Nearly 146,000 Kia Souls were sold in the U.S. last year, making it the South Korean automaker’s most popular model.
Engine: 1.6L turbo four-cylinder
Output: 201 hp, 195 lb-ft torque
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 26 city, 31 hwy, 28 combined
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 9.1 city, 7.7 hwy, 8.5 combined
US As-Tested Price: $23,620 including destination
CAN Estimated Price: $28,069 including destination
Nearly one out of every four new Kias delivered in 2016 was one of these subcompact utility vehicles, meaning this nameplate is a cornerstone of the brand.
But are the Soul’s furry mascots responsible for this blazing showroom success or are there other factors in play? After spending more than a week in the driver’s seat, this is a surprisingly easy question to answer.
The Soul Choice
Once upon a time, there was a teeming segment of small and funky crossovers. They prioritized interior space, irreverent design, and affordability over things like luxury amenities and on-road manners. For better or worse, it ultimately decayed into a class of one.
Looking back, the unloved Nissan Cube went flat in short order, the Honda Element got stripped from the periodic table of vehicles, and Scion’s squared-off xB has been all but forgotten, just like the guy that invented windshield wipers… or was it a woman*?
So why has the Soul succeeded so spectacularly while rivals have faded into history? It thrives thanks to a unique blend of style, functionality, efficiency, and features, a sweet combination that appeals to youthful drivers and those that are young at heart.
_, + and !
The 2017 Kia Soul is offered in three flavors including an entry-level model (Base), a midrange “+” (Plus) variant as well as the fanciest version, “!” (Exclaim). Our tester was naturally the richest offering available, though it was still exceedingly affordable, ringing the cash-register bells at a friendly $23,620 including $850 for delivery as well as $120 for carpeted floor mats, the Soul (sorry, couldn’t resist!) option.
Still, if you’re hunting for a bargain, the base car is plenty affordable, kicking off at less than $17k. At that price, it still offers things like power windows and locks, Bluetooth, a six-speaker sound system, air conditioning and even steering wheel-mounted audio controls.
Upping the fanciness-factor, our Soul “!” was gussied up with a touchscreen infotainment system brandishing a colorful seven-inch display. It also featured automatic climate control, soft plastic on the upper dashboard and door panels, imitation leather on the shroud over the instrument cluster, and stylish 18-inch alloy wheels.
In top-tier trim, the Soul’s cabin is impressive, with premium materials and flawless assembly quality. The overall design is just far-out enough to be fun without being weird enough to elicit eye rolls.
Fanny packs may be incredibly versatile accessories, but no one would call them sexy. Likewise, vehicular storage capacity isn’t something most customers lust after, but that doesn’t diminish its importance. Rear seats folded down, the Soul is capacious as all get out, offering more than 61 cubic feet of luggage capacity (1,736 liters). Keep the backrests up and there’s around 24 cubes to play with (685 liters).
Front and rear, this vehicle’s seats are long-haul ready. Surprisingly for something with such trim exterior dimensions, the Soul’s aft accommodations are spacious enough that six-footers won’t complain.
The Soul’s upmarket infotainment system is easy to use and responds quickly to inputs. The user interface is relatively clean and quick to decipher, attributes that are always welcome.
Triad of Power
Matching its trio of trim lines, a triad of engines is available for the Soul. Base models are powered by a 1.6-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder that’s good for a rather measly 130 horsepower. Middle-market models feature a larger 2.0-liter unit that cranks out a more livable 161 ponies. But for speed freaks, there’s also a new 1.6L turbo that imbues this subcompact schlepper with impressive vigor. Rated at 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, Souls so equipped are unexpectedly speedy.
Three transmissions are also offered. In the base car, a six-speed manual is the only gearbox available, but opting for the 2.0-liter engine gives you a couple choices, either the three-pedal option or a conventional automatic with six forward ratios. Finally, the turbocharged version comes exclusively with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic.
That 1.6-liter turbo is incredibly smooth. It zips and zings without vibrating the cabin and its passengers; isolation is exemplary. Many small-displacement four-cylinders buzz like a swarm of bees when the revs build, but not with this powerplant.
It’s just a shame it sounds so sickly. This engine is suitably quiet, but the noises that do make their way into the vehicle are dreadful, a hoarse moaning sound that discourages you from ever touching the accelerator and enjoying the brisk acceleration that’s just a toe-tap away.
Another disappointing aspect of the Kia Soul’s drivetrain is its dual-clutch automatic transmission. Sure, this seven-speed gearbox shifts seamlessly and in the blink of an eye when you’re underway, but this responsiveness isn’t enough to offset its low-speed shortcomings. Around town, particularly when taking off from a stop or when cold, it often shudders annoyingly, shaking the vehicle. Other times it feels like it’s slipping an excessive amount. In certain situations, it seems unwilling to downshift promptly. Perhaps it’s wiser to forego the extra performance and get the 2.0-liter engine with the conventional six-speed automatic gearbox, or better still, the manual.
Aside from its transmission woes, the Soul is entirely competent. Its steering is sharp, braking confidence inspiring and efficiency admirable. According to the U.S. EPA, this rolling breadbox should return 26 miles per gallon in city driving (9.1 L/100 km) and 31 on the highway (7.7 L/100 km). Combined, it’s rated at an altogether competent 28 mpg (8.5 L/100 km).
The Verdict: 2017 Kia Soul Review
There’s a reason Kia sells boatloads of Souls every year. It’s mostly refined and plenty spacious, offers comfortable accommodations and lots of standard equipment, provides rapid acceleration with the turbocharged engine and remains a strong value even in range-topping trim. It does everything most drivers need, with plenty of youthful flair.
If you can live with its sometimes-ill-mannered transmission, the turbocharged version is hard to beat, especially for less than $24k. Over the years, rival models may have come and gone but the Soul remains strong.
*In point of fact it was. Pardon us for trolling you!
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