Kia’s unique Soul is now in its ninth year.
The Kia Soul defies easy categorization, but that’s not a bad thing. In a market where so many small cars look the same, the Soul is not quite a car nor is it a crossover SUV. In fact, it is a blend of both. Specifically, it is a front-wheel drive, five-door hatchback with room for up to five.
It took eight-and-one-half years for a Kia Soul to finally make it to my home for testing. I was on hand at the 2008 Los Angeles Auto Show for the dramatic unveiling of the new model, what underscored just how excited Kia’s staff was. It was a breakthrough vehicle for Kia, a brand eager to reimagine itself with a youth-oriented product. Immediately, it caught on with fans and the Kia brand has benefited immensely since.
2017 Kia Soul
Fast forward to 2017 and the Kia Soul is already in the third year of the second-generation model. You have a choice of three grades — Base ($16,995), Plus (+) $20,695, and Exclaim (!) $23,695, including destination.
One point of clarification before we move on: Kia refers to its middle and top trims with “+” and “!” symbols. For clarification purposes, we’ll reference all three trims with their full names — base, plus, and exclaim.
A 2017 Kia Soul Exclaim was my test model. Kia added both available packages tech ($3,000) and panoramic sunroof ($1,000), bringing the final price to $27,695. Yes, that’s the top end of the segment, but there are more affordable trim and package options available.
Unusual for this segment, Kia offers three engine choices with each one corresponding to the trim chosen.
The Base grade has a 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine generating 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque. This engine comes paired with a six-speed manual gearbox; opting for the available automatic adds $1,600 to your price. The Base edition paired with the automatic is the fuel mileage leader for the Soul, delivering 26 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway.
The Plus grade has a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine with 161 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. This engine comes paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The fuel economy estimate comes in at 25/30 mpg city/highway.
Turbo power moves the Exclaim. Here, Kia adds a turbocharger to the 1.6-liter engine, producing 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. This engine comes paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Moreover, this model makes an EPA-estimated 24/30 mpg city/highway.
Deciphering the Kia Soul
So, let’s head back to the overall model at hand. This vehicle comes from the Hyundai-Kia small car platform and occupies a niche abandoned by other vehicles, including the Nissan Cube and the Scion xB. Its nearest competitor may be the all-new Toyota C-HR, another front-wheel drive only vehicle. Otherwise, cross-shop this model with the Honda HR-V, Fiat 500X, and Mazda CX-3, to name a few small SUVs.
The Soul’s sporty looks is an important draw here. Up front, you’ll find Kia’s recognizable tiger nose grille, wraparound headlamps, and a larger lower grille opening. Flared wheel wells, a rising beltline, and a falling roofline are important defining marks. Depending on the trim, you’ll also find body skirting trim.
From the rear are a pair of boomerang tail lamps, bumper treatment, and in the case of the turbo you’ll find twinned exhaust ports. The wheels are a big deal here too — standard alloys ranging in size from 16 to 18 inches. The look is all the more dramatic as Kia pushed the wheels to the far corners.
Inside, you’ll find comfortable bucket seats up front and a 60-40 fold-flat bench seat in the second row. The design is simple, but very useful — if you choose to fold the rear seat, you’ll expand storage capacity from 18.8 cubic feet to 49.8 cubic feet — that’s plenty of room for a small car. Incidentally, as one of the photos in this set demonstrates, the storage area compartment is removable, freeing up an additional 12 cubic feet of storage space.
The Soul’s interior offers a circular theme, something we’ve seen in other small cars, including the Fiat 500X and the Mini Cooper S. The circular look starts with the instrument panel and extends to the vents, color display, and surrounding the stick shift. You’ll also find unusual circular speaker housings on top of the front vents at the far corners.
Although not quite the height of similar high-profile vehicles, the driver’s seating position offers a commanding view of the road — a steeply canted windshield and thin “A” pillars help matters immensely — you’ll have far less getting in the way as you do with the Fiat 500L.
The interior room is plentiful with excellent room for the driver and front passenger. The back seat offers seat belts for three, but is best used by two. In any case, rear legroom rivals what you’d find in most midsize sedans. All models offer drink holders in each door and two cup holders up front. In models equipped with a middle armrest, you’ll find two more cup holders.
Standard equipment includes power windows and door locks, a tilt and telescopic steering column, air conditioning, a six-speaker audio system, USB ports and auxiliary audio input, Bluetooth, and cloth seats. Upgrades are many, bringing in such items as keyless entry with push-button start, touchscreen color display, a rearview camera, a Harman/Kardon audio system, cruise control, power front seats, heated front seats, heated outboard rear seats, and leather seats.
The first of the two available packages, tech, brought in the heated front and rear seats. Navigation, HD radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, are also included. The package also brings in HID headlamps with automatic leveling and LED front fog lamps.
Driver assist features, including blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning and forward collision warning are available. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 2017 Soul a Top Safety Pick rating, while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the Soul with its top five-star rating.
On the Road
I can’t imagine driving a Soul without a turbo engine. After all, it is only the turbo I have driven.
That said, buyers who want at least a modicum of performance should test drive the turbo. It provides wheel squealing acceleration and enough kick to pass a slow-moving rig with authority.
The Kia Soul is even fun to drive, with just enough torque steer present to make things interesting. Under hard acceleration and with the turbo kicking in low on the band curve — 1,500 RPM —the amount of power delivered is wholly sufficient. Indeed, the Soul delivers a higher level of boost than some competitors, including the Nissan Juke Turbo.
Twisty roads separate the true believers from the pretenders. Happily, the Soul turbo falls somewhere in the middle. Although lacking a limited slip differential — which would help even out power distribution to the wheels — the Kia Soul does an admirable job on twisty roads. No, you can’t enter the twisties at full speed, but if your speed is within the posted range, you’ll enjoy the quick moves of the steering wheel without constant braking.
I’m sure some shoppers buy the Soul without caring much about performance. Technology, creature comforts, and style are more important for them. Thus, either one of the naturally aspirated engines would be sufficient. That said, if you choose the Soul turbo you may find the lack of a manual gearbox disappointing. Still, the dual-clutch transmission is a decent match with the engine at hand — you’ll find little sign of gear “hunting.” Furthermore, you can operate it in manual mode.
Consumers continue to move away from cars in favor of SUVs. The Kia Soul successfully blends the two categories and for some it’ll meet all their needs.
For others, an all-wheel drive variant would fulfill their desires. Given that the Sportage is the smallest Kia SUV — available and offered in front- and all-wheel drive, Kia may be missing out on a segment of customers who prefer the handling advantages of all-wheel drive.
If you shop for a Soul, start with the Plus edition as it offers a more powerful engine, while including a color display and a rearview camera for starters. Add in the audio package ($2,000) and you’ll get the eight-inch color display, UVO telematics, Harman/Kardon audio system, and leather touches. At this price point, you’re paying under $23,000 and that’s before Kia’s generous incentives package kicks in.
2017 Kia Soul Specifications
|Base Sticker Price||$16,995|
|Price as Tested (Exclaim)||$XX,XXX|
|Standard Engine||1.6-liter, I4|
|Horsepower||130 @ 6,300|
|Torque (lb.-ft.)||118 @ 4,850 RPM|
|Available Engine||2.0-liter, I4|
|Torque (lb.-ft.)||150 @ 4,700 RPM|
|Available Engine||1.6-liter, I4 (turbo)|
|Horsepower||201 @ 6,000|
|Torque (lb.-ft.)||195 @ 1,500-4,500 RPM|
|Transmission||Seven-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Curb Weight (pounds)||2,884 to 3,232 pounds|
|Head room (f;r — inches)||39.6; 39.5|
|Leg room (f;r — inches)||40.9; 39.1|
|Shoulder room (f;r — inches)||55.5; 54.7|
|Hip room (f;r — inches)||53.2; 49.3|
|Storage (cubic feet)||18.8; 49.5/24.2;61.3 (with luggage under tray removed)|
|Gross vehicle weight (pounds)||NR|
|Fuel Tank (gallons)||14.2|
|EPA Fuel MPG (city/highway)||25/30 (automatic); 26/31 (turbo)|
|Manufacturing Plant||Gwangju, South Korea|
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