It is a new Soul, redesigned front to rear for the 2014 model year.
It is a more amenable Soul, outfitted with an interior in tune with the reality that our bodies age.
It is a good Soul, designed for people who want to be entertained, who just want to have fun, who are more concerned about the trip than the speed with which it is completed.
Not everyone will like the 2014 Kia Soul, not even the very enjoyable Exclaim model used for this column. Although redesigned, the front-wheel-drive Soul wagon retains the body and spirit of a cartoon character — a squared roundness with deliberate comic touches, such as the rounded, low-hanging front fog lamps, and rear lights that seem to be winking at traffic.
The new Soul, as was the case with its predecessors, is not for souls addicted to the need for speed. The wagon is offered in three trim levels — base, Plus and Exclaim. The base model comes with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine delivering 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque — not exactly the stuff of speed demons.
The Plus and Exclaim are equipped with a 2-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine offering 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. That’s much better, but not terribly distant from acceleration purgatory.
You don’t buy this one to play on the racetrack. You don’t get it for super fuel economy, either. The new Soul gets about 24 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway — decent for a compact wagon, but certainly nothing to brag about in a market where rivals easily do at least five miles per gallon better in highway running.
The Soul is its own reason for being, and that reason is easily accessible, thoroughly enjoyable fun. That rationale has yielded strong sales for the Soul in the United States, making it one of the best-selling compact wagons in the country.
It is more than fluff: The Soul has one of the best overall crash-safety ratings of any compact economy wagon — five out of five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It offers a pleasant, comfortable ride on long trips. It offers easy cabin entrance and exit for aging adult bodies. Both its standard and optional advanced electronic safety equipment matches or beats that offered on substantially more expensive vehicles. And, yes, both reliability and durability are there, backed by the best warranty in the business.
The Soul is styled with a provocative sense of humor — tall, square/round cartoon body, which some people don’t find funny. I do. The little wagon makes me smile and laugh. Walking up to it in the driveway is like greeting a crazy, lovable friend. You know from the get-go that it is going to be an unusual outing. In fact, you are looking forward to it.
The Soul, especially the fully optioned Exclaim model, delivers in many ways. It offers one of the best high-definition backup cameras and sound systems in the business. Speaking of which, there is also this admittedly silly but enjoyable point: Round lights surrounding door-mounted speakers pulse on and off in rhythm with the bass register of the music. Those pulsing lights introduce humor to what might have been a hard day. I once found myself laughing uncontrollably at their boom-boom on-and-off rhythm. It is slapstick, but welcome stuff.
I had fun with this Soul. I wasn’t leaving anyone in my dust or taking any corners. I wasn’t trying to do those things. I didn’t care. This crazy friend of a wagon reliably and safely got me wherever I wanted to go — using regular gasoline, by the way — and made me laugh and smile in the process. I appreciate that.
Bottom line: The 2014 Kia Soul is one of the best-priced, best-equipped small wagons available in the U.S. auto market. I hereby predict that it will sell as well as its predecessor. It has several worthy competitors — the Nissan Versa hatchback, Honda Fit, Ford Fiesta and Chevrolet Sonic among them.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Good marks in all three. “Good” means it will please most ordinary drivers — people who want to get where they have to go safely, reliably, within the bounds of the law.
Body style/layout: This is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive, tall-bodied but compact wagon with four side doors and a rear hatch. It is offered in three trim levels — base, Plus (+ in Kia marketing parlance), and Exclaim (! according to Kia marketers).
Engines/transmissions: Two of each are available. The base gets a 1.6-liter, 16-valve, in-line four-cylinder gasoline engine with variable valve timing (130 horsepower, 118 pound-feet of torque). That engine is linked to a standard six-speed manual transmission. The Plus and Exclaim get a 2-liter version of that gasoline engine (164 horsepower, 151 pound-feet of torque) mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Capacities: Seating is for five people. Cargo capacity is 24.2 cubic feet with rear seats up and 61.3 cubic feet with those seats down. The fuel tank holds 14.2 gallons of gasoline (regular grade is recommended).
Mileage: My real-world mileage was 21 miles per gallon in congested city traffic and 30 on the highway.
Safety: Standard equipment includes four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated front, solid rear); four-wheel anti-lock brake protection; electronic brake-force distribution; stability and traction control; driver and passenger head-restraint whiplash-protection systems; and front and rear head air bags.
Price: The non-optioned price of the 2014 Kia Soul Exclaim with 18-inch wheels is $20,500, with a dealer’s invoice price of $19,521. Price as tested is $27,310, including $6,015 in options (onboard navigation, high-definition rear backup camera, premium sound system, panoramic glass roof and other items) and a $795 factory-to-dealer transportation charge. Dealer’s price as tested is $25,777.
Note: Kia is pushing hard to keep the Soul on its bestseller list. You have bargaining room on this one.