The boxy Kia Soul hatchback is in the fifth year of its second generation. There are only minor changes for 2019, in advance of a new version coming for 2020.
The Soul packs a remarkable amount of cargo space, as much as some crossovers, into its compact hatchback body. It’s 163.0 inches long, with a 101.2-inch wheelbase.
The base Soul uses a 1.6-liter inline-4 that makes 130 horsepower, mated to a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic.
The Soul Plus uses a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 161 horsepower, mated to a 6-speed automatic that upshifts often and early. Automatic emergency braking is available on the Plus.
The Soul Exclaim uses a 1.6-liter turbo-4 making 201 horsepower, mated to a smooth 7-speed dual-clutch automatic manual transmission. After it gets past its turbo lag, the acceleration is brisk.
The EPA rates the base Soul at 25 mpg city, 30 highway, 27 combined with the 6-speed automatic, and virtually the same with the 6-speed manual.
The faster Soul Plus gets the same fuel economy, while the fastest Exclaim with the turbocharged engine gets the best mileage, 26/31/28 mpg. (There’s a battery-electric Soul EV, which is only sold in a few states.)
The NHTSA gives the Soul five stars overall in its crash tests, and the IIHS gives it all top Good scores and a Top Safety Pick designation. That’s quite an accomplishment for a compact car, a testament to quality engineering.
More optional safety equipment includes blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alerts, lane-departure warnings, and forward-collision warnings.
For about $17,500, the base Soul has power features, air conditioning, Bluetooth, satellite radio, a split-folding rear seat, and a 5.0-inch touchscreen. A convenience package adds the useful Uvo infotainment system, which runs on Android software and uses smartphone data to power its connected apps.
The Soul Plus for about $21,000 adds Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility and a larger 7.0-inch or 8.0-inch touchscreen, fog lights, and 17-inch wheels. Options include heated front and rear seats, cooled front seats, a sunroof, 18-inch wheels, and forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking.
The Soul Exclaim for $23,000 adds gloss trim inside and out, leather upholstery, and keyless ignition.
The warranty on the Soul as on all Kias is exceptional: Five years or 60,000 miles, with powertrain for 10 years or 100,000 miles.
The perky Soul still is fun to look at. Meaty sheetmetal is spread over sharp angles, and the roofline has motion to it, suggested by the slightly sweeping windshield pillars. The Plus and Exclaim benefit from their body-color bumpers and trim. You have to give it credit for having a shape and style that’s been around for a decade and still looks new. Kia scored a very tricky ace with the Soul.
Less outgoing than the exterior, the interior is rendered in nice finishes, pleasant shapes, and high-quality materials, including the soft trim on the dash and door panels. We like the stout steering wheel and racy gauges, and the center stack that’s canted toward the driver.
Packaging might be the Soul’s best aspect. The tall roof creates good head room, making the cabin feel spacious even with dark upholstery.
The comfort of the seats is okay, as the front seats are high and the instrument panel low. They’re firm enough but could use more leg support. There’s excellent head and legroom, although tall drivers might feel squeezed by the optional sunroof.
Two tall passengers fit well in the back, as there’s an amazing 39 inches of rear seat legroom, more than many mid-size crossovers. An armrest can be lowered to separate the two rear positions.
There’s 24.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat, which is also more than some crossovers. And with the rear seat folded, there’s 63 cubic feet of room. These are truly crossover numbers, not the kind of cargo space you usually see in a compact hatchback.
With a curb weight of about 3,000 pounds, the base Soul has just average acceleration. Its 1.6-liter engine makes 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque. With either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic, it’s an engine that needs a constant foot on the gas to keep the pace.
The engine in the Plus is a non-turbo 2.0-liter inline-4 making 161 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque, mated to only a 6-speed automatic. It upshifts and downshifts quickly, and can be locked in manual so it only upshifts at redline. The Plus is the only model that can be optioned with automatic emergency braking.
The Exclaim is the closest thing to a Soul pocket rocket, with its turbocharged 1.6-liter engine making 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, enough to create torque steer when you stand on the gas. But most of it goes away in Sport mode, which makes the steering heavier and more able to resist the sideways tug. The transmission in the Exclaim is a smooth 7-speed dual-clutch automatic.
The suspension in every Soul is right, with quality dampers having a lot of travel. The dampers deliver good control, confidence in corners, and isolation from small bumps. For having a short wheelbase, the ride isn’t harsh on choppy pavement.
Handling is responsive on a curvy road, especially in sport mode. It doesn’t feel like a tall box in the twisties, and the ride isn’t too busy.
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 very affordable base Kia Soul, with the 6-speed manual, is a great value. It’s cool, zippy enough for town, has top crash scores, and vast cargo space. The Plus is an upgrade, quicker with its 2.0-liter engine and 6-speed automatic. The turbocharged Exclaim is the pocket rocket. All have unexpected rear legroom for passengers and great warranty coverage.