The dancing hamsters have got to be loving life these days. The first Kia Soul “driven” by these amusing rodents has been transformed into a second-generation Soul that includes an upgraded interior, more cargo space, a load of desirable options, a panoramic sunroof that boldly brings the great out-of-doors into the car, and improved performance from a revised 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine.
The famous advertising hamsters seem ready for their new mobile digs, having slimmed down into fighting trim as witnessed by recent television advertising. That’s fitting because while the 2014 Soul resembles the 2013 version, it’s mostly all new with fine tuning in all the right places. The Soul has hit the gym and it has handsomely paid off.
The small, soulful, boxy compact hatchback has been a hit for Kia since it hit the market in 2009 as a 2010 model. In fact, it was Kia’s second-best selling vehicle behind the Optima in 2013 with 118,079 sales, its best year so far.
We spent more than 1,000 miles in a top-trim Soul ! (pronounced Exclaim) edition and discovered to our delight that the little car is loaded with style and character. Its cabin exuded quality, and we found it was a satisfying, cozy place to reside on a long rather arduous winter trip through some of the worst weather we can remember in terms of constant rain that included periods of torrential downpours. The Soul handled the adversity quite well exhibiting a smooth and comfortable ride while maintaining a high degree of interior comfort and solitude.
The remarkably quiet interior is the result of more NVH materials in the door cavities reducing wind and road noise, an “isolation pad,” and layered carpet to further reduce interior racket.
Kia has done a good job of revitalizing the Soul by eliminating most of its shortcomings while leaving those things in place that people liked about the car. On the outside, the Soul gets a more aggressive stance with a slightly lower roofline and a slightly wider stance, a restyled grille and more angled windshield pillars. It’s in the rear that the Soul has really been transformed. The enlarged tailgate is defined by black glass that morphs into gloss black trim that runs around the back and surrounds the large vertical taillights. It’s very fetching.
By the numbers, the Soul is 0.6 inches wider with a wheelbase extended by 0.8 inches. Cargo space has grown by half a cubic foot to 24.2 cubic feet and with the seats folded the Soul now has a useable 61.3 cubic feet, nearly 8 cubic feet more than the 2013 model.
The Soul is still powered by two four-cylinder engines, a 1.6L making 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque and a 2.0L making 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. Both engines are mated to a six-speed automatic. A six-speed manual is available with the 1.6L engine.
Despite the same horsepower rating, the 2.0L has been significantly revised—now with direct injection—and feels considerably peppier than the previous engine. To back up this seat-of-the-pants perception, a major magazine found the 2014 model 1.2 seconds faster from 0-to-60 measured at 8.4 seconds. And the old Soul was also slower in the quarter mile at 17.3 seconds at 79.2 mph compared to the new Soul at 16.4 seconds and 85.1 mph.
This performance achievement comes with a significant improvement in gas mileage. The new Soul with automatic transmission is rated at 23 city, 31 highway and 23 overall compared to 23/28/25 last year. Surprisingly, there is virtually no difference in mileage between the 1.6L (rated at 24/30/26) and the 2.0L. So the only reason to purchase the smaller engine is cost. While we applaud these gains in frugality, the Soul still trails much of the competition when it comes to gas mileage.
While we found the 2.0L engine capable of handling all situations, it isn’t by any stretch of the imagination a track star. It did need some heavier right foot action on the steeper grades, but overall we had no complaints over performance.
Inside the Soul, gauges and controls are intuitive and easy to read. The upgraded Infiniti audio system in our test car emitted pleasing sounds and we had to chuckle over the illuminated trim rings for the speakers that flash to the beat of the music. That is one of those little non-essential touches that gives the Soul its personality.
We offer high praise for the navigation system, which through the car’s large eight-inch touchscreen, provided meticulous information including easy to read and informative boxes that made navigating life easy.
The Soul’s boxy design results in excellent head room for both rows of passengers while providing a good field of vision in all directions. The front seats proved comfortable, no squirming was encountered on the long stretches of interstate. And we had ample storage with the rear seats folded for our traveling paraphernalia.
The Soul is perhaps on the pricey side when compared to other vehicles that are shopped with the Kia. But with the Soul’s unusual quality and high level of standard equipment, we have no problem with its pricing, which starts at $15,695 for the base car with manual transmission. Most people will probably purchase the + (Plus) trim or the ! (Exclaim) trim starting at $19,195 and $21,295 respectively.
There are a couple of desirable packages available including the Sun and Sound package at $2,600 that brings an extraordinarily large panoramic sunroof, automatic climate control, navigation, and an upgraded Infinity Audio System; and the $2,500 the Whole Shabang (no kidding) package that adds such items as leather-trimmed seats, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and push button start.
Our test car was an Exclaim trim that included the aforementioned packages bringing the bottom line to $26,195.
We think people shopping for a small hatchback or family car would be wise to discover what the hamsters already know, the 2014 Soul is a winner.