The General Manager of Leith Autopark Kia wants his dealership to feel like a small town, country store. Appropriately situated just outside the beltline in Wendell, that is exactly what the staff has achieved. Coming from Raleigh, the dealership is eight easy minutes from I-440, and it’s just down the road from Knightdale, Zebulon, and Clayton.
Walk in the door and you will be greeted right away with a warm smile and a firm handshake. The showroom is intimate with nary a desk in sight, save the reception counter. Instead, you’ll find round tables where everyone can take a seat and have a long conversation before getting down to business.
In our case, the business was taking a 2014 Kia Soul on a test-drive. Showing us the car that day was Travis Thornton, a three-and-a-half year veteran of the Leith Kia sales team. Travis is a real believer in the Kia product. He drives a Forte, and he loves the direction that the automaker is taking their lineup, constantly improving year in and year out. His pride in the brand works hand-in-hand with his personal experiences, so you know that when he shows you a Kia, you’re not just getting a sales pitch. You’re getting the truth.
Walkaround, Inside and Out
We started off looking at the Soul on display in the showroom. The display model is actually the special edition Red Zone Soul, and Leith has several available. The tuxedoed hamster mascots were nearby, looking dapper in cardboard effigy, but handsome as they look, the Soul looks better. Revised from its first generation, the new Soul is a genuinely good looking car, and the Red Zone body kit gives its already energetic personality a more aggressive flare. As you might guess, there are red accent bars outlining the grille and running boards. Like the ! (Exclaim) trim, it has LED headlights and taillights. The Red Zone also gets special eighteen inch wheels.
Travis popped the hood so we could look at the 2.0L GDI (Gas Direct Injection) four-cylinder engine. It’s a very clean and well organized engine block, with everything where you would expect it to be. No need to go hunting through the owner’s manual to figure out where to refill your wiper fluid. The battery is also easy to access, and you’ll be tempted to change your own oil with how simple they’ve made the access.
Next, we went around back to the trunk. The taillights might be our favorite thing about the second generation of this model. They’re large and distinct, probably among the most recognizable rear lights on the road at this point. The final aspect of the Red Zone is the spoiler integrated into the roof. It probably doesn’t add much in terms of aerodynamics, but it keeps the sporty vibe intact from front to back.
Opening up the trunk, it’s a highly flexible storage space. There’s a rubber floor mat to catch dust and dirt, plus a shelf that fits over top for two-tiered stowing and to keep items out of direct sunlight. You get a cargo net, too, and the floor lifts up to reveal a generous hidden storage compartment. The Soul doesn’t come with a spare tire, but you do get a repair kit and compressor.
The backseats fold down in a sixty/forty split, but they’re comfortable to sit in and give passengers in the second row plenty of room. The red accents from the outside of the Red Zone continue on the interior with nice-looking red stitching on the seats and steering wheel. We would have no qualms about going on a road trip in one of these.
With our introduction out of the way, Travis led us outside to our actual test-drive vehicle. Walking onto the lot, you get a sense of how many vehicles Leith has to choose from. It may have a small town vibe, but you’ve got a big city selection. The Souls are all lined up, dozens of them in a row. It’s a veritable Soul train. They have all levels to choose from, everything from the Base package all the way up to the Red Zone, and there’s a wide variety of colors.
Travis ended up picking a Fathom Blue Soul ! for us. This one has all of the same features of the Red Zone, just without the unique body kit. One thing it does have that the special edition was missing is a panoramic sunroof. They aren’t quite as big of a deal as they once were a few years ago when you had to get a luxury car if you wanted one, but it has a big impact on the Soul. The sunroof takes up the whole ceiling. Draw the shade back with the push of a button and suddenly the whole cabin is filled with sunlight. It makes a car that does not suffer for space feel even more open. You can only open the front portion, but this is still one of our favorite features.
Before we got on the road, Travis wanted to show us the 8-inch touch screen display. This model features Kia’s UVO system, which stands for “Your Voice.” As you might think, the system works well with a robust selection of voice commands. With a button on the steering wheel, you can tell UVO to go to whatever radio station of your choice, including AM, FM, and satellite stations. You can also sync your phone with Bluetooth and make hands-free phone calls, or stream your own music. Finally, you can combine voice commands with the navigation system and UVO will tell you how to get where you need to go.
With all that out of the way, we were ready to take it for a spin. Travis took us out of the dealership, so we got a feel for how the Soul rides as a passenger. It’s quite comfortable. Again, for a small car, there’s plenty of room. Even those riders who might need extra legroom won’t be bruising their knees. We were also going down what Travis says is the bumpiest road in Wendell, and although we could feel bumps, our discomfort was totally negligible.
We stopped very close by so that Travis could let us take the wheel for the better portion of the test-drive. First thing we noticed turning around is that the Soul has an excellent turning radius. You’ll have no trouble maneuvering in one of these. A backup camera activates as soon as you put the car in reverse, and the screen will give you length markers like a traffic light, with a green bar for nine feet, yellow for six, and red for three.
The Soul has three different drive modes. Comfort, Sport, and Normal mode can be toggled via buttons on the steering wheel, so you can change the feel of the steering to suit your preference. You also have the choice for Active Eco mode, which is independent of the other three modes. Active Eco will work with the computer to streamline shifting and maximize your fuel economy.
You really see the benefit of having a smaller car when you press on the accelerator. The Soul has great getup with just a four-cylinder engine, and you won’t have any trouble making your claim on the road. It has a six-speed automatic transmission with easy transitions between gears. There’s also a sequential shifter for if you feel the need to pass someone on the highway.
You may have noticed in the commercials that the Soul has lights around its Infinity sound speakers that can be set to respond to your audio. They can also be turned to general mood lighting, or just turned off if it’s not for you. Either way, the effect is difficult to notice in the day time. We would like to get back in a Soul after dark and really turn the volume up on the whole experience.
Travis said that he’s had customers with misgivings about the way the Soul looks, but once they get behind the wheel, they can’t get enough of it. We don’t have any trouble seeing why there are so many of these on the road now. They’re easy to get in and out of, and while they might be a small car, they aren’t too low to the ground.
Our experience with the 2014 Kia Soul was very positive. This compact utility vehicle is a fun ride for passengers, and if you need to you can fold the seats down and pack in luggage. It’s also quick and nimble with great fuel economy. You also have a large selection of colors and trim levels, and Leith has almost any variant you could think of on the lot, so you know you’ll find the Soul that’s right for you.
The other thing we want to point out is that there is quite a jump from the Base Soul to the ! in terms of technology and comfort, but that jump is not reflected in the price. The extra amenities are very reasonable, so you should definitely consider them. If you’re lucky, you’ll have an outstanding professional like Travis Thornton helping you measure the difference for yourself. We thoroughly enjoyed our ride with Travis, and we have no trouble seeing why he’s one of our most valued sales representatives. You shouldn’t take our word for it, though. Visit Leith Autopark Kia for your own Leith test-drive experience today. It’s well worth your while.