2014 Kia Soul, slimmed down and dressed up: Motoramic Drives
Upstairs on the 4th floor of the Graves Hotel in downtown Minneapolis, a cardboard cutout of a svelte rodent, kitted out in slim-fit tailored 2-piece, oversaw the Kia sign-in booth. Not so much a corpulent hamster in a tracksuit, but more so a slender gerbil in a Thom Browne suit. Was this foreshadowing for what lied ahead? Was this cutout a hint of Kia’s design direction, an anthropomorphized clue as to where the Korean brand is headed with its beloved subcompact?
The Kia Soul hit the market in 2009, a quirky niche vehicle from a vanilla brand desperately trying to establish some sort of identity. But Kia had high hopes, and knew its hatchback had a chance to at least make a ripple. The brainchild of designer Mike Torpey, Kia wunderkind (and now Hyundai Motors President) Peter Schreyer recognized the car’s potential and bestowed it with his signature “Tiger Nose” grill. It was the first vehicle to don Schreyer’s now ubiquitous mouthpiece, a flourish that has since expanded across the line-up.
Possibly under the effect of psychotropics, or maybe just the regular duress of design deadlines, Torpey modeled his creation on arguably the strangest vision in automotive history. Nevermind a hamster, the Soul’s tapering roof and trunk-on-a-hatchback look was somehow inspired by the exaggerated shoulders and shrunken hindquarters of a wild boar. Wearing a backpack, naturally. So he also flourished it with tusks on the front bumper. As one does.
And its impact was almost instant. Married to the now famous dancing hamster commercials, the Soul hit the scene with quirky intelligence, an outsider’s bravado and confident hip-hop marketing. It sucker-punched Nissan’s Cube and made Scion’s xB look suddenly dated. It has been instrumental in the Korean automaker’s 250-percent sales upswing since its debut.
But after consummate success and worldwide fame, the Soul is ready for its second generation, an attempt to transition from downtown urban swagger to uptown executive swagger. Shed some pounds, tailor its fit, bump up its game. Drop the tracksuit, as it were, and button up the bespoke suit. Kia claims the Soul starts at $14,700, but it only furnished us the higher Plus (priced $18,200 base, around $24,010 as tested) and Exclaim (priced $20,300 base, around $26,195 as tested) trim levels, so really our judgments are based on the highest end of the Soul spectrum. But that end is impressive.