I'm sure Scion's product team feels a twinge of regret every time a Kia Soul goes by. This 2014 model is the car that the second-generation xB should have become. The Kia is small on the outside, but reasonably spacious on the inside. Its visibility is good, mitigating the need for many high-tech safety features. And the tech that is included is well-tailored to the youthful target market.
However, just looking at the spec sheet, the Kia Soul struck me as trying too hard to be cool, starting with the trim levels: Base, "+", and "!" from bottom to top of the line. Do I tell my friends that I'm driving a "Kia Soul Exclamation Mark" this week, or do I just shout "2014 SOUL!" Additionally, our example's Alien II paint is not a bad hue of metallic green, but I'd be embarrassed to speak that name aloud in public.
Get past the glowing lights around the speakers and other "hip" pretenses and the 2014 Kia Soul "!" reveals itself as a well-equipped and well-executed small crossover.
Tragically hip, but well appointed
Body-colored exterior trim on the bumpers and 18-inch alloy wheels differentiates the top trim "!". Lesser trims make due with flat black bumper trim, which still doesn't look bad and may even be better suited for areas where your neighbors tend to parallel park using the "bumper check" method.
The "!" model gains automatic-activating front projector beam headlamps with LED DRLs and matching LED tail lamps, which use less energy than the incandescents of the lower trim levels. Our model has the optional upgraded HID headlamps and jewel-style LED DRLs, further indicating our example's place at the top of the line.
An optional panoramic glass sunroof opens up nearly the entire roof to the sky, filling the already spacious cabin with an airy and spacious feeling. A motorized fabric cover can cover the glass on sunny days, keeping the cabin cool. However, only the front half of this roof actually slides open and tilts to let fresh air in, a limitation of the design that I'm fine with. Thusly equipped, the rear bench is not at all a bad place for a pair of adults to find themselves seated.
Heated and ventilated front seats? Check. Heated steering wheel? Check. Heated rear seats? Are you sure this isn't an Equus or K900?! The "!" model also gets optional leather appointment, which is nice if you're into that. Frankly, I'd be happy with fabric seats at this price point.
Our "!" model also featured keyless entry and motorized side mirrors that fold in when you walk away from the parked Soul and automatically unfold as you approach. "+" models get the keyless entry without the motorized theatrics. Both models can be had with optional push-button start and our example was so-equipped.
360-degree visibility is very good regardless of the Soul's trim level, thanks to the generous greenhouse glass, but a rear camera -- standard on the "!" and optional on the "+" helps with making the most of the Soul's relatively small footprint when squeezing into tight parallel parking spaces.
However well-appointed, the Soul isn't a luxury or premium vehicle. There are no memory positions for the power-adjustable driver's seat, the steering wheel does not tilt, and there are no active safety features such as blind spot monitoring or rear proximity and cross-traffic alerts. There is no lane-keeping assistance, no forward collision warning, and no adaptive cruise control available. To be fair, not much in this class short of the Ford C-Max or Escape offers such high-tech safety features either, and the van-like profile of the C-Max is anything but cool. (Sarcasm aside, the Ford models are also considerably more expensive.)
The tech you need, unless you need a CD player
Where the Scion xB boasts easy audio upgradability, Kia plies its trade on simply being well equipped. So, USB connectivity is standard from the base model and is able to read data from a connected iOS or mass storage device. I did part of my testing with an iPad Mini and found the file system to be easy to navigate. Bluetooth connectivity and Sirius XM are also standard all the way down to the Base model.
Available starting at the "+" model, the UVO-powered infotainment system no longer forces owners to choose between good voice command and navigation and standard UVO eServices puts Kia's data services (including roadside assistance, uploading vehicle diagnostic info to the Web, and more) as at the driver's fingertips, making use of a paired Bluetooth phone as a modem.
The standard infotainment screen is a smallish unit that I was unable to test, but our model was equipped with the optional 8-inch display as part of the "Sun and Sound" technology package. The resolution of that optional 8-inch color touch-display is exceptional and make the admittedly simple graphics of the navigation system really pop.
Maps for the nav are rendered using simple 2D graphics only, which is really all that you need to get the job done. Real-time highway traffic is available to help in calculating the most efficient route and to provide realistic arrival time estimates. Stepping up to navigation also adds HD Radio tuning to the audio source mix, which is used to provide the traffic data, as well as a Premium Audio system.