Special Coverage

Auto Interiors Conference

On sale for hardly a month in the U.S., the Kia Soul starts strong out of the gate, taking the “Grooviest Interior” of the year honor in the 2009 Ward’s Interior of the Year competition.

Ward’s staffers for the most part are smitten with the thoughtful, colorful and, well, groovy interior of the subcompact, boxy Soul.

The Soul model Ward’s tested in late March is the top-line Soul sport, which stickers at $18,345, including destination and handling charges.

The grade comes standard with a red and black interior scheme covering not just the seats but also the dash and door panels, making the Soul reminiscent of classic cars such as the ’57 Chevy Bel Air and ’61 Ford Galaxie.

“I think it’s all about the color in that car,” says Ward’s AutoWorld Executive Editor Tom Murphy. “The red is such a blazing styling cue. It sets the Soul apart from every other vehicle we drove.”

Murphy also commends Kia for executing well the abundant hard-plastic surfaces in the Soul’s interior, noting textures and gloss levels are consistent and attractive.

Ward’s editors are impressed by Kia’s attention to detail in the relatively inexpensive car’s cabin, notably the high-grade headliner, spacious center console, admirable fit-and-finish and the way a well-trimmed speaker integrates with the center stack and vents.

The crimson theme carries over in the Soul’s interior lighting, which includes door-mounted speakers with red light-emitting diodes that flash to the beat of the music. A switch on the dash allows the brightness of the pulsating lights to be dialed up or down, or shut off completely.

“The flashing speaker lights could turn Mozart fans into Moby fans,” notes Ward’s Senior Editor Eric Mayne.

Not to be outdone by visual treats, this car at its, er, soul is as ergonomically friendly as can be. Low ground clearance makes exit and entry a cinch.

And Kia deserves props for the spacious load floor in back and the easy-to-collapse rear seat backs featuring a pull reminiscent of old pin-style manual door locks. The pull is not only eye-catching and unique but useful, allowing for the gentle fold-down of the seatback, keeping fingers from getting pinched between the cushions.

We hope the Soul represents the individuality and style of vehicle interiors to come.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com