Now that I really think about it, it turns out I actually know quite a few Kia Soul owners. Three of my friends have them, a friend's mom just bought one, and even my building's maintenance guy has one. Every time I talk to any of these people, they make a point of telling me just how much they enjoy owning a Soul and how the quirky Kia is just about perfect for their respective needs. When this red Molten one showed up in my parking lot, the maintenance guy spent a good 15 minutes inspecting it from top to bottom, seeing how it compares to the last-generation Plus model that he holds so dear.
There's good reason for all the commotion, too. The Soul offers an interesting package that offers good looks, functionality, technology, efficiency and refinement in droves, but does so in a way that attracts people who like vehicles with good ground clearance and a commanding seating position. Wrap all that in an incredibly affordable package, and there's indeed a recipe for success here.
The uplevel 2.0-liter inline-four got a much-needed massaging during the 2012 model year refresh, and as a result, power has been upgraded from 142 horsepower and 137 pound-feet of torque to 164 hp and 148 lb-ft, meaning...
There's ample power on tap without a huge sacrifice in efficiency. Even with this more potent powerplant, fuel economy is rated at 26 miles per gallon in the city and 34 mpg highway. The base 1.6-liter engine that we previously tested is down by 26 hp and 25 lb-ft but only offers one extra MPG in both the city and highway cycles.
Kia's new six-speed automatic transmission offers smooth shifts, even when jumping down a couple of gears for passing on the highway. The transmission will run a gear up all the way up to its redline before changing cogs, but if you insist on doing so, you'll be punished with lots of buzzy engine noise.
The 18-inch wheels of this tester look really sharp and help drive home the funky/cool design of the Soul, but combined with the P235/45R18 Nexen tires, they can make for a harsh ride on less-than-ideal surfaces.
Having an upright windshield and large greenhouse might be great for visibility, but wind noise takes a hit. Thankfully the upgraded Infinity stereo has no problem offering good sound quality when it's turned up – you'll be doing that often to wipe out the wind noise on the highway.
This top-level ! model – that's pronounced, "Exclaim" – offers leather seats (heated up front) as part of the $2,500 premium package. My test car had just under 500 miles on the odometer and the hide already looked worn in places, especially on the rear bench.
However, those rear seats are comfortable and quite spacious. I had no complaints from passengers and though I'm admittedly only five-foot, seven inches, I found ample amounts of headroom and legroom. Fold those seats flat and you'll be rewarded with 53.4 cubic feet of cargo space, too.
That said, the rest of the interior looks and feels top-notch, with nicely grained plastics in a two-tone black-and-tan color palette throughout the cabin. Specific elements like the leather-wrapped steering wheel and padded leather trim on the doors give an added element of luxury, too – welcome niceties in a car with a sub-$25k price tag.
Actually, make that sub-$24k. Even this fully loaded Soul ! with the premium package and accessories like a cargo net, rear bumper applique and auto-dimming mirror only stickers for $23,575, including $775 for destination. With a price like that (not to mention Kia's 10-year/100,000-mile warranty), it's no wonder this car continues to be an enormous success.