2013 Kia Soul 4u Luxury: compact Swiss army knife

Unlike the good old days when a lot of people could afford two or more cars in their driveway, today's consumer has the budget, space and desire to own only one. Some urban dwellers would avoid owning a car altogether if they could.

Kia has an affordable vehicle that can be many things to many people. The 2013 Soul is a compact wagon/hatchback runabout that looks at ease both downtown and in the 'burbs, and offers style, space and a high level of features. The Soul was introduced in the summer of 2009, and immediately proved popular with Canadian consumers; you likely won't get through a day on the road without crossing paths with one.

It rivals hatchbacks such as the Mazda3 Sport, the Toyota Matrix and the Volkswagen Golf among others. Yet it's different at the same time, mostly due to its distinctive, boxy shape.

Funky interior
Instead of fitting a more conventional, horizontally laid-out dashboard in the 2013 Kia Soul, the Korean brand's design team squeezed all the buttons and display into a neat pod that overlaps the rest of the dash.

You'd think all that switchgear crammed together would be hard to use while driving, but it's not the case; everything is intuitively located, and even the navigation touchscreen is fairly easy to poke.

And there are many buttons because the Soul has many features. While the base model isn't equipped with A/C, alloy wheels and keyless entry, it does include heated front seats, power windows, Bluetooth connectivity, a sound system USB port, a full suite of airbags and stability control. All for under $17K.

Our loaded 4u Luxury model priced at $25,595, on the other hand, cost substantially more but piles on the features, such as leatherette upholstery, climate control, power sunroof, backup camera, LED daytime running lights, 18-inch alloys and intelligent key system. It also gets "mood" speakers mounted in the front doors that glow according to the beat of the music playing through the stereo, with a choice of colours, too. They look cool for about 10 minutes; definitely not a must-have.

Room for four
The 2013 Kia Soul is surprisingly spacious for such a small vehicle. The tall roof allows occupants to sit straight on high seat cushions, which contributes to the airy feel. You get a good view of the road ahead and surrounding traffic, too.

On the other hand, the driver seat's right armrest feels more like it's wrapped in vinyl than simulated leather, and on a hot day, it didn't take too long for my arm to stick to it, which was rather unpleasant. In back, three people across will fight for shoulder room, even kids.

Lift up the square hatch, and you benefit from 546 litres of space for your belongings. Our kiddie stroller even fit sideways, which isn't always the case in compact vehicles. Flip down the rear seatbacks, and you get 1,511 litres of cargo room, which is more than in the 3 Sport, the Matrix and the Golf.

Harsh ride
Although the base-trim 2013 Kia Soul is equipped with a sufficiently powerful, 138-hp 1.6L engine, the rest of the line-up gets a 2.0L four with 164 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. That's more than enough muscle to give the Soul a little soul (pardon), even with the optional six-speed automatic.

On the other hand, the Soul could benefit from better steering feel; its electric assist feels like it's on coffee break all the time, and the wheel will tug in your hands while extra effort is required in tight turning situations. I'm expecting this to be fixed in the newly redesigned 2014 Kia Soul which arrives later this year.

The 4u and 4u Luxury trims also get the bigger wheels and what Kia calls a sport-tuned suspension. Again, here's an area that could use a little more work. The ride is harsh due to the combination of the stiff shock absorbers, the low-profile tires and the short wheelbase.

As for fuel consumption, we averaged 9.6 L/100km during the course of the week; not bad, not great. If the vast majority of your driving is performed in stop-and-go traffic, you might want to check out the optional start/stop system in the 2u model.

Steering and ride issues aside, the 2013 Kia Soul is a loveable pint-sized hatch that has multiple talents and can exploit them all in style. The best all-around deal should be the Soul 2u, which skips some luxury features but can be had for about $20K; pretty interesting for a Swiss army knife on wheels. And with a new-generation (yet still very familiar looking) 2014 Soul soon arriving, some enticing incentives can definitely be had on the current model.


4/5: The stroller fits sideways in the Soul's cargo area, so it doesn't take up all the room. As for the child seat, it's easy to install, although the front seat must be moved forward a little..

In collaboration with Canadian Tire


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