Meet Casper

Genie had to go in to get a seat belt pretensioner repair. So, I asked for and got a Soul as my loaner. I’d seen these things around for a long time and sat in them on the showroom floor, and I wanted to get the experience of driving one. I had this image of a cheap, cute little car that would fit a girl going off to college or something like that. This is what they gave me. I have named him Casper.

The exterior

I like it in the same way that I like the Element, Qube, or the XB. It’s cute and a little funky. It’s a tall-ish car and is a little lifted off the ground compared to the average sedan. When I slide into the driver’s seat, my feet don’t quite rest on the ground, but it’s not as high as my Sedona. I had my wife slide in and confirmed that it is indeed helpful for people with joint pain in the same way that the XB was reputed to be. It’s pretty big on the inside while fitting easily into my garage with plenty of room to walk around the front and back.

The interior

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There is beaucoup head room, due to that tall-ish and boxy styling. The overall impression of the interior reminds me off what Johnny Ive said about the iPhone 5C: it’s unapologetically plastic. There is padding for the arm rest and center console compartment. The door cards are the same fabric as the seats. Everything else is fairly hard plastic. It doesn’t feel like poor quality, just market-segment appropriate. (aside: I kinda get a chuckle out of car makers putting a simulated natural grain into what it obviously synthetic; I wonder when that started).

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I feel like Kia takes better advantage of the interior styling in the higher trims, where they add contrasting color door card fabric, stitching, and so forth. Even in this stripper, the bulbous form factor stands out. I like the touch of the speaker grilles in the corners of the dash.

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The seats are comfortable. Bolstering is better than you might expect. Nothing about them feels luxurious, but I could do a road trim sitting in them and come out of it just fine. My daughter volunteered that the back seat feels sufficiently roomy and comfortable (she’s a little over 5'6").

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The back seats fold down, and there is enough room behind them for a grocery run if you leave them up, but I’m imaging I’d have them down a lot of the time for runs to nursery or hardware store. I think that would then take advantage of the boxy form factor.

The drive

The suspension feels like standard contemporary economy car. It’s firm but not harsh. I ran over some of East Dallas’s deep potholes, and the car wasn’t too fussed about it. I felt them but they didn’t punish me. For being a pretty upright car, it felt stable in corners. I’m in no way a racer, autocrosser, or even weekend at the track kind of guy, but I did take a couple of hard corners. Casper showed less body roll than I would have expected and didn’t lose grip. My overall impression is that a young, even teenage, driver could handle this thing pretty easily even in suboptimal weather and not feel scared.

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The engine has just enough. To get off the line, I really had to punch it. The gerbils under the hood would scream at me, but they did their job. Same thing with on ramps. I hd to pick my line to merge more carefully than I’ve grown accustomed to in my K900 (no surprise there), but there was enough to get the job done. I was used to doing more with less in my RX-8, but I always new I could get the power I needed if I really wound it up entering the on ramp. Not so with this little guy. You get what you get. The base only gets 130 hp, so that’s to be expected. What torque it has seems to be fairly accessible down low and holds fairly steadily as you go. There didn’t seem to be a lot there if I tried to pass at highway speeds, but again, enough if I picked my gaps carefully.

Electronics and creature comforts

There stereo is fine. I was able to enjoy rock and pop fine. Classical not as much. That’s because of the road noise. Road noise in Casper was economy car level, which means that they didn’t spend a huge amount on NVH mitigation. That said, wind noise into the cabin didn’t increase over 60 mph. That tells me the cabin is buttoned up pretty well. I could go through my road trip playlist and have a conversation just fine and.

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Heat was strong, and A/C is pretty good. Both are manual regulation, but they come on fast. There is a lot of windshield in front so I had to blast the defrost a couple of times coming out of a garage to get rid of condensation.

Final verdict

Overall I would say this is a pretty good car for what it is. I feel like you could do fine with the base as a first car or DD. And it’s cheap, starting MSRP is $16K. But I feel like it would really shine to its best potential if you got one of the higher trims with more hp and a little interior pizzazz to take advantage of the quirky styling, plus the touch screen with CarPlay and AndroidPlay capability. I bet you could still get it for under $20k, and that would make it still a good value. I’d probably send my girl off to college in one of these.

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