Kia stirs the Soul

  • 19-Jan-2009 12:44 EST
The Kia Soul’ster shares the same wheelbase as the production 2010 Soul but features two doors and a cargo bed as opposed to five doors. (Matthew Monaghan)

Kia injected some much needed sunshine into the snow-covered 2009 North American International Auto Show with its almost fluorescent Soul’ster open-air concept. Built with the same wheelbase as the forthcoming production model Soul—100.4 in (2550 mm)—the Soul’ster trades the two rear doors and a rear lift gate for an exposed cargo bed with chunky roll bars running from the top of the cab to the rear of the vehicle.

Tom Kearns, Chief Designer, Kia Motors America, sought to make the Soul’ster a more dramatic variation of the Soul, which arrives in dealerships this spring. “It combines the attributes of a pickup a little bit, a roadster, and something a bit sportier, even more so than the five-door,” Kearns said.

Rather than an aggressive off-roader or sporty roadster, the Soul’ster is intended to be an affordable, fun front-drive convertible that offers comfortable seating for four and surprising flexibility. The front and rear passenger seats fold flat and the center console-mounted cantilevered seats provide additional rear legroom and storage options.

“We wanted to make it affordable and fun at the same time, so that’s the reason why the roof is a canvas top and not some retractable hardtop and that’s why the window cranks are basic,” Kearns said. “It’s kind of like making basic affordable but also still fun and desirable.”

The manually operated canvas top comes in two pieces, enabling passengers to expose the front and rear seating areas independently. Slider tracks for the convertible top are ingeniously incorporated into the roll bar.

Rather than hide the manually operated window cranks and dashboard-integrated speakers, they were made into key interior design elements.

To set it apart from its Soul brethren, the Soul’ster’s windshield was shortened, giving it a sportier, hunkered-down appearance, and several features were added such as side vents, side-mirror turn signals, and dual-chrome exhaust with polished aluminum exhaust tips. Large 19-in, five-spoke aluminum alloy wheels also are exclusive to the Soul’ster, a step up from the Soul’s 16- or 18-in options.

“In the front, we tweaked the face a bit with a tough but refined character,” Kearns said. “Its toughness is expressed with details like the anodized skid-plate insert, which matches the front fender vents, the roll bar header, and the wheels.”

As with the Soul, the Soul’ster is intended to be offered with a multitude of engine choices to meet each market’s needs, including a 1.6-L, inline four-cylinder engine that produces 122 hp (91 kW) and a 2.0-L, inline four-cylinder that generates 142 hp (106 kW). Both engines, which can be mated to five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions, are estimated to achieve 30 or more mpg. A 1.6-L turbodiesel may also be an option in some markets.

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