First Drive: Kia Soul

Kia has fired a shot across the bows of Toyota and Nissan in the U.S., putting its new Soul up against the Scion xB and Cube.

The box-on-wheels with is U.S.-designed exterior is arguably more interesting than the little Toyota and cuter-if-not-as-hip as the Cube. Kia targeted young adults in their low 20s as their market, though in our drive through Miami, Florida, we saw more interest from 40- and 50-year-olds. But the Soul is cute and different and, like all these microvans, quite handy.

And inexpensive. At its most basic, a Soul is worth US$13,300 (theologians finally have their answer) and at that is equipped with such niceties as power windows, rear wiper, air conditioning and a reasonably good sound system, complete with today's requisite input jacks.

The cost of the ultimate Soul (begging more religious questions) comes in at US$18,600 and includes a list of options and accessories that stretches (not literally, but figuratively) all the way back to Kia's headquarters in Seoul, South Korea.

Naturally the journalists' Souls (we're happy to announce) were well equipped and proved quite useful, from the nicely laid-out gauges to the audio/HVAC controls at the centre dash. There are loads of cubbyholes for the stuff that seems to accumulate, seating for five adults and the usual split-folding rear seat layout for cargo.

One doesn't buy these vehicles for their dynamic driving fun, so they just need to get the job done with fair aplomb. For that Kia fits the base vehicle with a 1.6-litre four (91kW, 156Nm) matched to a 5-speed manual or the upgraded versions featuring a 2.0 four (106 kW, 186Nm using the 5-speed or an automatic 4-speed.

City driving seems to yield mileage in the 7.6 l/100km range, while highway numbers run around 9.4. Our 2.0-litre test car easily had enough power with two adults on board, though it might prove a bit sluggish with 5 adults and their gear.

The chassis has MacPherson struts up front, a twist beam suspension at the back and all the electronic tricks--electronic stability control, traction control, ABS, etc--one expects in a modern machine.
Trying to predict if Kia will sell oodles of Souls is like prophesizing the next fad among the young adults who are expected to like microvans.

I'd tell you how very acceptable, cute, usable and financially reasonable I found the Soul to be, but if word of my age got out it would likely kill the vehicle's sales just as it gets to the dealerships.

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