Unchanged from last year, the 2018 Kia Soul is in the fifth year of its model run. Available in three trim levels, each with its own engine, the Soul boasts slick styling, hatchback versatility, and a user-friendly infotainment system. But all three engines are down on refinement, overall fuel economy is only mediocre, and its active safety features are both expensive and available on just one model.

Best Value

Pricing for the 2018 Kia Soul starts at $16,995 for the base trim equipped with a six-speed manual (a six-speed automatic is $1,600 more) and can exceed $28,000 for an Exclaim model equipped with the optional Technology and Special Edition Packages.

The decision most 2018 Soul buyers will face is choosing between safety and performance. A group of advanced safety features is optional only on Plus models, while the high-spec 1.6-liter turbocharged engine is exclusive to the Exclaim trim. You'll want to avoid the base model and its naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter, which just doesn't offer enough power.

Since even with that extra power the Soul is hardly a speedy corner-carver and safety – for most buyers – trumps performance, we'd pick the Plus trim and spec it out like this:

  • Model: 2018 Kia Soul Plus
  • Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder
  • Output: 161 horsepower / 150 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Six-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain:Front-wheel drive
  • Fuel economy: 16 City / 25 Hwy
  • Options:Audio Package ($1,500, a larger eight-inch touchscreen, navigation, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Harman/Kardon audio system, speaker lights, keyless entry with push-button start, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, leatherette trim with piano black accents), Primo Lit Package ($4,500, automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, blind spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, panoramic sunroof, HID headlights; LED accent lights, tail lights, and high-mounted stop light; leather-trimmed seats, front seats, steering wheel, and rear seats; power driver and front passenger seat, TFT meter display, LED interior lighting).
  • Base Price: $21,195 (including an $895 destination fee)
  • As Tested: $27,195
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Performance

The 1.6-liter turbocharged four is quick off the line, while Kia imbued the second-generation Soul with more suspension travel and better shocks for a smoother ride and less body lean in corners.

At the same time, the naturally-aspirated 1.6-liter engine found on the base model struggles to handle the Soul's curb weight – at the very least, buyers should go with the 2.0-liter in the Soul Plus. The 1.6-liter turbo exhibits abundant torque steer, too, and its seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is slow to engage off the line (although shifts are plenty quick once underway). All three engines deliver only middling fuel economy.

Interior and Exterior

The Soul's exterior manages to combine functionality with slick styling cues that are rare at this price point. Likewise the interior is also a class above – more polished and subdued than the first gen model – with plenty of room for four adults, soft touch points in all the right places, and an infotainment system that is intuitive and easy to use.

But all is not perfect as the front seats lack thigh support while plenty of road, wind, tire, and engine noise enter the cabin when cruising around town and on the highway.

The Best and Worst Things

The Soul's expressive design and hatchback functionality with 101 cu ft of passenger space and 24 cu ft of cargo volume (61.3 cu ft with the rear seat folded) makes the most of its compact dimensions.

The Soul's odd mix of options – especially the availability of advanced safety features on just one model – could, for many buyers, limit its appeal.

Right For? Wrong For?

A smooth ride, slick-looking exterior, plenty of interior space, and hatchback versatility make the latest Soul a good choice for singles.

The Soul's maddening ploy of limiting advanced safety features to just one model is bound to turn off safety-conscious buyers.

The Bottom Line

Despite its adventurous styling, intuitive infotainment system and overall versatility, the latest Soul's safety option quirks, unrefined powertrains, and mediocre fuel economy keep it from being a top contender in its class.