Kia Soul still rules while other small boxes like Nissan Cube and Scion xB fade into history. In fact with 145,748 units sold in 2016, it is Kia’s best-seller.
That said, I’ve heard plenty of complaints, mostly from auto reviewers, about Soul’s humdrum driving experience. It’s never been sporty, but I’ve always liked the Soul for its fun personality, unique looks and practicality.
So to widen its appeal for 2017, Kia brings turbo power to its Exclaim model. That still doesn’t make Soul a sporty ride, but does raise the fun factor – especially in Sport mode. But price also takes a leap.
While the Soul Base still starts at an affordable $16,995 with the 1.6-liter, 130-horsepower engine and 6-speed manual transmission, you have to move to the top-line Exclaim for the 201-horse turbo. It’s matched to a dual-clutch automatic transmission and prices from $23,695. The mid-level Plus splits the difference at 161 horsepower.
So it’s great to have more choice. The curious thing is, the turbo plant ekes out a win on fuel economy at 28 miles per gallon in combined city-highway driving versus 27 for all other models.
You definitely notice the turbo’s increased zip. You also get red accents, 18-inch wheels and a flat-bottom leather steering wheel. And it handles better than you might think for its tall stance. But it can be a little noisier than the other models.
As before, Exclaim also gets you a nice lineup of standards, including push-button start, blind-spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert. Kia’s UVO3 infortainment package also is standard and includes Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
Forward collision and lane-departure warning systems, however, only are available on the Plus. Navigation, a panoramic sunroof and leather are among options.
Introduced as a 2010 model, Soul was redesigned for 2014 with only a few packaging changes until the addition of the turbo this year.
Soul came out of the 2014 makeover a bit more sophisticated than Gen 1, in particular addressing criticism over the use of too many cheap plastics.
Given the price, of course, you can’t expect a Mercedes here. But you will find a softer touch with better materials on the instrument panel, center console and doors.
The new generation also has slightly more room with plenty of space for five to cruise comfortably around town. Cargo capacity with rear seats in use also jumped from 19.3 to 24.2 cubes.
Fuel economy isn’t bad if you think of Soul as a small crossover, especially in turbo guise, but some such as Mazda CX-3 do better. If saving at the pump is a priority, though, Kia’s come up with yet another option with the new Niro, a small cross with hybrid power.
Kia Soul Turbo
Boxy 4-door compact with a kick
Manufactured: South Korea
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: 5 of 5 stars for front impact; 5 for side; 4 for rollover resistance; www.safercar.gov
Competitors: Chevrolet Trax, Ford Fiesta, Fiat 500, Honda Fit and HR-V, Kia Forte5, Mazda CX-3, Nissan Juke and Versa, Toyota Yaris
Bottom line: Always personable and versatile and now with more zip – at a cost