Attractive Boxy Styling. While brands such as Honda, Nissan, and Scion (Toyota) have exited the boxy people mover category, Kia has doubled-down with its popular Soul. The vehicle has evolved since its 2008 debut, but it remains the charmer in a category essentially all its own.
Credit Kia with transforming the Soul from a utilitarian econobox to an efficient compact with verve. The canvas isn’t radically different these days, although thin LED headlights, myriad cutlines, and a buzz-cut roofline make this model hard to confuse with anything else on the road.
Inside, the cabin is as spacious as ever, delivering excellent room for four or five in a pinch. Even with gobs of plastic apparent on the lower trims, Kia’s attention to styling imparts much flair. The synthetic leather seats are a nice surprise as they look and feel far more expensive than they are.
Middling to Robust Performance. Kia offers Soul shoppers a choice of naturally aspirated and turbocharged four-cylinder engines. The base offering displaces 2.0-liters with an output of 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. Kia used to offer a 6-speed manual transmission, but that choice is no longer available.
Instead, power routes to the front wheels utilizing a continuously variable transmission. This combination is tuned for efficiency and it shows. The difference-maker is the sporty mode as it adds heft to the steering and a bit of grunt to the engine. You’ll notice a slight decrease in gas mileage, however.
The other choice is exclusive to the top-trim Turbo trim. This one comes with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Again, power routes to the front wheels, but this time via a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Just know that the transmission tends to shudder when shifting at low speeds. Otherwise, this powertrain combination is spry and brings a level of sportiness that is not found in other Soul models.
Fabulous Features. Even the base Soul LX comes fairly well equipped, supplying full power accessories and tech items. An 8-inch touch-screen display is standard and the UVO interface is one of the better ones available. Smartphone compatibility via Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a six-speaker audio system, one USB port, and Bluetooth come standard.
For $2,300 more, the Soul S delivers many more amenities, including a 10.25-inch touch-screen display with navigation. A wireless phone charging pad and dual front USB ports are included. The Turbo trim brings in a Harman Kardon audio system.
Mixed Feedback on Safety. For the most part, Kia does an exemplary job in delivering the safety goods on its vehicles. But the crash-test results for the Soul are a mixed bag with the IIHS rating the Soul higher than the NHTSA. A middling side pole protection rating pulls down the government’s rating.
All but the base trim offers standard automatic emergency braking. Otherwise, Kia equips the Soul with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, and lane change assist. Surprisingly, adaptive cruise control is only standard on the top Turbo trim. We think Kia missed an opportunity here.
The Soul’s shape is another challenge, particularly with the big rear pillars. Driver viewpoints are restricted, but at least manageable with the judicious use of the side mirrors and rearview monitor.
Final Thoughts. The base Kia Soul doesn’t offer enough to make it a worthwhile choice in our estimation. But the next-level LX does. Even so, the spread between the middle four of six trims is just $2,000. Therefore, it is worth exploring the various upgrades included when making your choice. As for the Turbo, it delivers the performance we like. Unfortunately, it is limited to the priciest trim, which removes the budget advantage of this little people-mover.
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