Big boxy SUVs have given way to small boxy crossovers as Americans look for that hard-to-find combination of roominess, utility and fuel economy.But nothing does it better than the Kia Soul, whose small exterior profile masks a quite roomy interior that can easily hold five people and lots of luggage, groceries or DIY supplies.Introduced for 2010 using the same design concept as the Scion xB and Nissan Cube, the Soul comes across as the most-stylish of the three, with a futuristic-looking exterior that can actually put a smile on one's face (well, along with the hamsters that star in the Soul's TV commercials).Prices for 2013 range from $14,400-$19,600 (plus $775 freight), and even the base model has a decent amount of standard equipment, although an automatic transmission jumps the starting price up to $16,200. A six-speed manual is standard.There are three trim levels: base; Plus (+), $16,700 manual, $17,700 automatic; and Exclaim (!), the one we tested, which is available only with the six-speed automatic.Some have referred to the Soul as a "clown car," but there's nothing really funny about a vehicle that includes as much as this one does in one relatively affordable package. The Soul does have a clownish look about it, but that's a huge part of its charm.Even with the xB and Cube around, there's nothing that looks quite like the Soul. The roofline is sloped down from front to rear, while the beltline rises to meet it. That gives it almost trapezoidal rear side windows.The rounded nose with its large headlights add to the car's comical look, created by Kia's Southern California design team. The vehicle was "aimed toward the young and young-at-heart," Kia says, calling the Soul an "urban passenger vehicle." It's so popular that dealers often run short of some models.It got some freshening for 2012, with technology, powertrain and design improvements.It's fuel-efficient, although not as much as Kia had originally advertised. The newly corrected EPA ratings are 25 city/30 highway with the base 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine (manual or automatic), and 23/28 (automatic) and 24/29 (manual) with the optional 2.0-liter four, which is standard on the Plus and Exclaim versions.The 1.6-liter engine is rated at 138 horsepower and 123 foot-pounds of torque; the 2.0-liter revs that up to 164 horsepower and 148 foot-pounds of torque,We had plenty of power with the bigger engine, even with five people in the car - three adults and two 15-year-olds. The six-speed automatic shifted smoothly, and we averaged about 25.2 mpg during our test, with a mix of city and highway driving.New for 2013 are features such as darkened chrome around the grille, upgraded leather on the steering wheel, standard Bluetooth wireless technology with steering-wheel-mounted controls, power/folding side mirrors (Exclaim) and cruise control now standard on the Plus with the manual gearbox.Also added this year was Kia's Idle Stop and Go technology as part of the Eco Package ($500). This cuts off the engine when the car comes to a stop, and automatically restarts it when the accelerator is pushed to resume travel, such as at a traffic light. Hybrid cars introduced this feature, but it's now being offered on many other vehicles as a way to save fuel while idling in traffic.Standard on base models are air conditioning, power door locks, illuminated window switches, power windows with driver's side auto-down, tilt/telescopic steering column, external temperature display and digital clock, two-level glove box, 12-volt power outlet, rear window defroster, cargo area light, and a dome light.There are black cloth seats, and a 60/40 split-folding rear seat with adjustable headrests that can open up the 19 cubic-foot cargo area to more than 53 cubic feet.Also included are the dark chrome-accented grille, auto-off headlights, body-color door handles and outside mirrors, black body-side molding, rear wiper/washer, variable intermittent front wipers, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and 15-inch steel wheels with P195/65R15 tires.With the Plus model, extras include the 2.0-liter engine, keyless remote entry with flip key, privacy glass on the rear hatch and rear side windows, body-color door handles and dual body-color power outside mirrors with integrated turn signals, and 16-inch alloy wheels with P205/55R16 tires.The Plus with manual transmission adds the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, dual front 12-volt power outlets and a third outlet in the cargo area, and tweeter speakers.Other Soul Plus features include a covered upper-dash storage bin, dual visor vanity mirrors with covers, dual map lights, and black cloth seats with Soul logo inserts.An Audio Upgrade Package ($900) is available on Plus automatic models. It brings the Microsoft UVO Web connection system along with a 350-watt, seven-speaker Infinity audio system. Speakers in the front doors have really cool lights circling them that cycle through a rainbow of colors, and they pulse with the beat of the music. Rearview camera and automatic headlights are part of the package.Also offered on the Plus are fog lights and a power sunroof together in an $800 package.At the top of the line, the Exclaim brings LED projector headlights with front LED accents, fog lights, LED taillights, 18-inch alloy wheels with P235/45R18 tires, the power sunroof, body-color bumpers, unique body-color front and rear fascias, heated outside mirrors and the power-folding side mirrors.Other Exclaim extras are carpeted floor mats, sand-black cloth interior trim with houndstooth inserts, the Infinity audio system with UVO and HD Radio, and a rearview camera.We had the Premium Package ($2,500), which tacked on leather seats, navigation with SiriusXM Traffic (instead of the UVO system), heated front seats, automatic climate control, and pushbutton start with smart key.Exterior colors includes some that really stand out. Available are Moss, Dune and Clear White; Shadow, Titanium and Bright Silver metallics; and the hard-to-miss red-hot Molten and the funky Alien green, which almost turns this car into a spaceship.The front bucket seats are quite comfortable, with plenty of head, leg and knee room. We had the two teens and an adult in the back seat, and no one complained except when the teen siblings started picking on each other. Three in the rear might not be the best arrangement for a long trip, especially if cranky kids are jammed in there together, but shorter runs around town are no problem.The car handles remarkably well, but the ride can be a bit rough, especially on roads that aren't exactly smooth. And the cabin is rather noisy at highway speeds - enough so that it's hard to enjoy the music from the otherwise quite-decent stereo.Standard safety features include active front headrests, front seat-mounted side air bags, roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for both rows, and electronic stability control with traction control. Our tester also came with a self-dimming rearview mirror with compass ($275), rear bumper appliqué ($75) and a cargo net ($50).Total sticker price was $23,575, including freight and options.The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at 817-471-2871; firstname.lastname@example.org.
2013 Kia Soul
The package: Five-door, five-passenger, front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder, subcompact crossover utility vehicle.
Advantages: Kia's boxy small crossover has cool exterior styling, a roomy and functional interior, and a long list of standard amenities. And it's affordable, too.
Negatives: Noisy inside at highway speeds; rough ride on any bumps.
Engine: 1.6-liter or 2.0-liter four-cylinder.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
Power/torque: 138 HP./123 foot-pounds (1.6-liter); 164 HP./148 foot-pounds (2.0-liter).
Length: 162,2 inches.
Curb weight: 2,615-2,778 pounds.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; side-curtain for both rows.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Cargo volume: 19.3 cubic feet (behind 2nd seat); 53.4 cubic feet (rear seat folded).
Fuel capacity/type: 12.7 gallons/unleaded regular.
EPA fuel economy: 25 mpg city/30 highway (1.6-liter); 23/28 (2.0-liter).
Major competitors: Scion xB, Nissan Cube, Nissan Juke, Nissan Versa hatch, Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot, Mazda5, Honda Fit, Chevrolet Sonic hatch, Ford Focus hatch.
Base price range: $14,400-$19,600 (plus $775 freight).
Price as tested: $23,575, including freight and options (Soul ! model with Premium Package).
On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.