It’s hard to imagine the Kia Soul being THIS successful. Earlier this year, the brand sold its 1 millionth model, and that’s pretty impressive considering that the nameplate has been around for less than 10 years.
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine
Output: 201 hp, 195 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: seven-speed dual clutch transmission
Fuel Economy (MPG): 26 City, 31 Highway, 28 Combined
Fuel Economy (l/100kms): 9.1 City, 7.7 Highway, 8.5 Combined
Starting Price (USD): $23,795
Starting Price (CAD): $19,995
As Tested Price (USD): $27,795
As Tested Price (CAD): $30,095
The Soul is ridiculously popular, which is interesting because it’s such a unique vehicle. There’s no doubt that the Kia Soul has polarizing styling, but it’s also extremely affordable, letting buyers express themselves without exhausting their bank account. Having recently tested a 2018 model, we thought it was worth pointing out what the Soul really gets right, and what needs to be fixed for its next generation, which is expected to debut later this year.
What the Soul Gets Right
The expressive design of the car manifests itself the best when you get a Soul with the top of the range turbocharged engine. A 1.6-liter turbocharged engine that makes 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, it’s a far better mill than the other naturally aspirated offerings that you can get in the Soul. It leaves a lasting impression and makes this boxy, utilitarian-looking car feel like something far quicker and more exciting.
Space and Cargo
Due to its proportions, the Soul gets a fantastically practical interior arrangement. With the seats in place, there are 23.6 cubic feet of storage, which is more than enough but if you like to live large (or frequent the wholesale department stores like Costco) then you’d love the 61.3 cubic feet available when you fold the rear seats down. The huge, square hatch opening and low load height make it even more usable.
In addition to that, the Soul has great head and leg room, and despite it looking fairly small, is accommodating and spacious.
Light Up Speakers
While the interior of the Soul is nothing too noteworthy, the car does have a fun gimmick in the form of light up speaker grilles. This is fun and interesting, bringing life to the cabin in an unexpected way. It can cycle through colors, or pulse with the beat. Let’s be honest, there are more than a few times when you wish your car reacted to your solo car karaoke session, and the Soul definitely does that.
Low Starting Price
The model we tested was equipped with the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and could set buyers back at least $23,795. That’s a pretty good bargain as it is, but if the powerful engine doesn’t mean anything to you, you could opt for the 2.0-liter model that costs just $21,295 or the naturally aspirated model that costs just $17,095. That last model may not have all the fancy bells and whistles, but in terms of space and style, it’s hard to beat for the money!
How does an automaker successfully move 1 million cars in the U.S., in less than 10 years? Good marketing. Those dancing hamsters have been a huge part of Kia’s advertising strategy, and shouldn’t be abandoned any time soon. While I personally don’t get the appeal, but it’s hard to ignore the energy of these furry friends or argue with their breakdancing skills.
What the Soul Needs to Fix
Not everything is amazing in the Kia Soul, though, and these elements have to be resolved in the next generation product, which we’re expecting to see later this year.
The transmission in the Soul needs to go. Specifically, the transmission that’s paired with the 1.6-liter turbo model, which is a seven-speed dual clutch, that feels rough and hesitant at times. It judders, feels unsure and saps the vehicle of all chances of being really fun to drive, and that’s a huge issue because the Soul has a lot of potential in that regard. Furthermore, if you want to use the Soul in a manual mode, it needs to be controlled with the gear stick, as there are no paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
The upcoming Soul should have a completely new transmission and Kia is totally capable of putting a competent cog-swapper in the car, as evidenced in the new Kia Niro. Alternatively, pairing this engine with a manual would be a lot of fun.
It’s likely that the combination of the transmission and the Soul’s boxy shape is inefficient, but Kia has to do something about the way the vehicle drinks gas. A compact that earns 28 mpg combined (or less depending on the engine) isn’t worth boasting about … the car actually uses more gas than an all-wheel-drive Honda CR-V!
The interior of the Kia Soul is not really bad, but it could be a better representation of the vehicle. People love the Soul because of the message it sends: it’s quirky and fun, and not afraid to be different. Yet the interior is so safe and familiar in terms of design, it could be plucked from just about any Kia vehicle, with the only exception being the light-up speakers.
A little bit more color or personalization would go a long way in this car. Even enhanced ambient lighting, like what Kia announced in the upcoming K900 would be perfect for this car.
Safety and Driver Assistance Features
Where the Soul really falls short is with the safety and driver assistance features. These features should be standard and available on all trims, and that’s not the case currently. Turbo models of the Soul can’t even be had with anything other than the blind spot monitoring, while less powerful versions can be had with more features like lane keep assistance and smart cruise control. It’s a confusing setup and can be resolved by making all features available for all trim levels, regardless of engine choice.
Regardless of this confusion, the 2018 Soul earned a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS
One slightly controversial decision would be to add all-wheel drive to the car. Crossovers are a huge deal right now, and adding all-wheel drive would also bring more confidence in inclement weather, which is what many crossover buyers value. But adding this system to the Soul could cause a whole bunch of other problems, like making the vehicle more expensive, heavier, and less fuel efficient. One radical solution would be to electrify the Soul, but then what would differentiate the Soul from the Niro except for the styling? This is more of a pie in the sky kind of idea, but maybe Kia would consider it.
See Also: 2019 Kia Soul Testing Possible AWD
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