Three weeks, four seasons in the Kia Soul hamster-mobile

The hamsters escaped at the first gas stop and the Kia Soul took me from bitter cold to tropical heat.

Kia Sole
Kia Sole

INDIANAPOLIS, January 30, 2014 – As a regional manager, three cities a week wasn’t an unusual airline itinerary, and every destination required a car, leading to renting some 80-100 cars a year. Today, long trips. are usually taken in my own car, but for special assignments over long distances, I prefer to put the miles and potential headaches on someone else.

So it was that three weeks ago I picked up a brand-new Kia Soul. Straight off the truck, it showed five miles on the odometer. I’ve never driven a car with five miles on it, though I have had rentals with over 100,000 miles and three different-sized-under-inflated tires.

As I pulled out of the Ace Rental lot, this little mustard-colored Kia promised to be a joy.

And (surprise!) it was.

It’s roomy. It handles about as you’d expect it to. Power is adequate to keep the speed limit, loaded and uphill, with reserve. Everything worked, and on cruise control, over more than 3000 miles, and a few miles over the speed limit, averaging a bit over 30mpg on regular gas.

The new Kia Souls don’t have a CD player option, but they are equipped with Sirius radio, which I don’t use anyway. But the sound system, coupled with the acceptably quiet cabin, makes the hands-free Bluetooth cell phone totally usable.

People on the other end didn’t complain that I sounded like I was on speakerphone, even though the mic was a foot and a half from my head.

Since this was a new car, it had that new-car smell. At least for the first couple hundred miles; then it smelled like me. But it also had that new-car mold-release on the plastic parts. That didn’t bother me except that the steering wheel is plastic, and it was slick.

It’s strange to get fatigued from holding onto a steering wheel, but when it’s slippery, you soon recognize a problem. I solved it with a $14.99 steering wheel cover I bought at O’Reilly’s. I like the cover so well that it will transfer to a personal vehicle.

The Soul has wider tires than it may actually need, and they afford great braking with the standard ABS. (Don’t tell the rental people how I know that!) They also should last a long time on this lightweight (2800 pound) car. Handling is limited more by the center of gravity and suspension design than by the tires.

Compared to larger SUVs and quite a few small sedans, handling is good.

The interior is a comfortable place to spend 1000-mile days. There is a decent range of seat adjustment, and it is possible to configure the interior to sleep in it, though I’m glad I don’t take naps longer than a couple hours. Not just because of the sleeping position, but also because the trip was made in mid-January!

Curb appeal is not a consideration in a rental car, but it would be if I were buying it – and people, especially younger people, love this little box. It’s not the image of the four hamsters in it on TV; it’s genuinely… cute. And speaking of curbs, the Kia Soul feels like it can make a U-turn inside a shoe box.

Visibility out is good in every direction, and access through the four doors and hatch is outstanding. The rear luggage space behind the seat and under the rear deck is large enough for three or four standard airline roll-ons, plus an assortment of smaller soft things.

The rear seats are adequate for middle schoolers, or for adults of whom you are not excessively fond.

At an MSRP of $17,190 (base, 6-speed automatic), the Soul looks like a good deal, and it must be, since plenty of used Souls, a couple years old with options and low miles, are selling for well over $20k.

Dealer prices out the door start – realistically — around $23,000.

Would I have one for my only transportation? Yes, unless I lived where I had super-long distances to travel on a regular basis. For occasional long trips or daily driving, it’s handy, economical, fast enough to get tickets anywhere, quick enough to get through traffic, agile enough for city driving, and small enough to let me keep a couple motorcycles in the garage, in front of it.

The build seems solid, and I experienced no glitches in function, fit, or performance.

Would I buy one new or used?

Although I think that new cars are usually terrible deals, I would break this rule and look at a new Soul, provided I planned to keep it in the family for ten years or more. The 100,000 mile / 10 year warranty is great but doesn’t transfer, and used prices for low-miles used Souls are just about the same as for new ones.

Add to that the fact that the Soul is a young person’s car and so probably can’t expect fastidious care and maintenance, garaging, or even wax. So, make mine a new one this time.

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