Saints preserve us from the day when some wannabe-hip automaker decides to names its cars and trucks with emoticons. Kia brings us one step closer to that vomitous "Look at me! Aren't I clever?" level of cuteness with the 2014 Soul !.

That's right. The top trim level of the new Soul hatchback is called the exclamation point. Kia has freed us from those tiresome words, letters and numbers other companies use. Colon: Give me a break. Dash – bring me the head of Kia's chief marketing officer. Frowny face.

Aside from the cloying self-consciousness of its name, the Soul ! has much to recommend it, including a quirky design and loads of interior room.

The Soul comes in three flavors: base, (plus) and !. The period at the end of that sentence is a punctuation mark, not a name. Sorry to disappoint you.

Kia thoughtfully suggests you call the upper two trims "plus" and "exclaim," two perfectly fine words for which – coincidentally enough – words actually exist.

The base model starts at $14,900. It comes with a 130-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed manual transmission. Automatic transmission models start at $16,900 for a base model with the same engine and a six-speed. The Plus and Exclaim mate a 164-horsepower, 2.0-liter engine to the automatic transmission. They start at $18,400 and $20,500, respectively. All models have front-wheel drive.

I tested a well-equipped Soul Exclaim with features including a touch screen, Bluetooth phone and music compatibility, USB input, heated and ventilated front seats, a large power sun roof and heated rear seats. It stickered at $24,500.

The Soul's most direct competitors are small cars and crossover utilities that combine striking looks with roomy interiors. The Buick Encore, Nissan Cube, Scion xB and Volkswagen Jetta wagon come to mind. Soul prices compare favorably to them.

The Honda Element originated this class of roomy, offbeat little cars. It'd compete with the 2014 Soul, but – to the dismay of surfers, mountain bikers and dog owners everywhere – Honda sent the Element to live on a beautiful farm upstate a few years ago.

The 2014 Soul is bigger and more sophisticated than its first generation. It has plenty of interior and cargo room. The high seating position, big windows and upright design provide excellent visibility. The glove box is huge. A dish in the center console for phones and iPods looks sloppy when loaded with devices and wires.

The touch screen is large and easy to use. Conventional buttons and dials control audio and climate. The Soul's voice recognition and Bluetooth work well, but the interior gets noisy at highway speed.

The 2.0-liter engine provides adequate power, but acceleration and handling are not the Soul's strengths. The steering lacks feel, particularly at highway speed. Body roll is noticeable on fast curves.

The Soul's fuel economy is poor. The EPA rates the car I tested at 23 mpg in the city, 31 on the highway and 26 combined.

The combined figure trails comparable models of the Encore, Sonic, Fiesta and Cube. It beats the Scion xB by 2 mpg and matches the larger 2.5-liter Jetta wagon.

The combined rating is also several mpg worse than such bigger compact sedans as the Chevrolet Cruze, Ford Fusion, Honda Civic, Hyundai Elantra, Nissan Sentra and Toyota Corolla.

The Soul's mechanical systems are nothing to exclaim about, but its room and quirky looks largely offset that. Period.



–Type of vehicle: Front-wheel-drive five-passenger hatchback

–Rating: Three out of four stars

–Reasons to buy: Looks; passenger and cargo space; features

–Shortcomings: Fuel economy; handling; interior noise

–Engine: 2.0-liter 16-valve DOHC four-cylinder

–Power: 164 horsepower at 6,200 rpm; 151 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm

–Transmission: Six-speed automatic

–EPA fuel economy rating: 23 mpg city/31 highway/26 combined. Regular gasoline

–Wheelbase: 101.2 inches

–Length: 163.0 inches

–Width: 70.9 inches

–Height: 63.0 inches

–Curb weight: 2,837 lbs.

–Base price: $14,900

–Price as tested: $25,400

Prices exclude destination charge.



Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at


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