Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Boxy Kia's got Soul

Snap. Snap Those sounds are the pencils and slide rules the designers at Volvo are breaking in frustration as Kia introduces the latest new auto on the market that is bringing "boxy" back into vogue.

Yes, it's hip to be square, again, not long after the Swedish car-builder changed its design philosophy and introduced curves and swoops instead of its trademark right angles.

But don't think Kia's new model is a one-off in the automotive landscape. The Honda Element and Scion xb got things rolling a number of years ago with their "shoebox" profiles. And Nissan is going to be introducing its aptly named Cube this year.

So, why not get on the bandwagon and dish out another square offering?

But to be fair, the Soul is not all flat sides. It does have a prow. But the dramatically cut off rear puts the Soul in that "square" category.

And it's an extremely encouraging step forward for the South Korean manufacturer which shows it has the confidence to step well beyond offering safe and sober commuter cars. The Soul provides a funkiness Kia has never had before. And hopefully that means there are more design milestones on the way for Kia in the same way Chrysler became known as a design maverick.

But first, does the Soul have a heart to match its daring looks?

There's two choices of engine—a 1.6-litre, four-cylinder that produces 122 horses and a spunkier 2.0-litre called the 4u Burner that ups output to 142 horses and adds racy, 18-inch alloy wheels.

As you might imagine, fuel efficiency is pretty good with a small car. Kia rates consumption for the 1.6 litre engine at 7.7 litres in the city and 6.3 on the highway after travelling 100 km.

The 2.0 litre is slightly thirstier at 8.6 litres in the city and 6.6 on the highway.

Inside, the Soul has room for five passengers. Rear seats flat to provide 1,511 litres (53.4 cubic feet) of cargo space. If you need to carry a full passenger load, stowage room is reduced to a still useful 546 litres or around 19 cubic feet.

Another intriguing part of the Soul's interior is the contemporary look of the dashboard. And the centre stack that houses controls for the stereo and climate control is housed in an elongated oval that flows down from the top of the dash to the center section. Emphasising the unique design is the bold, two-tone coloured materials that match the body colour. Chrysler's PT Cruiser accomplished this well, and the Soul takes up the design scheme.

So, does all of this "now" style come at a fashion conscious price?

Remember, this is still Kia which built its market niche on inexpensive autos. That means the Soul is priced with thriftiness in mind—try a base of $15,495.

And that should get plenty of car buyers to think inside this particular box.

By Philip Raphael - Richmond Review

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