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Car Tech Video: 2014 Kia Soul

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Car Tech Video: 2014 Kia Soul

8:35 /

The quirky, fun Kia Soul has been a hot seller, beating its competition. CNET's Brian Cooley takes the 2014 Kia Soul for a drive to see if the new model lives up to its past.

-Well, it's about the shape of a Christmas gift box that somebody stepped on one end of. It's got an exclamation mark as part of its formal name and this one is the color of a sick man's urine. What do you say to a car like that? It turns out nice to meet you would be about the right line. Let's drive the rather impressive 2014 Kia Soul "!" and check the tech. Now the Kia Soul is a car that has never hidden its quirk, never hidden its soul if you will, but if you think this thing is a joke, the joke's on you. It sells like mad. In fact the Soul in 2013 in the US outsold the Scion xB, the Honda Fit, and the Nissan Cube combined by another 40 percent. Put it another way, it sells as many as BMW sells 3 series in America every year. This is a bona fide homerun. Let's find out why. Now inside this theme of getting a lot for a little is really pronounced. This is one of the nicer-looking cabins in a little cheap car you're gonna see. Now admittedly we are full trim on this car, but here is your 8-inch touchscreen LCD with optional navigation. This is not your base head unit in any Soul, but it's a well-packaged option as you're gonna find out at the end of the piece. It only gives you some basics. There's no 3D bird's eye mode. This is what you're gonna see. It doesn't have Google search to nav. It doesn't have any of the really fancy later stuff, but the guts work really well. It's bright. It's colorful. They do a very good job of calling things out at a glance I think and since there's no controller it's touch or voice only, both need to work well. So as you're gonna see as is always the case with Honda and Kia, I don't know how they do this they have the fastest responding touchscreens in the industry. Nobody can touch these people and I don't know why. And the voice command works well, inexpensive car but it's still lets you do a big price car trick which is enter the destination as one blurp. Find address. -Please say the address in California. -235 2nd St. San Francisco. -You can say start guidance, try again. -Okay. Quick and painless, got it right the first time. That's the way navigation should be. Now let's talk about the media settings. Here's where things get a little bit kind of crunchy. As you can see we have radio and media devied up under 2 buckets. I always hate that. And when you go to media it immediately goes to the last one I was using, but where are my other sources. If I hit media again I go to this media menu, but that's not everything either because there are also some apps that you don't see here, so I gotta close that, go back to-- I forget, some kind of a main menu. Here we go under all menus and there I'm gonna find Pandora. So it's a scattered mess of stuff spread all over the interface. When you get to Pandora the frustration continues. Look at that. Works only with an iOS device and only with a cable. No Bluetooth streaming for the app support and no Android devices or Windows or Blackberry. So super limited for app support. What may be able to save this though is that Kia is part of that recent Apple announcement of supporting iOS in the dash. So perhaps the 2015 Soul is gonna bring up the iPhone in a really iPhone style as we've seen previewed. We'll see. Also Kia's sister company, Hyundai, signed on in January of 2014 to support Android in the dash which may then trickle over to Kia. So there are a couple of ways this could fork, but right now this is not your app's powerhouse. Beyond that your sources are pretty classic: AM, FM, Sirius, HD radio is here, but it's optional and you got USB and auxiliary jack. Notice what you don't have, no CD. This is one of those first cars to say that's it. CDs are dead, not available, period. This is interesting. The satellite radio automatically records the channels in your first 6 presets and lets you pause, play, and jump segments. I've seen one channel before but not 6 automatically. It's kind of like a high-end multi-tuner DVR. Now let's talk about how you hear your media. We have an optional Infinity sound system with a center speaker, not to be confused with a center channel. As far as I can tell, this is not a surround system. This is just a system with a center speaker. There's an important difference there and we've also got a subwoofer in the back. Also optional are the speaker light. You remember these. It's a Kia thing. Rings around the speaker that either glow in colors randomly or follow the music like one of those weird color organs that RadioShack used to sell back in the 70's, and here's the knob that controls it over here. You can turn it off blessedly, or if you're really into it you can crank it way up. Now unlike some 80,000-dollar Mercedes I can think of this guy gives you a rear camera stock and that's on this trim level by the way. It's a simple one though, but look how big and clear and bright it is. That's a very good rear camera for doing what a rear cam is supposed to do, showing you its back there. You do have some color zones that indicate how close you are to whatever you're about to run into. So here's a key thing you gotta know about the Kia Soul. They allow you to appoint it really nicely. That's part of why this car is unusual in its sector. Look at it. Panoramic glass through a very big boy you can get on here as you can see. This wheel is heated. That's also optional, but wow it gets really hot. Over here, heated and active ventilated front seats are available. Same package brings you heated rear seats. You don't see that in a car like this very often. That glove box, that's got an airconditioner in it. This driver seat, 10-way power adjustment, though oddly there's no memory for where you adjust it to, but the theme here is little car that can be nice, not just cheap. No wonder they're short, chunky, schnauze of this car you find the "big engine." This is the 2-liter side saddle inline 4. It is a direct-injected gas engine. No turbos or something like that. Just plain old naturally aspirated. The numbers, 164 horse, 151 foot pounds of torque, perfectly respectable especially considering this guy only weighs 2700 pounds. Now that's 2700 wind-resisting pounds given the shape. As a result the MPG is kind of underwhelming, 23-38 is the rate on this with a one choice only, 6-speed automatic. Zero to 60, eventually. If you drop down to a base Soul you can get a 1.6 smaller engine but a 6-speed manual, a different driving experience some 30 less horsepower, but it might be more engaging, hard to say. Let's get on the road now and see how this package all comes together. Now under way the Soul doesn't have a lot of soul to be honest. The horsepower looks good on paper. It doesn't get transmitted all that well. I blame the transmission. I think the engine is fine, but this transmission is real kind of loopy and vague, and in fact both Antuan and myself had to double and triple check the specs because we could've sworn this was a CVT and that's not a compliment. On the other hand the ride quality is good. It's not super tense and bouncy and hard like cars in this category can be. All Souls, every single model comes with what they call Flex Steer: normal, sport, and comfort steering settings. There's an intrusive but not unpleasant engine note. You hear that little busy 4 working but it doesn't make sounds like, you know, bolts in a coffee grinder like some other vehicles in this category I can think of. Couple of other notes I think you've noticed behind me you got a lot of greenhouse that you can see out of in this vehicle, so rearward visibility is quite nice. The fact that it doesn't have any blind spot or lane departure or cross traffic tech available is at least forgivable under these kind of visible conditions. Now you've probably heard you can get a Soul for under 16 grand. That's true but not this one. Once you get into this exclamation mark trim level, we're just over $21,000 base delivered. Now to make it CNET style you want the sun and sound package for 2600 bucks to get the panoramic roof, Infinity sound, speaker lights unfortunately, 8-inch with nav, HD radio, it's a screaming deal, but really go beyond that and get what they call the whole shebang which adds to that: HID headlights, a center LCD between the gauges, push button start, that's where you get the leather trim, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, heated steering wheel, we're kind of talking about a little baby Korean Bentley at this point. Now what Kia has done here for about $26,000 all loaded up CNET style is create a car that speaks to the modern market where they want something very small, quite affordable, but also with lots of quality premium touches that aren't just gimmicks. The tech's pretty good. I think it might get better in 2015.

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