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Ted LaturnusBy 2013, the Kia Soul was firmly embedded in the North American market. It joined the new breed of stubby compact “urban crossover” wagons, such as the Nissan Cube, Scion xB, Honda Element, Ford Flex and so on, and was an instant success.

Sometimes it seemed like every other vehicle on the road was a Soul of some type, and enthusiast clubs sprung up all over the place.

Kia upped the power output for the 2013 Soul, with two engines on offer. The 1.6-litre version developed 138 horsepower, while the 2.0-litre was good for 164 horses. You could choose either a six automatic or six-speed manual transmission, but the manual gearbox was not available with the larger engine. Interestingly, fuel economy for both engines was nearly identical.

Although it was high on the cuteness scale, the Soul did have a practical side. Fold down the back seats and you got some 53 cubic feet (1,500 litres) of cargo space, and there was actually an abundance of rear legroom and headroom throughout the vehicle. Back seat elbow room and ingress/egress are surprisingly ample.

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Both on the highway and around town, the Soul surprised with its reserve power, nimbleness and, in particular, its lack of rattles, looseness, or mysterious noises. Kia has had a checkered history regarding things like assembly quality, but the Soul seemed to be as tight as a drum. That said, it did feature an overly stiff ride.

Depending upon the model, you could order things like larger wheels and tires, sportier suspension, upgraded stereo, sunroof, different coloured interior trim, air conditioning, and stereo speakers with a mood lamp feature. Crank up the tunes and they glow red in time to the music – what Kia called a “club effect.” You could also choose upholstery that glows in the dark, albeit temporarily.

Standard equipment included the usual roster of modern conveniences, such as power door locks, heated mirrors, Bluetooth capability, USB ports, and heated front seats. Kia also offered a range of performance upgrades that included high-flow air filter, tuned exhaust, and high-performance air intake.

Two safety recalls to report: one is a fairly serious engine malfunction involving the engine’s internals that could result in catastrophic engine failure and, possibly, a fire, while the other is a fairly mundane headliner fitment issue.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, meanwhile, has a variety of technical service bulletins out there for the 2013 Soul. These include issues with the headlights, fuel filler cap, steering column housing, hydraulic steering system, electrical system and on and on. Keep in mind that these are just advisories for the service departments of dealerships.

Consumer Reports liked this vintage of the Soul. It appreciated its affordability, “decent” performance, and generous ingress and egress for larger drivers. However, the organization had reservations about the stiff ride and interior accoutrements.

Some comments from owners:

  • “I went for a drive in it and came away thinking, ‘Well, that’s a funky car, but it’s surprisingly well thought out and has a lot of room inside’”
  • “so very roomy inside. It really surprised me”
  • “the manual transmission is quite fun to drive. It is easy to switch gears. There is even an indicator to tell you when to switch gears”
  • “excellent acceleration with the larger engine” and
  • “handling is very good, but acceleration is poor.”

From a base price of around $17,500 in 2013, the Soul has held its value pretty well. Prices these days seem to range from about $10,000 for the base model to somewhere in the high teens and beyond for the fully loaded SX version. The larger engine models fetch about $1,000 more than the base 1.6-litre models.

2013 Kia Soul

Original Base Price: $16,795
Engine: 1.6 & 2.0 litre four-cylinder
Horsepower/Torque: 138 and 164 hp / 123 and 148 ft. lb.
Transmission: Six-speed automatic/six-speed manual
Fuel Economy (litres/100 km): 8.5 city/6.6 hwy (automatic trans. w. 2.0 litre). Regular gas.

Alternatives: Honda Element, Toyota Matrix, Pontiac Vibe, Chev HHR, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Dodge Caliber, Suzuki SX4 Hatchback.

Ted Laturnus has been an automotive journalist since 1976. He was named Canadian Automobile Journalist of the Year twice and is past president of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). 

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