June 2, 2010
by Tony Whitney and Tim Dimopoulos
Every now and again, remarkable things unfold when an automaker gives its designers and stylists a reasonably free hand.
Such must have been the case in the creation of the Kia Soul, a product that seems to break all the rules set previously by the Korean manufacturer for its model ranges. After all, Kia is an automaker noted mainly for conservative, intelligently designed and durable—but often rather unadventurous—automobiles, SUVs and minivans.
Design groundbreakers like the Soul are not common sights on the Kia assembly lines, which is why it stands out. This vehicle could be something straight from one of those advanced automotive thinkers in Europe like Citroen, Peugeot or Lancia.
In fact, the Soul saw its origins neither in Europe nor Asia, but rather at Kia’s California design studios. Chief designer Peter Schreyer clearly had lots to do with how the Soul looks. While he was at it, he also came up with Kia’s new corporate grille, which fronts the vehicle. This grille, which Kia describes as having a “tiger-nose” look, will appear in one form or another on future vehicles from the automaker.
The Kia Soul just might be the funkiest little rig to emerge from any automaker since the days when the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Volkswagen New Beetle first hit the roads.
Although there are one or two radically “boxy” and unconventional designs around now (the Honda Element and Nissan Cube come to mind) and more to come, the Soul seems to be out on its own without a serious challenger. Besides, it’s not really fair to call the Soul boxy, as it has all sorts of sculptured panels to play down its basically cubic shape.
It appears at first to be quite a small vehicle. At least, until you climb in or load up the rear cargo area. In fact, it’s surprisingly roomy, a reflection of some very intelligent work by the Kia design team. Its exterior dimensions make it easy to park in a tight spot or pull a U-turn on a narrow street.
It’s hard to classify the Soul, and perhaps this is going to be the way of the future. It’s part sporty hatchback and part compact utility, with a little microvan and subcompact thrown in for good measure. This fascinating combination of vehicle types is one of the Soul’s most endearing features. No driver will be instantly stereotyped or classified wherever he or she shows up.