2014 Kia Soul Exclaim first drive review: Grownup

2014 Kia Soul Exclaim

2014 Kia Soul Exclaim

You know the Kia Soul. It’s Kia’s entry into the box-car market, basically defined by the Scion xB, Honda Element and Nissan Cube. All were aimed at the elusive “youth market,” and while the xB had a hot first generation, gen two seemed to have had a charmectomy. The Honda Element, for as much as it caught on, was more at coming home from the nursery with a load of geraniums than hosting a rock concert. And the Cube, well, the Cube was perhaps a little too far out for the average driver.

The first generation Kia Soul, however, caught on and became not only a hit with younger car buyers but their parents weren’t embarrassed to drive one either.

Still, for all its funk, the Kia Soul was too much econobox, like an inexpensive sedan except in the square package they shipped from Korea. It wasn’t bad. It just lacked polish.

2014 Kia Soul Exclaim interior

The 2014 Kia Soul Exclaim’s interior uses circles as a design theme. (click to enlarge)

Well, look who has new sparkle. Although the new 2014 Kia Soul is easily recognizable for what it is, it’s all new. The chassis is tougher and more rigid with 66 percent of the chassis made from either ultra-high strength steel (35 percent) or high strength steel (31 percent), primarily at junction points along the cowl, upper and lower B-pillars, cross members, and at the C-pillars. Rigidity is also aided by the increased use of structural adhesive around the door openings and along the roof.

The stiffness pays off in a better ride, allowing bushings between the front subframe and the main chassis members without adding too much flex. The basic suspension elements are MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam axle at the rear, though with relocation of the anti-roll bar and steering box up front and repositioning of the rear shock absorbers, all for a smoother ride and better handling.

2014 Kia Soul Exclaim front

The 2014 Kia Soul Exclaim has a blocked-off top “grille” but the four slots are open. (click to enlarge)

Styling strongly follows that of the original Soul, with a similarly squared-off body with a wraparound greenhouse and high-mounted taillights. It’s close enough that only a Soul owner would notice the differences at first glance. No body panel remains the same, however, and all the details have changed. The official word is that the new Souls contours were inspired by the Track’ster concept car of that debuted in 2012, though of course Kia was well on the way to having finalized the 2014 Soul by the time the Track’ster arrived.

Whatever, the new design is bolder than the original. The lower grille protrudes more (although mostly blocked off) with a line of four (open) slots above it on the bumper. The Kia signature grille, however, isn’t a grille at all. Rather its Kia-specific shape has a shiny black filler.

2014 Kia Soul Exclaim cargo area

The 2014 Kia Soul Exclaim’s cargo area can be enlarged by folding down the rear seatbacks, but not with a flat floor. (click to enlarge)

The wheel flares are bigger and at the rear, instead of the beveled edges of the first generation’s hatch, the taillights and rear window surround are so slick they look like NASCAR appliques. The new optional panoramic sunroof, along with the power operation for opening and moving the shade, gives the top a nifty blacked-out centerlook.

The 2014 Kia Soul has grown slightly. Its wheelbase is 0.8 inches longer, and it’s 0.8 inches longer overall and 0.6 inches wider, but it’s 0.4 inches lower. Kia also dropped the front seats by a half inch. The numbers aren’t very big, but they combine with styling changes to give the 2014 Soul more attitude.

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