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Kia Soul

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Quick Road Test: 2010 Kia Forte 2.4L SX

Hot on the heels of the well received Soul, Kia is reinvigorating it’s small car offerings by introducing the Forte. We take the new economical four-door for a spin.

Strengths

  • Attractive, modern styling
  • Interior fit & finish is impressive
  • Audio system offers full iPod / USB / MP3 connectivity

Weaknesses

  • Super sensitive manual transmission clutch
  • Throttle progression tuned for low end sensitivity, dull upper end
  • Flat sounding stereo didn’t match what we heard in the Soul

Conclusion
The Soul had shocked us so much the Forte had big shoes to fill when it arrived at our office.  We were impressed with the fit and finish of the car inside and out. Kia’s new steering wheel and switchgear feel really good. Leather, heated seats, and a sunroof for under $20k.

The same audio system interface from the Kia Soul made its way into the Forte- a very good thing. However, the trick LED lit speakers and thumping sound quality from the Soul did not.  We can’t complain though, as few automakers have audio interfaces that work this well.

We found issue with the manual transmission not feeling as smooth or predictable as we’d like. Often starting out from a stop we’d stall the engine, which bothered us considering we’ve never had that problem in other makes or models. We did not have the opportunity to test a Forte with the automatic transmission.

If you’re buying a Forte for fuel economy, go for the smaller 2.0L EX with the fuel economy package. You’ll get the 5-speed automatic and 36mpg on the highway.

The Forte is equipped comes with an impressive slew of safety features including traction control, abs brakes, front airbags, side mounted airbags, side-curtain airbags, active front headrests, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

Kia has come a very long way in the last few years. With it’s modern lines and refined interior, we’d take the Forte over a Toyota Corolla any day of the week.

As-tested specifications

Model: 2010 Kia Forte SX
Engine: 2.4L 16-valve DOHC CVVT four-cylinder – 173-horsepower,168-ft lbs of torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Suspension: Independent front, torsion beam rear
Tires: P217/45R17
EPA Fuel Economy: 22mpg City, 26mpg combined, 32mpg highway
Warranty: 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain, 5-year/60,000 bumper to bumper

Base Price: $17,195
Options: $1,600 (SX leather package, Sunroof)
Destination: $695
As Tested Price: $19,490

2010 Kia Forte Road Test Gallery

Road Test: 2010 Kia Soul

Yes it’s funky- but that’s the point. The 2010 Kia Soul is the first small econo-box that does not rely solely on being unique looking to attract potential buyers.  In fact it just may be the new benchmark for the industry on how to introduce a youthful that actually appeals to the youth market.  We took the 2010 Kia Soul for a spin and here’s what we thought.

Specifications as-tested

MSRP: $17,890
Engine: 2.0L I4 | 142-horsepower @6,000rpm,  137 lb-ft @ 4,600rpm
Trim: Soul +
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
EPA fuel economy: 24-city, 26-combined, 30-highway
Observed fuel economy: 24.66mpg (mostly short trips on rural roads)
Tested for: 7 days / 314 miles

Conclusion

Kia’s slogan “A new way to roll” is truth in advertising. The Soul is unique and stylish without being garish like the Scion xB and represents a huge leap forward in refinement for the Kia brand.  Youth oriented features like music-synced interior lights, full iPod capability, and an economical price place the Soul as the new benchmark for the econo-box market.

Strengths

  • Fit and finish are impressive and upscale for this price-range
  • Music-sync’d LED lights in the speakers are way too cool and the audio system sounds great
  • Ride and handling is crisp and steering feels well connected to the road
  • The unique styling fits like a glove and grows on you until you love it

Weaknesses

  • Vast difference in quality between center console and door panels- which are still cheap/hard plastic
  • Steering wheel controls are not ergonomically placed and require some thumb stretching to use
  • While a vast improvement over previous Kia engines- the 2.0L is still thrashy sounding at high RPMs
  • The Soul’s horn is about as awful sounding and cringe-worthy as humanly possible

Driving Dynamics & Performance

Road Test: 2010 Kia Soul

Kia has designed the Soul on a clean slate. It features an all-new platform incorporating a full independent MacPherson strut front suspension and transverse torsion beam axle in the rear. Soul Sport models a uniquely tuned suspension featuring firmer springs, re-tuned shocks, and a larger front stabilizer bar.  Unfortunately, our Soul was as a + trimmed model with the standard setup.

Fortunately, the base suspension is still damn good. Our Soul was extremely polished on the road. The steering was precise but still comfortable and the handling was firm and predictable without being harsh.

The 2.0L engine, standard on every Soul trim level but the base, produces a respectable 142-horsepower and 137 pound-feet of torque.  The Soul isn’t a speed machine but it’s also not a slow poke. Acceleration is brisk and passing on the highway only requires a quick downshift.  Fuel economy is a commendable 24mpg city and 30mpg highway.

The base Soul comes with a 1.6L engine producing a more conservative 122-horsepower and 115 pound-feet. That drop in performance is rewarded with increased fuel economy, up to 26mpg city and 31mpg highway.

Design Execution, Appearance, Fit & Finish

Road Test: 2010 Kia Soul

Say what you want- the Soul just looks different. It’s bold, boxy, and has a ton of personality.  The Scion xB, Nissan Cube, and Honda Element are all using the same formula however none have hit the combination as perfectly as Kia.  The xB and Cube are  examples of styling for the sake of being different. The Kia Soul on the other hand is different for the sake of style.

We were hesitant when the lime-green (Kia calls it Alien) machine showed up at our office.  Who would have known Kia, king of bland up until now, could bring a car to market that was so visually interesting.  It’s really hard to get a full appreciation of how good the Soul looks until you see it in person. It’s not square and it’s not curvy- but uses elements of both.

Perhaps most interesting is the side profile.  Like a baseball cap, the roof seemingly floats up and over the front of the cabin at an upward slope.  The front windows are taller than the rear- giving a unique effect.  The front a-pillar is reminiscent of a Range Rover, sharply angled towards the hood.  It’s in stark contrast to the c-pillar which gracefully wraps around toward the rear bumper. A straight crease just above the door handles is complemented interestingly by flowing wheel-well arches that run from front to back.

The headlights are another unique area.  They give the Soul a robotic, futuristic, presence.  The tail lights are slightly inset to the bodywork and have a level of detail that you cannot see from a photo alone.  In short- it’s easy to quickly look at the Soul and declare it ugly- but you’d be missing out on it’s finer details if you didn’t take an upclose look.

Inside the Soul you’ll find a rather well put together interior.  The center console/dash has a precise look to it while the doors suffer a substantially cheaper treatment. There’s quite a bit interior storage, including bottle holders in the doors, map pockets, and a small covered compartment above the radio.

The Soul’s interior outperforms in many areas. The instrument cluster is clean and easy to read and the radio display gives a lot of information without being cluttered. There’s no large gaps and everything fits cleanly, especially on the center console.

Audio, Electronics, & Technology

Road Test: 2010 Kia Soul

By targeting the youth and economy market, Kia would have made a huge blunder in forgetting to offer full current generation media connectivity.  Thankfully Kia got it right and the Soul we drove came complete with iPod connection, USB port, aux port, MP3 CD-R, satellite radio, and even bluetooth.

With all those audio connection options avaliable at your disposal we’re happy to also report the sound quality excels far beyond what we would have expected for this price point. Our Soul was equipped with the optional audio upgrade package and we’d highly recommend it. Over the base audio system, the upgrade package adds a center speaker, sub-woofer, and a 315-watt external amplifier.  Sounds good on paper and sounds even better in person.

But if confident audio isn’t quite enough, Kia has an auto industry first up it’s sleeve. Also included with the upgraded audio system ($400)  is an integrated LED lighting system placed in the front door speaker surrounds.  You can set it on, off, pulsing, or..wait for it…music synced. Yes, provided the song you’re playing has a dominant beat, the LED’s light up and pulse to the beat of the music- automatically. It’s innovative, works reasonably well, and turns your Soul into an instant party machine. Our only request would be for Kia to take the system a step further and fully deck out the interior with LED lights instead of only putting a few dozen in the front doors.

Comfort & Ergonomics

Road Test: 2010 Kia Soul

Economy cars are synonymous with skimping. Usually at the expense of comfort and or refinement. The Soul definitely one-up’s its segment.  Switch-gear, radio controls, and window switches are all located exactly where your hands expect.  It’s easy to adjust things on the road without fiddling or looking down.

While we do like the look and feel of Kia’s steering wheel controls, the layout is awkward. We found ourselves stretching our thumbs unusually far to use them and sometimes pushed something unintended.

The Soul does have a sportier ride than most compacts. That combined with stiff seats made rides over 3-4 hours difficult without a break to stretch.

Need a better look? Check out our 2010 Kia Soul photo gallery

2010 Kia Soul Photo Gallery

Road Test Gallery: 2010 Kia Soul

The small econo-box segment just got an infusion of Soul….Kia Soul.  The new and funky 2010 model is garnering a lot of buzz over it’s unique styling and un-Kia-like refinement.  We drove a 2010 Kia Soul and have a full photo gallery for you to check out.

Didn’t see our full review? Check out our 2010 Kia Soul Road Test

Exclusive Road Test Photo Gallery

Photographer: Zane Merva