Those who were disappointed with the upsized and redesigned second-generation Scion xB may have a new vehicle to consider. The 2010 Kia Soul, introduced as a concept at the 2006 Detroit auto show and teased for the last nearly three years, contains the fuel efficiency and smart interior packaging of the first xB, wrapped in a likeable, edgy body unlike anything Kia has ever sold here before.
North American buyers will have a choice of engines: a 2.0L four at launch and a 122-hp, 1.6L later on. The larger I-4 comes with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic, the smaller is only offered with a manual. The front-drive Soul will be available with four trim levels: Soul, Soul +, Soul ! (exclaim), and Soul sport, and though pricing hasn't been announced (expect that at the Los Angeles auto show later this month), Kia hinted the MSRP will be highly competitive. When the Soul goes on sale in North America in March 2009 as a 2010 model, we expect it to start around $15,000-$16,000 and top out at $20,000.
At first glance, the Soul looks much like the concept, except that the Peter Schreyer-designed production version is now much more car and much less crossover. Based on a reinforced, stretched version of the Rio platform, the car is cute and instantly likeable and comes in eleven colors (eight at launch) with names like Alien and Dune (Euro-spec cars have much more charming paint colors like Tomato Red and Vanilla Shake). Like the Scion, a strong emphasis is being put on the potential for customization and accessorizing this car. Several options are offered, including a red and black interior, beige and black hound's tooth seats and similar accents on the tailgate and hood, several wheel choices, different bumpers, stereos, and body mods; what we don't know yet is which of these features will be available in the United States.
We spent some time behind the wheel of a Soul + (2.0L, 142-hp four), with the five-speed manual transmission and 16-in. wheel and tire package. The engine provides plenty of power for a vehicle this size, feels significantly quicker than the first-gen xB, and will probably outrun the Fit in a straight line. But it's somewhat unrefined and noisy (which, considering the price point, isn't a serious problem). The five-speed helps eke out all of the power the Soul has to offer -- which is good, because peak hp is at 6000 rpm), but we'd expect the automatic transmission to be perfectly acceptable (more on that once we get to try it). What we don't understand is why the company didn't use a five-speed automatic instead of a four. The five would be more competitive with its rivals, would provide even better fuel economy than the estimated 31 mpg for the 2.0L, and fifth gear would almost definitely be welcome at higher speed.