- The Washington Times - Friday, June 5, 2009

In the past when I’ve talked about helping my 18-year-old son buy a car, he usually requests something impractical and way out of my price range. But, the other day he told me that he wanted a Kia Soul. Apparently, it’s high on the hip scale with his college buddies.

In fact, Kia is redefining its social network with the launch of its newest vehicle, the all-new 2010 Soul. Considering that the average age of a Kia buyer is 52, Kia is basically re-creating itself through the Soul to appeal to the children of those 52-year-olds, aka “Gen Y.”

“We are absolutely committed to this market,” said Tom Loveless, vice president of sales for Kia Motors. “This is the tip of a very big iceberg. It’s the direction Kia is going.”

Gen-Y buyers are the children of baby boomers, ages 16 to early 30s. They are seen as easy-going, positive, hard-working, tech-savvy and of course, social-networking butterflies. To help reach them, Kia developed a Facebook page for Soul, an interactive Web site and a presence on Twitter.

Kia also has changed how it reaches its potential buyers, from formal TV ads to something more memorable and fun with the new rolling hamsters. Other marketing activities include a partnership with the NBA and a 43-city Vans indie-rock tour.

The Soul, whose name is a play on Seoul, the capital of South Korea and Kia’s hometown, is customizable with over 50 different body and interior accessories, including a fashionable red-lined glove box, speakers that pulse in time with your music, black “eyeliner” surrounding the headlights and a body kit with a rear spoiler.

Kia says that two more model intros will follow the Soul in 2010. Could it be that by next year, it will actually be cool to own a Kia?

So far, the strategy — and the car — is working. “This is the best response we’ve ever received,” says Kia’s director of public relations, Alex Fedorak. “We kind of knew we had a good idea.”

What is it? A five-passenger front-wheel drive compact urban vehicle.

Looks like: Very much its own soul but reminiscent of the Scion xB, Nissan Cube, a baby Chrysler PT Cruiser, or a Mini Clubman.

Engine & EPA: Choice of two four-cylinders: 122-horsepower, 1.6-liter delivers 26/31 mpg; 142-horsepower, 2.0-liter returns 24/30 mpg.

Interior/Exterior: Roomy cabin with lots of storage possibilities, including a two-tiered glove box with room on the bottom for a laptop. An upper closed storage bin is perfect for cell phones, keys, etc. The Soul comes in a variety of standout colors, such as coffee-inspired Java, red-hot Molten and Alien green.

What’s different: The clean-looking interior is decked out with a “floating center console” and a rockin’ Infinity stereo system with available speakers that flash or vibrate to keep time with the music. Optional speaker lights pulse to the beat of the music or add mood lighting.

Pricing: Starts at $13,300 for the base trim and tops out at $18,600 for the Soul Sport with all available options included.

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