Based on the Rio platform, the Kia Soul was introduced to the North American market in 2010 and was one of the new breed of stubby compact "urban crossover" wagons, such as the Nissan Cube, Scion xB, Honda Element, Ford Flex and so on.
When it hit the market, Kia was also targeting the Dodge Caliber and Suzuki SX4 as rivals. You could also toss the Pontiac Vibe/Toyota Matrix in there while you were at it.
To stand out from the crowd and establish a new brand identity, Kia stylists incorporated what they called a "tiger nose" front grille with integrated "repeater" turn signals into the Soul's body. This was a theme that we'd be seeing on future Kia products and was already in evidence on the then-new Magentis sedan.
Two engines were offered, both four-bangers. The 1.6-litre version developed 122 horsepower, while the 2.0-litre was good for 142 horses. You could choose from either a four-speed automatic or five-speed manual transmission, but the manual gearbox came standard with the smaller engine.
High on the cuteness scale, the Soul did have a practical side. Fold down the back seats and you got 546 litres of cargo space, and there was an abundance of rear legroom and headroom throughout the vehicle. Back-seat elbow room and entry/exit was surprisingly ample, which wasn't always the case with these kinds of puddle-jumpers.
Both on the highway and around town, the Soul surprised with its reserve power, nimbleness and, in particular, its lack of rattles, looseness or mysterious noises. Kia has a checkered history when it comes to assembly quality, but the Soul seemed to be as tight as a drum. That said, it did feature an overly stiff ride.
Four versions were offered in 2010: 2U, 4U, 4U Retro and 4U Burner. Depending upon the model, you could order larger wheels and tires, sportier suspension, upgraded stereo, sunroof, different-coloured interior trim, air conditioning and stereo speakers with a mood lamp feature. Crank up the tunes and they glow red in time to the music – what Kia called a "club effect." You could also choose upholstery that glows in the dark, albeit temporarily.
Standard equipment included power door locks, heated mirrors, Bluetooth capability, USB ports and heated front seats. This last feature was – and is – an excellent idea and should be standard issue on all cars sold in Canada. Kia also offered performance upgrades that included high-flow air filter, tuned exhaust and high-performance air intake.
One safety recall to report from Transport Canada, and it concerns the sound system. The wiring harness may contain faulty soldering that could cause the illuminated speaker system to short out and, in a worst-case scenario, cause a fire. This glitch also applied to Kia Sorentos of the same year.
The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, meanwhile, has eight technical service bulletins out there for the 2010 Soul. These include issues with the fuel filler cap, a squeaky rear-window washer, difficulties getting into first gear with the manual transmission, issues with the variable valve timing system and various minor electrical gremlins.
Consumer Reports is cautiously positive about the Soul. It likes its affordability and "decent" performance, but has reservations about the stiff ride and "basic" interior. Some comments from owners: "While driving on highway, all four brakes activated without brakes being pressed. vehicle decelerated from 65 mph to 30 mph and driver's-side front brake caught on fire;" "When putting the vehicle into reverse and releasing the clutch out to start moving the vehicle makes a loud metallic moaning sound."
Market research firm J.D. Power, meanwhile, is positive, but not completely. It likes the Soul's body and interior quality and features and instrumentation, but has misgivings about the powertrain quality and overall performance. It gets a "better-than-most" rating for overall performance and design, and an "about-average" grade for predicted reliability.
From a base price of $15,500 in 2010, the Soul has held its value well. Prices range from $10,000 for the base 2U, to the high teens for a fully loaded 4Burner SX version. The larger-engine models fetch about $1,000 more than the base 1.6-litre models.
2010 Kia Soul
Original Base Price: $15,495; Black Book: $12,325-$16,550; Red Book: $8,675-$11,525
Engine: 1.6- and 2.0-litre four-cylinder
Horsepower/Torque: 122 hp/115 lb-ft for 1.6L; 142 hp/137 lb-ft for 2.0L
Transmission: Four-speed automatic/five-speed manual
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 8.5 city/6.6 highway (automatic with 2.0-litre four); regular gas
Alternatives: Honda Element, Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe, Chevrolet HHR, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Dodge Caliber, Suzuki SX4 Hatchback
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