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2013 Kia Soul: No irony in KIA’s bestseller

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Aaron Cole
Auto Columnist

You’re the type of person that comparison-shops Campbell’s Soup in your spare time. You bulk buy with coupons salvaged from other people’s newspapers dumped in Wal-Mart parking lots on Tuesday afternoon.
    Shopping without promo codes, you wrote in college, is for Neanderthals.


    “Budget-minded” would describe you, if only the words themselves weren’t so long.
    Is there any way to encapsulate your thrifty attitude in one word sans hyphen? (Compound modifiers are so unnecessary sometimes, you know?)
    Cheap? Pssh.
    Frugal? Meh.
    Prudent? Perfect.
    Call it what you want, but providence is seldom found in the same room as style. For example, Warren Buffet isn’t known for wearing Mahnolos to get the morning paper in Omaha.
    I recognize that there are exceptions to that rule. For one, the 2013 Kia Soul, most certainly fits that deviation.
    If you don’t know the Soul by sight, then you surely remember it by its commercial campaign. Hamsters dancing to “Party Rock” in a post-apocalyptic world ruled by cyborg warriors? Movies have been made by Michael Bay out of less.
    Despite the half-baked commercial routine, the way this car gets noticed is by word of mouth. True patrons of the boxy hatchback segment (read: young, first-time buyers) watch TV long enough to fast-forward through “The Daily Show” and tweet immediately after.
    Therefore, the car must be as short and succinct as a tweet. Loud styling is a must. So are speakers that glow in sync with the beats coming from the stereo.    Unsurprisingly, Kia has both in the Soul.
    Also included in the 2013 version, Kia upgraded the Soul where it desperately needed rehabilitation. The Soul’s base powerplant now produces 138 horsepower, up 16 from last year, and the stressed 2-liter engine — an option — makes 164 horsepower, up 22, thanks to direct injection in both. The Soul also makes use of two new transmissions, both with six forward gears.
    There are little exterior improvements too; a new fascia here, a rear light there, but largely it’s the same car as it was last year.
    Also, it’s mostly the same price as last year too. The Soul starts at $14,400, which is $500 less than the base Nissan Cube (natural competition) and nearly $3,000 less than the Scion xB (which makes up ground when both are outfitted with the same options.)
    But the Soul makes up ground in an area that budget buyers regard more than their spouses: value.
    As an idea, the Soul is a winner. It combines funky looks with a few tech niceties that appeal to the generation that gravitates toward Urban Outfitters. As an economy vehicle, the Soul is nearly unparalleled.
    The Soul’s 29/36 mpg (24/29 with the bigger engine) is better than respectable for the class, and the four-door, five passenger layout is spacious for most college-age technophiles. Taken alone, strictly on specs, the Soul would appeal to a set of buyers that would consider buying a Soul less than they would consider buying a Burberry handbag to carry their dog food.
    I mean, true to the “we’ll probably look back at this as a bad idea” generation we’re living in, the Soul is offered in Base, + and ! packages. (Plus and Exclaim if you can’t bring yourself to think about cars labeled with punctuation.) Plus and Exclaim models offer the bigger engine along with features like navigation and rear backup cameras.
    Our test car, topped out at around $24,000 with everything misers would roll their eyes at, though it’s mostly warranted here, the car you get for around $15,000 is largely the same car that you’d get for over $20,000. Standard features such as Bluetooth on entry-level models should be commonplace nowadays like four tires and steering wheel on all cars.
    So what happens if the Soul is all starch and no shirt? Who would buy $15,000 worth of econobox if it weren’t worth driving? Good question, but it doesn’t apply here.
    This year Kia beefed up the sound deadening from the engine and used a thicker dash to swallow more sound. That means less racket from the hood and a more refined ride than previous years, despite the short wheelbase.
    While the direct injection engine adds a little more hum from between the front tires, the Soul is relatively sedate at 60-plus and in the city it makes even less of a statement.
    So what if the Soul looks like Warby Parker glasses five years from now? The underpinnings of the Kia make the boxy buggy a good buy like dented can specials.
    Just don’t expect a car dealer to give you the same discount if you “accidentally” find one with a dimple in the driver’s side door.

Aaron Cole is a syndicated auto columnist.
Reach him at aaron.m.cole@gmail.com.