Mary Poppins’ car. The best part about the 2021 Kia Soul is getting inside. This is a compact crossover that can fit five adults. Seriously.
Front seats are spacious and supportive, and the rear seats are a miracle of modern engineering. Your adult friends won’t mind sitting in the back. Cargo space is excellent, with 24.2 cubic feet behind the seats and 62.1 with them folded. The seats don’t fold completely flat, but we’ll forgive them.
The Soul’s practicality and its price may be enough to sell many buyers. We don’t blame them. In lower trims, however, sacrifices must be made – finish and materials feel cheap. Matters improve further up the range, but higher prices ding the Soul’s cheap-and-cheerful charm.
Soul? A little… What’s in a name? Starting with the (in)famous hamster commercials, the Kia Soul has always been marketed on its personality.
The good news is that it does have some. Where many hatchbacks and crossovers opt for swooping curves, the Soul stays square, and it pays off. A floating roof looks sharp, and the boxy profile helps keep that interior spacious.
The Soul got a full redesign last year, which brought a 147-horsepower base engine mated to a continuously variable transmission or a manual. It provides motivation enough for around town, but the Soul can struggle on passing maneuvers. The ride is pleasantly smooth and reasonably confident, but it doesn’t have the fun factor of competitors like the Honda Civic.
An optional 201-hp turbocharged engine should inject some extra character, but it’s held back by the transmission. A seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is clunky at low speeds, which makes it unpleasant in traffic.
Good tech, mixed safety.Kia generally excels at providing standard technology, and the Soul mostly follows the trend. Every trim gets at least a 7-inch touchscreen with smartphone compatibility and USB ports. Upper trims get a larger 10.3-inch screen, but both are good.
The IIHS praised the Soul’s automatic emergency braking system, but it isn’t standard on every car. The base LX trim (the only one under $20,000) comes with no active safety tech, which is a difficult omission to swallow as competitors increasingly make these features standard.
Blind-spot monitoring is also held back from the base trim, and the Soul’s chunky rear pillars make it a desirable addition. With all the safety features, the Soul was good enough for an IIHS Top Safety Pick award.
Still, the NHTSA didn’t agree, awarding the car only four stars overall. Safety is one thing modern cars should do well, and a mixed record could be a black mark for family buyers.
Thrifty at times. If we were buying a Soul, we’d skip the base trims that lack safety tech. We’d also skip the topmost trims, which are nicely outfitted but carry a heftier price (and an inferior transmission).
Instead, we’d stay in the middle of the range. Here, the Soul is good value. Premium cloth seats, the best active safety tech, and plenty of aesthetic upgrades can be had without straying too far from $20,000.
Rounding out the picture is Kia’s strong five-year/60,000-mile warranty. The Soul isn’t the thriftiest compact car on the market, but it isn’t thirsty either.
Final thoughts. The 2021 Kia Soul retains its most important attributes: a low price of entry and a magically capacious cabin. For compact car buyers, only the Honda Fit can rival the Soul’s practicality.
A mixed safety record is a shame, and we recommend choosing your trim carefully. Those concerns aside, the Soul’s looks, features, and value make it an appealing buy.
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