MINNEAPOLIS -- The Kia Soul has emerged as the last man standing from the carnage in the boxy small-car segment that has all but destroyed competitors such as the Scion xB and Nissan Cube.
So for the Soul's 2014 model redesign, Kia had to figure out how to keep its hot seller fresh without straying too far from the formula that made it successful. A misstep could lead the Soul down the same road as the xB, an early hit whose sales tanked after the second-generation car got fatter and more conventional-looking.
Now, with new competitors such as the Fiat 500L, Mini Countryman and Nissan Juke, the Soul must battle with more upmarket and stylish rivals.
The basics: Kia designers stayed true to the original car's overall design and proportions. The biggest styling changes are in the details, such as the smoothed out character lines in the sheet metal, a thinner grille and stronger chin on the car's front end, and the triangular vertical taillight design.
The 2014 Soul is based on Hyundai-Kia's third-generation global small-car platform, which also underpins the Kia Forte compact and Rio subcompact. Kia engineers kept the Soul's dimensions close to the original, adding less than an inch to the wheelbase, overall length and width from the outgoing model, while giving it a slightly lower ride.
The Soul's powertrain choices are carryover, with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder powering base Souls and a 2.0-liter engine available on more expensive models; both engines are tuned to boost low-end torque, Kia says. The 2.0-liter found on midlevel Plus and highline Exclaim trims -- about 70 percent of the Soul's sales mix, Kia says -- now has direct-injection technology. Peak power from the 2.0-liter remained the same at 164 hp while torque increased to 151 pounds-feet from 148. Kia plans to offer an electric version of the Soul in select markets next year.
Notable features: More than 60 percent of the 2014 Soul's new body-in-white construction is made from high- and ultrahigh-strength steels, making the redesigned Soul 29 percent more rigid than the outgoing model, Kia says. The stiffer body, plus sound-deadening foam injected into the body's A-, B- and C-pillars, a thicker and more dense dashboard and extra materials lining the car's underbody aim to reduce noise, vibration and harshness that plagued the outgoing model.
The Soul's optional 8-inch touch screen has capacitive touch technology, meaning users can scroll and flick through the infotainment system's menus as they would on a smartphone. The Soul's infotainment system is also Kia's first to use Android-based software.
The interior materials are a vast improvement from the hard plastics used liberally in the first-generation Soul.