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Kia Soul: driving in Miami, Britney Spears encounters, more

Fri, 13 Mar 2009

In a sea of sameness, the 2010 Kia Soul stands out. Perhaps nowhere is that more apparent than Miami, a city filled with image-conscious denizens and head-turning sights on every corner.

We got yet another test drive of the hot, five-passenger hatch in South Florida this week and it was an interesting few days, to say the least. There was even a Britney Spears cameo--more on that later.

First, some thoughts on the car. As far as true evaluations go, it was a bit stilted. Most of our wheel time was through congested parts of the city and on routes near South Beach--not exactly prime areas for flogging cars. But our drive also featured some stares at stoplights, curious looks from onlookers on the street and one inquisitive guy who wandered up and peppered us with questions on Ocean Drive.

That actually happens fairly frequently to writers testing new cars. But remember, this is Miami. We noticed roughly as many Lamborghinis and Bentleys as we did Fords and Chevys. The Art Deco district of the city is a veritable vintage-car show. And near the beach, clothing is more accessory than requirement.

So the simple fact that the Soul could register even a blip of recognition from the locals strongly suggests that Kia has a winner on its hands with this quirky design. Yes, it’s fairly similar to the Honda Element, the Scion xB and the xD and the Nissan Cube. But the Soul is arguably a bit edgier with its reverse greenhouse cabin setup and wheels as big as 18 inches.

The Soul has evolved since the concept was shown at the 2006 Detroit auto show. But it’s still unconventional. Part of our drive was in the Sport model, which gets a stiffer suspension, unique tires and other amenities. Ours was also equipped with the 2.0-liter, 142-hp engine and five-speed manual, which are available on other models.

It was fairly interactive and enjoyable, handling Miami’s mostly smooth roads (at least on our route) with ease. We tested an automatic later in the day; the acceleration was surprisingly good and made the stop-and-go traffic more bearable. Still, the stick adds more fun to a car that at its core is still a Kia compact.

The interior is a funhouse, and one of our test cars was awash in red. It livens things up, but it’s not for everyone. There are 50-plus ways to customize the Soul, so it can be a base bargain ride or a near SEMA-experiment, depending on your taste. We also tested the light-up speaker option, which set an interesting mood and can be programmed to bump along with the music.

This ride did feature a bit of the unusual, as former teen queen Britney Spears was an unexpected interloper.

OK, apparently Kia didn’t plan it this way, but Spears happened to be staying at the hotel where journalists were put up during the test drive. On our first day in town, rumors were rampant, though we didn’t have any encounters. Her presence was later confirmed by the Miami Herald.

On a pure lark, we ventured to the pool and the beach, two of the alleged spots for sightings, but found them mostly empty. For the record, we were going these places anyway; star searching was not the top priority.

Lastly, we wandered to the end of our floor--the juiciest rumor was that her suite was down that hall from us. It was quiet, and there was only a security guard lounging in front of a room. Not wishing to join the ranks of the paparazzi, we asked him for directions to the ice machine.

By Greg Migliore