NEW YORK--Give it only a cursory glance and you might not see anything new about the redesigned 2014 Kia Soul. That's how closely the automaker has stuck to the formula established with the previous model. This is a good thing for fans of the quirky looking little crossover. The automaker has kept, largely, the old Soul's design intact: simplifying a contour here, borrowing an element there. (I'd swear that those headlights were lifted wholesale from a BMW.)
The Scion xB that the Soul competes against bloated into a much larger, less awesome vehicle when it was redesigned a few years ago, and its fans balked. Kia seems to have learned from Scion's mistake and has only modestly increased the Soul's dimensions. The most dramatic change is the wheelbase, which itself has only been bumped by an inch. Length, height, and width have only grown by fractions of an inch.
The Soul's engine options, too, appear similar to the previous generation, but closer inspection reveals some interesting changes. Somewhere behind that new grill, the most powerful engine available still displaces 2.0 liters, now features direct-injection, and outputs 164 horsepower (unchanged from the previous model) and 151 pound-feet of torque (up 3 pound-feet over last year). Presumably, fuel economy is still in the neighborhood of the previous model's combined 25 mpg, but we're hoping for an improvement when the final numbers are published.
The base engine offered on the Soul is still a 1.6-liter, direct injected four-banger. Interestingly, the numbers quoted in Kia's 2014 model-year specs (130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque) are down 8 horsepower and 5 pound-feet. Less power? What gives?
Despite the lower numbers on the entry-level engine, Kia tells us that both the 1.6- and 2.0-liter engines have been tuned for increased low-end torque. So perhaps the automaker has sacrificed a bit of peak power bragging rights for a more flat, drivable overall torque curve. We won't know for sure until we can drive it later this year.
The Soul will hit the road with a new Android-based UVO infotainment option in tow. The system is based around a large, 8-inch capacitive touch screen and features Pandora Internet radio with voice controls, UVO eServices telematics and accompanying smartphone app, a full array of digital audio sources, and navigation. The system even features onscreen quick guide videos to help drivers to figure out how to use the thing -- presumably when parked.
The most dramatic design change to the 2014 Soul is the new lift-gate. The model's vertical lighting configuration is retained, but a new simplified LED design and a floating, body-colored panel contrast with the black glass of the hatch to give the Soul a bold, graphic aesthetic. The rear opening is 2.4 inches wider than the previous model for easier loading of bulky items.
Kia says that it's has seriously revised the Soul's suspension, allowing for more travel and a softer, more refined ride. The Soul's chassis is a claimed 29 percent stiffer than before, giving that suspension a good platform off of which to work. Additionally, Kia is claiming dramatic reductions in road in wind noise for this new model.
Optional on the 2014 Soul is Flex Steer, which allows the driver to chose between Comfort, Normal and Sport settings for the electronic power steering system.