2014 Kia Soul: Up Close

The original Soul was nothing less than the first product that suggested Kia was more than just a clone of parent brand Hyundai. (Unfortunately, it might have been the last, too.) Its first redesign, for 2014, maintains the Soul's defining characteristic — its profile. Many car designers claim they styled their vehicles to look as if they're in motion even when they're standing still. With a roofline that slopes downward from the front to the rear, a stationary Soul also looks like it's in motion — backward. Whatever the case, I've always liked that aspect.

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However, once I walked in any other direction around the vehicle, I wasn't sure Kia had done much to keep the model distinctive — at least not in a positive way. Something about the more prominent headlight clusters says Mini Countryman to me. Around back, I love the now-Kia-signature taillights, which have a diffuse neon-looking glow formerly seen only on concept cars. I'm less wild about the gloss black finish that surrounds the taillights and rear window and traverses the liftgate. It's overdone, busy. Perhaps trim levels lower than the two Exclaim models at the show will be more modest.

Although the new panoramic moonroof does wonders for the interior's feeling of roominess, it results in a black roof that blends in with the A-pillars, undermining the cool floating-roof look. In Souls without the panoramic option, the roof remains body colored.

The interior looks great, though I should mention these are not only loaded models but also "show cars," which is the automaker euphemism for "some finishes are subject to change."

Providing they don't change, the cabin is a big upgrade over the current model. The tops of the door panels are soft to the touch, and soft imitation leather lines the panel next to the armrest. These are the materials that were so hard and crude in the first generation, we once received a test vehicle pre-scuffed.

Everything from the steering wheel to the gear selector has an upscale quality. The bright gauges fade to black when you turn the car off. The dashboard speakers are crowned with what appear to be flying saucers. In general, though, the interior of this trim level isn't trying too hard — refreshing in an "aren't-we-hip" model like this.

The A-pillars are almost an inch narrower, which does help forward visibility, but their location is pretty far forward - not optimal.

Several seating dimensions have increased by less than an inch, but the Soul didn't need more occupant space. The backseat has a lot of legroom and a nice, low floor. More cargo room behind the seats would be nice, but I'll take the 1-cubic-foot addition over the current generation. It's a tall, usable cargo area, especially if you remove the cargo cover that doubles as a faux floor.

I give the exterior a C; the interior an A-.


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