It's commonly believed that young people have short attention spans. It's true that many are very fashion conscious. What's hot today is cold tomorrow. The Scion brand is suffering today because of the tyranny of trendiness.
Into this youth market steps Kia, the bold Korean brand that's remaking itself one product at a time. With the 2010 Soul, Kia goes headlamp-to-headlamp with the four-wheeled box known as the Scion XB.
What a job of it Kia has done. Styling of the second generation XB is polarizing, but the new Soul has spunk. Surprisingly bold, it features sharply drawn wedginess on the sides, back-angled rear pillars, massive vertical taillamps, and chunky, chiseled headlamps over a pursed chrome grille and jaunty black goatee bumper. It stands out in traffic.
Inside, it's in-your-face, with three gauges bursting out of the instrument panel, a floating center console, ice-cream-cone-shaped vents at the corners of the dash. When I opened the glovebox and dashtop storage bin of my Molten Red tester, lurid red surfaces stared back at me. My tester featured cloth on the seats with a repeating SOUL SOUL SOUL SOUL pattern that reminds you of the name of your car every time you step in.
The Soul is fun to drive, with its upright seating and room to take along four pals on your adventures. I personally carried three teenagers to a party with no problem. Thanks to an independent front suspension with stabilizer bar and a torsion beam rear setup, the car handles tautly, too. It sports front and rear disc brakes, plus the advantage of anti-lock and electronic stability control. Just because it's affordable and a perfect first new car doesn't mean this new Kia's not thoroughly up to date technologically.
The car comes in four grades, from the Soul to the Soul + to the Soul ! (exclaim) to the Soul sport. Prices, including shipping, start at just $13,995 and run up to $17,645).
It's the usual story, with each level adding equipment, inside and out. The base car is well equipped, including such youth pleasers as SIRIUS Satellite Radio with three months of complimentary service, USB and auxiliary input jacks for full iPod® and MP3 controllability via the audio head unit, and steering wheel audio controls. The Soul + brings in keyless remote entry, privacy glass, power side mirrors and 16-inch alloy wheels, steering-wheel-mounted cruise control.
Stepping up to the ! model, you get power sunroof, fog lamps, and 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped with P225/45R18 tires. The Soul sport adds side sills, rear spoiler, fog lamps and unique front and rear fascias. With the ! and the sport you get a standard Audio Upgrade Package with a center speaker, subwoofer, 315-watt external amplifier and speaker lights that pulse to the beat of the music or simply add mood lighting (I tried it-it's kind of distracting). This audio upgrade is an option on the + model too.
Pay more and get more-but it'll never cost more than about $20,000.
Kia's youthmobile is geared for economy and environmental awareness. The base car uses a 1.6-liter, 122-horsepower engine, good for 26 City, 31 Highway mileage, while the three higher levels step up to a 2.0-liter engine with 142 horsepower. It loses slightly in mileage, to 24/30, but that's still pretty darned good, and the EPA Green Vehicle Guide is happy to award all Souls a 7 for Air Pollution; the 1.6-liter gets an 8 on its Greenhouse Gas score while the 2.0-liter earns a respectable 7.
The beauty of these boxy little runabouts is how they take up so little real estate on the road but still can carry a lot. If you drop the second seat in the Soul, it offers 53.4 cubic feet of cargo capacity-that's plenty of laundry to Mom or a bunch of amps and instruments for your next gig.
Color choices range from the classy to the crazy. Choose from two whites-creamy Dune or refrigerator-bright Clear White or a progression of three metallic hues from dark, moody Shadow, to rich Titanium to Bright Silver. Mellow out with coffee-inspired Java, or go for the red-hot Molten, like my test car. There's even bright Alien green. More shades are on their way.
Like all Kias, the Soul enjoys a comprehensive warranty program, which includes its now-famous 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty, a five-year/60,000-mile limited basic warranty, and a five-year/100,000-mile anti-perforation warranty. A five-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance plan also is part of the deal.
I think it's a great time to be a young person shopping for a car-if you can talk the folks into spending $15,000. Tell them about the safety features, low cost of maintenance, and 10-year warranty. Then, go out and have fun!