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Soul mates: Kia Soul owners are a quirky, loyal bunch

Heather Pugh met her boyfriend, Don Holmes, while likely chin-wagging about whether Solar Yellow is a cooler colour than Flathorn Blue. Such are the discussions at the Soul Club of Ontario.

"Actually I don't like the colour of his Soul – red – and he doesn't like the colour of mine – titanium," Pugh says. "Initially, I thought he was creepy and he thought I was bitchy, but we fell in love anyway."

Meeting a mate, of course, is only one of the attractions of an organization like the Soul Club of Ontario. Making friends from around the world is another. The Ontario club's name is a bit of a misnomer because its members range far and wide – from Toronto and Picton to Sarnia and London, Ont., to Texas, California, and London, England.

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Call it an exercise in Canadian auto-culture imperialism but the Soul Club of Ontario has more or less taken over the international Kia Soul Forum. Or so Pugh says.

"I think it was because our posts were so constant and fun and jokey and informative that people from other parts of the world just wanted to join our conversation and become friends with everybody," she says.

The club was founded in June, 2009, by a guy named Rob Woodward as a way for buyers of the then-recently launched Kia Soul to get together, either online or in person, to trade information and experiences about their new prized possession, a car so uniquely styled that its creator says its iconic boxy shape resembles "a wild boar sporting a back pack."

Since its launch, sales of the econobox have sky-rocketed, with 15,000 units flying out of Kia showrooms monthly in the United States and 1,000 per month in Canada. (To date, the company has sold more than 400,000 Souls stateside.) The only thing preventing even more Souls from clogging North America's highways and byways is supply, and that fact has especially affected this country. "The U.S. didn't get enough cars last year to satisfy demand, so Kia promised them more, which affected us," says Woodward, who does double-duty as club founder and as a manager at Toronto's Scarboro Kia dealership.

So what's the big draw for Canadians who clamour to get their hands on one? For most, it's the car's distinctive look, with its upright stance, fender flares, and wraparound high-mounted lights. When Pugh first saw one, she says she exclaimed, "'Wow! Now there's a car that's unique.' The night I bought my Soul, I couldn't sleep, I was so excited."

That kind of emotional response to the car is common in Soul owners. What most amazes Woodward about the club membership is its diversity. "They really are all at different ages, stages and backgrounds, but what I think is common to them all is a kind of emotional 'quirkiness'," he says.

The quirkiness of both the club and its members is perhaps reflected best in its organizational structure, or rather, its lack of one. "Nobody's really in charge," says Pugh, "although people look to me to organize things once in a while.

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"We don't have a president but we do have three 'admins' responsible for maintaining the Kia Soul Forum. One of them – he's from somewhere in Texas – started getting 'all big' on rules and regulations, even accusing the rest of us of being off-topic on, get this, the 'Off-Topic' section of the forum, so we just all got up and left."

The club's loosey-goosey structure, however, doesn't prevent members from hanging out together – a lot.

"We're a bunch of crazies who're really obsessed with one another," says Pugh. Friday night coffee klatches are a weekly to-do item on the club calendar. But unlike some other car clubs, this one doesn't engage in races, or competitions.

It does, however, enter car shows, which are, as Woodward notes, "competitive." He has the trophies to prove it. Regular cruises around the Ontario countryside are another staple of the club's social interaction and, once a year, a convoy of 30-plus Souls drives down the Queen Elizabeth Way to Goat Island, on the American side of Niagara Falls, to rendezvous with American Soul enthusiasts.

Still, online communication is where much of the real club interaction happens. "Many Kia Soul owners are 'tuners,' i.e., they spend a lot of money modifying their cars," says Woodward. One of his friends has spent more than $100,000 modifying his $20,000 car.

Further evidence: Pugh's ex-husband spent so much time helping fellow club mates modify their cars, their house became known as the "Soul Garage."

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Much of the information exchanged on the club's Facebook and forum pages consists of tips on how to tweak or modify Souls. Pugh once hosted an English member of the club who'd devised a cool modification: red or black fibreglass rings that clip over the chrome grill of the 2010 Soul. He'd initially posted his snappy mod online, but during his Toronto visit, the intrepid Englishman did brisk business selling them to club members. Clearly, being soulful can also be an enriching experience.

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