The Kia Soul is a compact hatchback with good handling and an efficient cabin layout, and boxy styling. Last redesigned for 2014, Soul got a new turbocharged engine for 2017. For 2018, Kia Soul has no significant changes.
There are three engines for three models. The base model gets a 1.6-liter four-cylinder making 130 horsepower, mated to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. It’s slow and the automatic transmission searches too much for the correct gear.
The Plus model (which Kia calls +) gets a 2.0-liter four that makes 161 horsepower, mated to a six-speed automatic. It’s quicker, but the transmission does the same thing.
The Exclaim (!), gets a 1.6-liter turbocharged four making 201 horsepower, that’s also used by the Hyundai Elantra Sport. It’s mated to a smooth seven-speed dual-clutch automatic manual transmission. It responds with spirit when you accelerate with spirit, however at low speeds there’s turbo lag.
Fuel mileage is good for the Soul but not at the top of its class, as it’s not a wedge or jelly bean; its boxy shape is less aerodynamic. The slow 1.6-liter engine with sluggish six-speed automatic gets 27 Combined EPA-rated miles per gallon, while the quicker 2.0-liter gets the same 27 mpg. The quickest engine, the 1.6-liter turbo in the Exclaim model, gets 28 mpg. There’s also a Soul EV electric vehicle.
Soul aces crash testing, impressive for a compact. It gets five stars overall from the NHTSA, and the top Good scores from the IIHS. Six airbags are standard, and a rearview camera is standard on the Exclaim and Plus. There’s an available safety suite including blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, and forward collision warning. The warranty is noteworthy. Five years or 60,000 miles, with powertrain for 10 years or 100,000 miles.
Kia Soul ($16,100) comes with cloth seats, air conditioning, Bluetooth, satellite radio, and a 60/40-split folding rear seat. Manual transmission is standard, automatic is available ($17,700). No rearview camera, cruise control, or front center armrest. Soul+ ($20,300) gets upgraded cloth upholstery, a 5.0-inch touchscreen, rearview camera, 17-inch wheels, and body-colored bumpers and trim.
Soul! ($22,800) comes with the turbo engine, 18-inch wheels and sporty exterior bits. Inside, there are leather seats and piano black trim, a 4.3-inch LED instrument cluster, and keyless ignition.
The rearview camera is only available in a package ($2000). (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
The Soul is as physically perky (if you see it that way) as it’s always been, but that seems like a long time now, so it’s not so fresh any more. It’s still fun to look at. It puts a splash of spirit into the sameness of the highway. Crossovers that all look the same, blah blah boring. The Soul steps out of that.
The proportions are right, as the sharp angles on the chunky sheetmetal work with the roofline. The windshield pillars are abrupt while leaning back a bit, keeping the profile from being too square, although it’s still square.
The Soul needs the body-colored trim in the Plus and Exclaim models, to smooth the lines and enhance the shape. There is a shape, and it’s distinctive.
For a compact hatchback, the Soul becomes a compact cargo van. There’s 24.2 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, and with them folded there’s a vast 61.3 cubic feet. The Soul might not be svelte, but the shape scores at swallowing bicycles.
And there is an amazing 39 inches of rear seat legroom, more than many midsize crossovers. The Plus and Exclaim have a folding center armrest in the rear, so we’re talking four adults in comfort.
There’s a black sea of plastic in the dash, with chrome and glossy trim. What a missed opportunity to make Soul special. There are some soft materials and upscale touches, such as the steering wheel and gauges that the driver looks down on, because the instrument panel is low.
The centerstack with its controls is canted toward the driver. Speakers sit on top of vents at the edges of the dash. They can be made to throb to the music, in fluorescent blood red.
The seats are firm and supportive, but a tall driver might find himself oe herself sitting too high, with his or her thighs running out of support.
It’s safe to say that Kia didn’t go whole hog on the sound deadening. The turbocharged engine noise breaks into the cabin and howls at 4000 rpm, in the Soul! model. The two slower engines are louder.
The 1.6-liter engine is slow, with a minimal 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque. But if you don’t commute on the freeway, it keeps up. For an entry-level new car, considering the cargo capacity and cool factor, the base model with the six-speed manual is a good car for the money.
The 2.0-liter only comes with the six-speed automatic transmission whose downshifts are responsive and quick, although at freeway speeds, it shifts between fifth and sixth gears too much. It can be locked in manual so it only upshifts at redline, but that probably won’t keep it from downshifting from sixth to fifth.
The turbo engine, built by Hyundai, makes 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, enough so there’s torque steer if you stand on it. With this engine, the Soul is a quick car on a winding backroad.
Not so quick around town, though. Driving slowly, it feels lethargic and unwilling, with a sluggish throttle response and non-linear acceleration; the transition from gliding to accelerating is slow, and it responds to more throttle with too much throttle.
The suspension is right, because the Soul doesn’t feel like a tall box in the corners, and the ride isn’t too busy on its short wheelbase. Twin-path dampers deliver good control, confidence in corners, and isolation from small bumps.
The Soul is no Volkswagen Golf or Mini Cooper, but it’s handling is responsive on a quick winding road, while also accelerating and braking. A Sport mode tightens the steering, making the Soul sporty and fun.
The transmission can be so slow to transition between Drive and Reverse. It gets old fast, especially when you’re in a hurry.
Four-wheel disc brakes are standard, with brake assist and hill-start assist, even on the base model. They work well, easy to modulate for smooth, controlled braking.
The Soul lives up to its name; it does have soul, as well as compelling virtues. The base model, especially with the 6-speed manual transmission mated to its 1.6-liter engine, is a good value, although maybe not so much if you have to pay $2000 for a rearview camera (in a package). The 2.0-liter turbo Soul! with the seven-speed dual clutch transmission ! turns the Soul into a pocket rocket.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.