Looking for some character and personality in a subcompact hatchback wagon? You’ve found it with Soul, Kia’s sprightly little five-seater that’s both affordable and practical.

Pricing and Equipment

Starting at $15,690 (plus $825 destination charge) in base form with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and manual shift (automatic optional), the Soul also comes in Plus and Exclaim trim with a 2-liter engine and six-speed automatic transmission. We’ve driven both 2-liter versions and, most recently, the new battery-powered Soul EV. Even more than gas-engine Souls, the EV was an all-around delight.

Standard equipment for the Plus model tested (starting at $19,190) includes:

  • Six-speed automatic transmission
  • Rearview camera
  • Remote keyless entry
  • Automatic headlights
  • Foglamps
  • 4.3-inch touchscreen
  • Cruise control
  • Cargo cover
  • 17-inch alloy wheels

Options include pushbutton start, Infinity radio, a panoramic sunroof, navigation system, heated steering wheel, and stop/start operation to help save fuel.

Performance Pros

Kia Soul
  • Acceleration. Nobody will mistake any Soul for a sport hatch, but the 2-liter engine makes it brisk enough to complement the Soul’s exuberant appearance, at least around town. Performance varies with road speed, however: sometimes spirited on the highway, sometimes not so much.
  • Ride comfort. Helped by its solid structure, the Soul delivers a smooth ride under most conditions. On lumpier pavement, you’ll probably feel more than few rough spots, but quick and cushioned shock-absorber action tames most of the harshness.
  • Driving ease. Not many cars are easier to operate, and more friendly overall, than a Soul.

Performance Cons

  • Base 1.6-liter engine. Sufficiently spunky with manual shift, the base model’s engine falls short on energy when teamed with the optional automatic transmission. A car this cool and cheery, not to mention youthful, shouldn’t be saddled with a feeble powertrain.
  • Automatic-transmission operation. Well-behaved most of the time, the transmission can start to become a little confused when accelerating at certain speeds, or going up long grades. Even at steady highway speed, it may keep shifting between the upper gears.
  • Flex-Steer system provides three settings for steering feel, but there’s not much difference between them.

Interior Pros

Kia Soul
  • Space-efficiency. Considering the Soul’s modest exterior dimensions, its interior offers an amazing amount of space for both passengers and luggage.
  • Ease of entry. Whether you’re slipping into the front or the rear, getting in (and out again) isn’t likely to be issue at all, much less a struggle.
  • Back-seat space (for two). Riders on either side of the back seat can expect abundant headroom and legroom. Best not to try to squeeze a third occupant into that center position.

Interior Cons

  • Rear-seat space (for three). Like so many contemporary vehicles of various sizes, the Soul just won’t quite suffice for five-passenger seating, except for short trips. Even then, complaints just might be heard.
  • Tall drivers and riders might be short on head space, especially if a panoramic sunroof is installed.
  • The trip-odometer switch isn’t easy to find. When you have to resort to picking out flaws that are this trivial in magnitude, though the manufacturer must be doing something right.

The Most Pleasant Surprise

Kia Soul

Although there’s nothing sporty about a Soul, this mini-size hatchback handles better than anyone is likely to expect. Even when breezing through a series of two-lane curves, our Soul stayed smartly on course, without fuss and with a welcome sense of security -- a factor that’s often absent from smaller vehicles

The Least Pleasant Surprise

Sadly, even the 2-liter engine, while quiet most of the time, gets noisy when pushing on the pedal to pass or merge. Sure, a vehicle that’s as conspicuous as a Soul deserves to sound more enthusiastic than its milder-mannered rivals. But Kia’s hatchback could stand a bit more aural insulation.

The Bottom Line

Kia called the reworked Soul still “funky, but more refined” when it debuted for 2014. We were delighted with the original, but the current edition has indeed acquired a greater level of sophistication, without losing its indelibly frisky nature. Strong safety scores add to its appeal. Just steer clear of that smaller engine.