a small family that needs a vehicle to get everyone from point A to point B without compromising interior goodies for spaciousness – the Kia Soul is the vehicle for you.

If you are new car shopping right now for a compact vehicle and this sounds like a vehicle that might fit your needs, make sure to drive the 2014 Kia Soul and I bet that you will find that this little 5-door offers as much for the money as anything on the market today.


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Comments

I drove a Rondo in Ireland and was impressed by the fuel economy as well as the performance. On a 10 day drive around Southern Ireland, I refueled once; and it used the equivelance of 8 gallons. I have a good friend in Portland, Oregon that drives the Soul. For her the combination of price, interior volume, fuel economy and quirky good looks sold her on the car. And believe me when I tell you that the car handles well in night-time city traffic. A great value in a small, fuel efficient and fun package.