Two Hearts for the Soul

The five-place “urban crossover vehicle” goes on sale here in March. Two engines will be offered: a 1.6-liter four-cylinder making 122 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque and a 2.0-liter four putting out 142 horses and 137 pound-feet. The smaller engine comes only with a five-speed manual gearbox; the larger has an optional four-speed automatic. A four-wheel-drive option would have been cool, but no go. The Soul is front-wheel drive only.

The 2825-pound Soul is built on a modified Kia Rio subcompact platform. Its 100.4-inch wheelbase pays real roominess dividends in the back seat, with six-footers having enough headroom to place a fist between their scalps and the headliner. From a comfort standpoint, this little vehicle is a winner.

Kia hopes to price its li’l spunkster in the “low teens,” which we interpret subjectively to be start-at-14 and quit-about-17 grand, so, kids, it’s not gonna look like an Audi inside. Our test car’s red dashboard was hard to the touch, but the fabric seats pass muster, the cluster gauges are marvelously sharp and easy to read, and nobody started whining about the center stack before the ignition got a key poked into it.

We drove the 2.0-liter Soul over 90 miles of Korean roads, mostly on smooth expressways. Its power is respectable, its handling is neutral in the manner of most four-cylinder tall boxes (it has an independent front and torsion-beam rear suspension), and it’s fairly quiet inside at 70 mph. The shifter works well, although twice it slipped into fifth when third was intended. (Could have been the result of eating a lot of pickled food.) When a car arrives with a brassy, look-at-me exterior, it’s nice not to be embarrassed by the sort of gasping performance found in, oh, the current Detroit Lions. Not that you’ll see it on prime-time TV, but in a footrace, we think this will just nose out a Scion xB. More important to drivers under 30, Kia officials say they expect the 1.6-liter engine to get 31 mpg overall (EPA numbers weren’t available).

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