Big boxy SUVs have given way to small boxy crossovers as Americans look for that hard-to-find combination of roominess, utility and fuel economy – the qualities that are at the heart of the Kia Soul.
Nothing does it better than the funky Soul, whose small exterior profile masks a quite roomy interior that can easily hold five people and lots of luggage, groceries or DIY supplies.
Originally introduced for 2010, the Soul was completely updated for 2014, entering its second generation slightly larger (8/10ths of an inch longer, but roomier than before), and with improved engines, interiors and other features.
Initially, there were two engine choices – a 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 130 horsepower, and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 164 horsepower, both normally aspirated.
For 2018, the Soul comes in three trim levels: the base model ($16,100 with a six-speed manual transmission, or $17,700 with a six-speed automatic, both with the 1.6-liter base engine); the Soul Plus ($20,300, with the 2.0-liter engine and a six-speed automatic); and, new for 2017, the Exclaim Turbo ($22,800). (All prices here are for the 2018 model, and are before $895 freight).
For 2017, the Exclaim Turbo brought a new 201-horsepower, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that replaced the previous Exclaim model’s normally aspirated 2.0-liter. It also comes with a new seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission that makes for smoother, quicker shifts.
The 2017 Turbo model is the one we tested for this report. It had a base price of $22,650, and for 2018, it carries over virtually unchanged other than the slight bump up in price.
For 2017, the Soul got redesigned headlights and fog lights, along with front and rear fascias and the availability of two dedicated USB charge ports and an eight-way power passenger seat, both of which are included on the Turbo model.
Other Exclaim Turbo standard features include exclusive 18-inch wheels; red-accented body trim; a chrome grille surround; unique Soul tailgate badge; dual chrome twin-tip exhaust outlets; leather and cloth seat trim; a leather-wrapped, D-shaped steering wheel; pushbutton start with smart key; and UVO32 e-Services with integrated Android Auto3 and Apple CarPlay capability.
Also included are automatic climate control, power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote, tilt and telescopic steering column, turn signals in the outside mirrors, automatic headlights, cruise control with steering wheel controls (also for audio), and the Kia Supervision meter cluster with color LCD screen.
Our tester came with the Panoramic Sunroof ($1,000) with power sunshade, and the Technology Package ($3,000). That package brought a long list of features, including a navigation system with eight-inch display; a 315-watt Harman Kardon premium audio system with eight speakers and speaker lights; projector-beam headlights; LED, tail-, fog- and positioning lights; power/folding outside mirrors; power-adjustable front seats with lumbar on driver’s side; heated steering wheel, front seats, and rear outboard seats; Blind Spot Detection; and the center console USB ports.
Along with the carpeted floor mats and $850 freight, these options raised the total sticker price of our 2017 Exclaim Turbo tester to $27,620.
The Soul was created using the same small boxy exterior design concept as the Scion xB and Nissan Cube (now discontinued), but with a stylish, futuristic-looking exterior. There’s nothing that looks quite like the Soul. The roofline is sloped down from front to rear, while the beltline rises to meet it. That gives it almost trapezoidal rear side windows.
The rounded nose with its large headlights add to the car’s unique look, created by Kia’s Southern California design team. The vehicle was aimed toward the young and young-at-heart, Kia said of the original model.
With 71 more horsepower than the base Soul, and 40 more than the Soul Plus, the Exclaim Turbo is the mini-beast in the Soul lineup. The Exclaim weighs only 3,232 pounds, so there’s plenty of power to move this vehicle along in a sporty manner – much more impressively than the base or even midlevel trims.
Surprisingly, the most powerful of the Soul engines also has the best EPA fuel-economy ratings: 26 mpg city/31 highway/28 combined. That compares with 25/30/27 for the other two engines with automatic transmission, and 24/30/27 for the base 1.6-liter with manual gearbox.
We had more than adequate power even with five people in the car -- three adults and two teens. The seven-speed gearbox shifted smoothly, and we averaged about 27.2 mpg during our test, with a mix of city and highway driving.
Our tester came with the new Wild Orange exterior paint, and a black interior.
The front bucket seats are quite comfortable, with plenty of head, leg and knee room. We had the two teens and an adult in the back seat, and no one complained. Three in the rear might not be the best arrangement for a long trip, especially if cranky kids are jammed in there together, but shorter runs around town are no problem.
The car handles remarkably well, and the cabin is much quieter than that of the first generation of the Soul, which was rather noisy at highway speeds.
Standard safety features include active front headrests, front seat-mounted side air bags, roof-mounted side-curtain air bags for both rows, electronic stability control with traction control, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, hill-start assist, and tire-pressure monitoring.
Child-seat tethers are included in the back seat.
The cargo compartment has an impressive 24.2 cubic feet of space (reduced to 18.8 cubic feet under the provided luggage tray). That can expand to as much as 61.3 cubic feet with the rear seatback folded. The seatback has a 60/40 split-folding feature.
The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @gchambers3.
2017/18 Kia Soul
The package: Five-door, five-passenger, front-wheel-drive, four-cylinder, subcompact crossover utility vehicle.
Advantages: Kia’s boxy small crossover has cool exterior styling, a roomy and functional interior, and a long list of standard amenities. And it's affordable, too.
Negatives: Rear seat is best for two people only.
Engine: 1.6-liter or 2.0-liter four-cylinder, normally aspirated; 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged (Exclaim Turbo model), all gasoline.
Transmission: Six-speed manual, six-speed automatic, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (Turbo only).
Power/torque: 130 HP./118 foot-pounds (1.6-liter); 161 HP./150 foot-pounds (2.0-liter); 201 HP./195 foot-pounds (1.6 Turbo).
Length: 163 inches.
Curb weight range (base): 2,884-3,232 pounds.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; side-curtain for both rows.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Cargo volume: 24.2 cubic feet (rear seatback in place); 61.3 cubic feet (rear seat folded).
Fuel capacity/type: 14.2 gallons/unleaded regular.
EPA fuel economy: 24 mpg city/30 highway/27 combined (1.6-liter, manual); 25/30/27 (2.0-liter); 26/31/28 (1.6 Turbo).
Major competitors: Nissan Juke, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3, Chevrolet Trax.
Base price range (2018): $16,100-$22,800, plus $850 freight.
Price as tested: $27,620, including freight and options (2017 Soul Exclaim Turbo with Technology Package and sunroof).
On the Road rating: 8.5 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.