Kia brings on the funky style

In an election year, voters often wonder why one candidate catches fire while others, seemingly just as capable and appealing, go nowhere. Something similar has been going on in the automotive market. The “funky” segment is dying out, but Kia still can barely keep up with the demand for its subcompact Soul wagon – the funkiest of them all.

Among the models that have been pulled from the market are the Honda Element, Scion xB and Nissan Cube. We’ve test-driven all three; each was likeable in its own way. But only the Soul remains – and it’s selling better than ever. With 21,033 units sold in the first two months of 2016, the new Soul is beating its predecessor model by nearly 3,000.

Our test car was a 2015 Soul! (also known as the Exclaim), presented in a striking light-green color called Alien II. The 2016 model is little changed from the 2015, other than some telematic upgrades.

The Soul is marketed to a younger crowd, with a modest price – under $16,000 for the Base model – as well as loads of personality and some colors you’ll never see in nature. But the Soul also has attributes that appeal to older folks, which may help explain why it’s breaking sales records while its major competitors languish in used-car lots. It’s highly functional, with plenty of room for four or five passengers, ample space for luggage, great crash-test scores, a reputation for reliability, an attractive warranty, and easy access and egress for people of all shapes and sizes.

This diminutive four-door wagon is powered by one of two 4-cylinder engines – 1.6 liters and 130 horsepower, or 2.0 liters and 164 horsepower. Our Soul was equipped with the latter engine, and we were pleased with its performance. There’s little difference in fuel economy between the two, so the bigger engine is more desirable. Available transmissions include a 6-speed manual gearbox – offered only with the smaller engine – and a 6-speed automatic.

Most drivers, old or young, will be satisfied with the Soul’s interior accommodations. There’s plenty of room, front and rear; the telematic and climate-control systems are straightforward, and materials quality is uniformly high. We even took a shine to the multi-colored lights rimming the front speakers.

Although the Soul has been around since the 2010 model year, Kia curiously has not added all-wheel drive. And indeed, our front-wheel-drive test car had a hard time climbing our sloped driveway one February morning after a fairly light snowfall. But moving the car to a flat spot and applying the accelerator gently on the uphill stretch got the Soul up the hill.

Is all-wheel drive in the Soul’s future? Probably. Kia’s Trail’ster concept car, resembling a Jeep Renegade or MINI Countryman, was showcased at the 2015 Chicago auto show. But no formal announcement has been forthcoming … yet.

Steven Macoy ([email protected]) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel, Conn.

2015 Kia Soul Exclaim

Price: $26,715

Engine: 2.0-liter inline Four, 164 horsepower, 151 lb.-ft. torque

Transmission: 6-speed shiftable automatic

Drive: front-wheel

Weight: 2,714 lb.

Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear

Wheels: 18×7.5-in. alloy

Tires: 235/45R18 all-season

Seating capacity: 5

Luggage capacity: 24.2 cu. ft.

Maximum cargo capacity: 61.3 cu. ft.

Fuel capacity: 14.2 gallons

Fuel economy: 23 mpg city, 31 mpg highway

Fuel type: regular unleaded

 

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