The people at Kia Motors America aren’t shy in talking about the Kia Soul—the car that they introduced in 2009 and have just now updated in a second-generation—as being “boxy.” Which just goes to show you that some people really do acknowledge reality. The Soul is a solid contender in the category that includes such cars as the Scion xB (the car that launched several thousand sales of vehicular rectangles) and the Nissan cube (clearly a case of a car where form meets nomenclature).
But here’s an interesting aspect of the design that is lesser known than its angular surfaces:
It seems that Mike Torpey, the man credited with the original design of the Soul (and who we, incidentally, named in 2009 as one of the hottest young designers working in auto [see: autofieldguide.com/articles/the-10-hottest-designers-why-the-auto-industry-will-come-back-strong]), was influenced in the design for the first Soul by something he’d seen on TV while on a trip from the Kia design studio in Irvine, CA, to Korea. It was a boar. As in that furry, tough mammal. Torpey drew a boar with a backpack. Presumably that has something to do with the Soul being compact but capacious. (Torpey also went on to design what’s referred to as the “tusk bumper” for the original Soul, perhaps in keeping with the “tiger nose” grille that has become a signature style feature of Kia products during the past few years.)
That was the first one. The second-gen also hails from the Irvine studio. And, again, another animal. In 2012 at the Chicago Auto Show, Kia revealed a concept car, the Track’ster And upon its launch, Tom Kearns, chief designer at KMA, said, “The idea was to make the Track’ster tough looking, like a bulldog.”
Which brings us forward to the development of the design of the 2014 Soul. Kearns said: “Striking the right balance between the wonderful design of the current car with the audacious proportions and stance of the Track’ster was daunting.” Which is not at all surprising, given that boars and bulldogs probably don’t get along all that well. Kearns continued, “It proved to be a truly collaborative effort with guidance from Peter Schreyer in Frankfurt and assistance from our studio in Korea. In the end, we’ve kept the essence of Soul while infusing it with more presence inside and out.”
(Word is that Schreyer was particularly instrumental in making sure that the steering wheel for the 2014 Soul was well executed, in terms of diameter of the wheel and in the finish of the materials. Remember that before he joined Kia in 2006 as chief design officer, he worked for Audi, which is a company that knows a little more than most about interior quality and craftsmanship.)
According to Orth Hendrick, KMA executive director of product planning, a key concern and consideration for the design of the 2014 was that it maintain a discernible Soul shape. “We had some ideas on how not to do it,” he said, glossing the second-generation Scion xB, which didn’t have the buzz of the first xB. What’s more, he said that the competitive set for the Soul has grown of late, with cars like the Fiat 500L and the MINI Countryman joining the ranks.
The 2014 Soul is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor. The wheelbase is 101.2 in., which is up 0.8 in.; the width is 70.9 in., up 0.6 in.; the height is 63.0 in., down 0.4 in.
The Track’ster elements abound on the car, both outside and in. As in the large trapezoidal intake on the front of the car and a body-color panel inset on the tailgate in the rear. Inside, there is a circular theme abounding, not only in expected ways like the shape of the gauges and the pushbutton for the starter, but on either side of the instrument panel there is a combination vent/side window defroster/speaker, with the round speaker shape on top.
Michael Sprague, KMA executive vice president of Marketing & Communications, said that prior to the first-generation Soul, Kia, which had somewhat limited sales in the U.S. market, did best in the rural and outlying suburban areas. “We were basically nonexistent in the top 20 markets,” he said, adding that they were often confused with a Swedish furniture retailer.
Post-Soul, their penetration in the urban market has increased 300%. And while the Soul might be considered by some to be quirky, for Kia it is core, as it is generally in the number two or three sales position, swapping back and forth with the Sorento crossover.
Boxes can be big.