Kia’s updated compact hatchback, the 2014 Soul, rolled into the big city last week to strut its stuff at the 2013 New York International Auto Show, accompanied by the requisite sight of b-boys breaking and giant hip-hop hamsters styling. Beyond the finely tuned youth-oriented marketing campaign, the Korean car maker’s second take on its segment-leading, small, tall-box utility wagon comprises a fairly substantial upgrade of the basic vehicle structure and systems function, perhaps enough to match its winningly funky vibe and much-admired exterior lines.
Although the signature boxy shape of the Soul hasn’t changed too much from its original roots, at least not enough to be anything but readily recognizable, Kia Design Chief Peter Schreyer and his team have freshened the appearance of the new model by bringing in some aspects of last year’s Track’ster concept car, particularly the location of the wheels at the corners of the vehicle, which together with a lower stance, plant the little multipurpose vehicle firmly onto the roadbed.
The new “stretched” chassis is a bit longer and wider, allowing for more passenger and cargo room, but the frame’s structural stiffness has been enhanced by more than a quarter through greater use of high-strength steel (31%) and ultra-high-strength steel (35%) alloys in key components, said Ralph Tjoa, National Manager of Product Planning at Kia Motors America. A liberal application of sound-damping materials combines with the stiffer chassis (especially in torsion) to significantly cut NVH levels, he said.
The Soul’s suspension also received a noteworthy upgrade with new front and rear suspension subframes with revised geometries (and available electric flex steer), an attempted fix for the former model’s sketchy ride and handling performance.
When the Soul hits showroom floors in the third quarter of this year, buyers will have a choice of two four-cylinder GDI engines, a 130-hp (97-kW) 1.6-L DOHC powerplant and a 2.0-L engine that generates 164 hp (122 kW) at 6200 rpm and 151 lb·ft (205 N·m) at 4000 rpm. Though this year’s engines are a bit more torquey than their predecessors, auto show attendees were less than enthusiastic about the new powertrains. The 2014 Soul will offer either a six-speed automatic or manual transmission. Three trim levels will be available: Base, Plus, and Exclaim. The price of the new car was not revealed.
The interior of the new Soul, said Tom Kerns, Chief Designer at the Kia Design Center America, is more refined, featuring soft-touch materials throughout, a remedy for the original model’s 'plasticky-looking' occupant accommodations. Notably, the accessory-packed 2014 Soul will have available a high-definition, 8-in touchscreen navigation system with backup camera and UVO eServices for telematics and infotainment access.
It looks like Kia’s second-generation people-mover has grown up to be a bit more functional without losing its edgy Gen-Y appeal. But small, younger families on a tight budget should like the capabilities of Kia’s affordable city runabout even better as it resumes its competition against the likes of the Scion xB, Honda Fit, and Nissan Cube.