Kia Soul Exclaim handles well, fun to drive

The Kia Soul is a smallish, stylish, fun and lovable car with four doors and a rear hatch, seating for five, a decent-sized cargo area behind the second row of seats, an attractive price and good fuel economy. Its shape and interior configuration resemble that of a compact SUV, but Kia calls it an urban passenger vehicle and offers it with front-wheel drive only. All-wheel drive is not available.

A generous amount of head room and leg room inside the passenger cabin belie Soul’s compact size. Utility is enhanced by 60/40 split folding rear seats, which are standard on all models. Also standard on all models is a wiper/washer for the back window, something no boxy vehicle should be without in the Pacific Northwest. It’s one of Newton’s laws of motion, or somebody’s law of something, that grimy road spray will quickly cover the entire rear window of a boxy-shaped vehicle traveling on a rainy road.

The Soul has three different trim levels: Soul, Soul Plus, and Soul Exclaim. Kia doesn’t spell out “Plus” and “Exclaim.” Instead, they use the symbols + and ! (an italicized exclamation mark). But we’ll spell out the words rather than use the symbols, so no one reading this review goes mental over what looks like a computer glitch or typos in the text.

The base model Soul comes with a 1.6-liter, 138-horsepower four-cylinder engine, a six-speed manual transmission and a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $15,175. If you prefer an automatic transmission, it can be yours on this model for an MSRP of $16,975.

The base model’s standard-equipment list includes air conditioning, power windows and door locks, AM/FM/CD/MP3/SiriusXM audio system, USB/auxiliary input jacks, tilt and telescoping steering column, full-length side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, vehicle stability management, and hill start assist.

Moving along on the price/features spectrum, the Soul Plus model is powered by a livelier 2.0-liter, 164-horsepower four-cylinder. Equipped with a six-speed manual transmission, it’s $17,475. To opt for a six-speed automatic, toss in another $1,000.

The Soul Plus has 16-inch alloy wheels instead of the 15-inchers found on the base model, and includes privacy glass for the second-row and rear windows, which is an option on the base Soul. Other features added to this model as standard equipment include stereo and interior trim upgrades, Bluetooth, remote keyless entry, and heated body-color power-adjustable outside mirrors with turn-signal indicators.

For 2013, the Soul Plus offers an Eco Package on models with an automatic transmission. It includes ISG technology and low-rolling-resistance tires for improved fuel economy. ISG (for Idle Stop and Go) saves fuel by automatically switching the engine off when the car is not in motion, such as at a stop light or in a traffic jam. Um, I hope no one was wondering, but ISG automatically switches the engine back on when the gas pedal is pushed.

The Soul Exclaim ($20,675) is powered by the same engine as the Soul Plus, comes with a six-speed automatic transmission and 18-inch alloy wheels, and has unique upholstery and exterior accents.

All prices shown above include a $775 destination charge.

My tester was a 2013 Soul Exclaim equipped with an optional Premium Package ($2,500) adding push-button start, leather seat trim, heated front seats, automatic climate control and a navigation system with Sirius Traffic. Other options on the tester include a cargo net and an electrochromic rearview mirror with compass.

The 2.0 liter engine (23 mpg city, 28 mpg highway) has plenty of pep. Not enough for thrill seekers, but they’re not Soul Shoppers anyway. The tester showed me a good drive time with its eager-to-please power, smooth automatic shifting, quick steering response and spry handling. It took twisty roads with finesse, which isn’t surprising for a car this size, but what really got me was how well the Soul performed on I-5. Nice and stable, and even at top freeway speeds the passenger cabin stayed remarkably quiet. On one particular stretch of freeway with deep tracks and in heavy rain, I was prepared for the car to hydroplane but it never happened. It should be noted that Kia has given the Plus and Exclaim models some extra components above and beyond those of the base model to further reduce noise, vibration and harshness.

The tester’s handsome two-tone Sand/Black interior had the look and feel of a much more expensive car, but the whimsical-looking center stack perfectly matches Soul’s fun personality, so the interior didn’t come across as pretending to be something it’s not.

2013 Kia Soul Exclaim

Base price, including destination charge: $20,675

Price as driven: $23,575

Mary Lowry is a free-lance automotive writer who has been reviewing cars for more than 20 years. The cars are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.

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