- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

It is a great confidence booster when a small, affordable car starts getting awards, especially when it’s a new entry to the marketplace. The 2010 Kia Soul has been named by two prestigious automotive authorities for outstanding product characteristics.

This news is not only good for Kia — which has needed desperately to hit a homerun in the U.S. marketplace — but it’s also good news for small-car buyers, who more than anything else want to feel confident in the small product they’re buying.

Ward’s AutoWorld named the Kia Soul to its “Interior of the Year” list as having the “Grooviest Interior.” That alone speaks volumes. Small cars notoriously get overlooked in the finishings department in manufacturers’ efforts to keep costs down. But Kia pays attention to the small-car interior of the Soul, the living space of the car.

Personalization is key to the Soul. There are more than 50 ways to personalize color and interior choices and lighting — as well as the exterior parts, too, with body kits and roof racks.

One of the big standout interior elements on my Soul tester was the audio package, which included a ring of lights on the door-mounted speaker system. The light settings could be set to pulse to the beat of the music or just create a mood. The Soul’s center console floats from the dashboard, giving the driver quick access to climate and sound controls.

Kelley Blue Book named the new Kia Soul to its “Coolest New Cars” under $18,000, citing all the techie gadgets that are offered such as Bluetooth connectivity and iPod integration, as well as its fuel economy and safety factors.

The front-wheel-drive Kia Soul starts well below $18,000, with an entry price of $13,300. This base model employs a 16-valve, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that will generate 122 horsepower and 115 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to a five-speed manual transmission. It rides on 15-inch tires. The EPA rates the fuel economy at 31 miles per gallon highway and 26 mpg city.

All other versions — the Soul+, Soul! and Soul Sport — are equipped with the 2.0-liter inline-four with 142 horsepower and 137 lb.-ft. of torque coupled to either a five-speed manual or a four-speed manual transmission. Prices for these trims range from $14,950 to $17,900. The Soul+ is shod with 16-inch tires while the Soul! and Soul Sport get 18-inchers. Fuel mileage estimates on the 2.0-liter are 24/30 mpg for both transmission types.

The Soul zips around town breezily with its 34-foot curb-to-curb turning circle. In fact, Kia labels this five-door compact an “urban” vehicle. Others might call it a hatchback because of its easy lift access to a tidy cargo area, but I gotta agree with the automaker on this — the Soul is a decent city car. It parks easily in tight spaces, maneuvers well and has a successful look going for it, just as many of its aspirational young buyers would want.

The compact Kia Soul comes with a good list of safety equipment. Models include full-length side curtain airbags, seat-mounted (front only) side-impact airbags, dual front airbags and active head restraints. Buyer confidence is further inspired by other important safety features, including Electronic Stability Control, traction control, and anti-lock brakes.

We all know the rational side of the small-car buyer chooses affordability, safety and fuel economy as primary reasons for the purchase. Kia understands the emotional side of buying a car, which involves design and passion. The Soul has it.

Send e-mail to keane@ motormatters.biz.

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