Millennial Machine: The 2014 Kia Soul Review
Selling cars to young people is an increasingly important priority for automakers in America, as Baby Boomers purchase what is more likely than not their last car ever. But what do Millennials want in a car? It’s safe to say that we want pretty much everything, a car that is safe, practical, and affordable while being crammed full of the latest gadgets and luxury features. It’s a delicate dance, no doubt, and the 2014 Kia Soul got it (mostly) right.
Refreshed for the 2014 model year, the Kia Soul has kept the same basic, boxy design though it has subtly improved aspects of the exterior to make the car a bit more appealing. Available in several bright hues, including the Solar Yellow model dropped off in my driveway, the Kia Soul screams “LOOK AT ME!” for a generation used to sharing every half-baked opinion and drunken selfie with the world.
The 2014 Kia Soul certainly got plenty of attention on the road, but more importantly it drew a sizable crowd when I showed up at a Pretty Lights concert, the Infinity sound system bumping harder than anything else in the parking lot. Whether it was the loud paintjob or the even louder music coming from the incredible sound system, the Soul pulled young people in from across the parking light with its pulsing LED-ringed speakers and satellite radio. The most common question was “What is this?” followed by “What’s it cost?” Ever concerned with cost, my generation.
Fully-loaded, as my tester was, you’ll walk out of the Kia dealership a little more than $24,000 poorer, though without any options the starting MSRP for the Kia Soul+ is just $18,2000. Options added more than 25% to the final price, though for that kind of scrilla you get a well-appointed leather interior, the aforementioned Infinity sound system, a backup camera, while the panoramic roof, push-button start, and ventilated seats make the Soul feel even more luxurious than its $24,000 price tag.
Add to that Kia’s excellent UVO infotainment system, which seems to have reached its zenith in the 2014 Kia Soul, and you’ve got a tricked-out, Millennial-friendly ride that appeals to my generation’s desire to look wealthier than we are. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, as it were.
Speaking of the UVO system, I found both the manual knobs and touchscreen interface to be both responsive and easy to use, though the sheer number of buttons, gauges, and raw information available to me was a bit overwhelming. There are literally dozens of buttons spread out in front of the driver, and it can be distracting as well trying to find the right button. A simpler layout would not be unwelcome.
That said, the interior seating arrangement is both comfortable and practical for today’s Millennial buyer, able to hold up to four of your friends or a medium-sized appliance from the local hardware store. While you’d have to strap the plywood to the roof, the Soul is a lot more practical than the average family sedan or hatchback, though a full-sized wagon would be a lot more versatile. Still, with the seats down, you can fit most, if not all of a typical college dorm room into it, though the move into your own apartment will probably require a friend with a truck.
Under the hood is the optional 2.0 liter gas engine making 164 horsepower and 151 ft-lbs of torque. It’s nothing special to be perfectly honest, providing adequate performance and fuel economy, and while I wasn’t blown away by the passing power, the 2014 Kia Soul never felt heavy or cumbersome either. I averaged just over 27 mpg (rating is 23/31/26 combined) of mixed-used, regular driving without the Active-Eco mode the six-speed automatic transmission offers. Ride quality was on par with other Kia models, smooth enough to handle uneven roads while still delivering some sense of sticking to the road, though there is no mistaking the Soul for a sports car. The seats themselves are comfortable enough, offering ample headroom and legroom, though I wouldn’t want to cram three dudes into the backseat.
What Kia did with the Soul isn’t to build a crossover; they built a “lifestyle mobility device” designed to enhance aspects of the average Millennial’s life. Unlike previous generations, which were drawn to powerful muscle cars or buzzy sport compacts, Millennials are looking for an extension of their virtual, social media-driven lives. As a Millennial, this is a car that feels built for me, like something I’d look forward to driving to concerts or sporting events, and living with it as a daily driver makes more sense than similarly-priced family sedans. If I didn’t like going fast, it’d be at the top of my list of cars-I-want-to-own-and-soon.
Yet I can’t help but feel like most Kia Soul sales will still be skewed towards a decidedly older crowd. As great as many of these options are, the price tag soars after selecting just a couple of options (the $1,400 “Audio Package” the $3,000 “Primo” package, and the $500 Uvo e-Services package). At that price point, those few Millennials have a lot more options than a car with a starting price of $14,200. Heck, for just $5,000 more you can buy a brand-new Mercedes also aimed at Millennials, and this isn’t even the priciest Soul Kia offers. More separation between the packages would, to me, make the Soul a lot more appealing. I can do without the leather seats, but that sound system was something special that I would splurge for.
At the end of the day, the 2014 Kia Soul is an average vehicle, delivering middle-of-the-road performance and fuel economy. As a lifestyle mobility device though, the Kia Soul is unlike anything else out there, and it perfectly encapsulates the priorities of most Millennials. In their quest to cater of my generation’s every whim, however, Kia forgot the most important lesson; the illusion of choice and value. The current package setup puts all the best Millennial feature at a price point most Millennials can’t afford or justify, and you can only tart up an economy car so much before customers start to look elsewhere. For that same $24,000, I can get in a larger Ford Escape, or a Camaro V6, or even a Hyundai Genesis, cars that are arguably more practical, and sexy.
Break those expensive options packages up; some people prefer cloth seats, but really want that banging audio system, and as cool as that panoramic sunroof is, it’s not something everybody wants to pay for.
But that’s just, like, my opinion man.