The Kia Soul! is a fun runabout with gobs of space inside, a small footprint, and a price tag that brings smiles.
What is it?
The Kia Soul is a boxy five-door sedan crossovery type of sort of a MINI thing. Or as my 14-year-old describes it, “like the top of a Jeep stuck on a low-rider.” We are honestly not sure how to explain it, but we do know this: Try it for five minutes and you will get it. The Soul is a great vehicle to drive and live with, and a screaming deal.
Pricing and trims
The Kia Soul line starts at a comically low price of just $16K. There are three main trims and the souped-up one is our tester this week, the Soul! (The exclamation point, “!”, is the name of the trim). Each trim has its own engine and there are manual and also automatic Souls. Plus there is a Soul EV we have tested twice and fell in love with – twice. Four versions with four engines. Someplace a bean counter is weeping.
Our fully-loaded 2017 Kia Soul! had an as-tested price of $23,695, which places it right in the sweet spot of the five-door Honda Civic line’s EX trim. That is tough company, but the Soul! more than holds its own. There were $4K in options added to this test car and we think they make a big difference in our opinion of it.
The Soul! comes with rear cross-traffic alert which we love, and also blind spot monitoring.
Active safety measures like automatic emergency braking were not part of our Soul! and it hurts this Kia’s ability to earn the Top Safety Pick Plus designation.
On the other hand, the Soul! earns top crash test ratings, which is always extra important in smaller vehicles.
Our Soul! came with the top-spec, 201 hp turbocharged engine. This third step up the engine ladder was welcome, but frankly, a bit more than anyone needs in a normal drive around town.
Some people drive in ways that are not normal and they might want to have some extra skedaddle. So with the extra power, one might assume this Soul! is a sort of Civic SI or Mazda3 2.5i type of sporty car, but we would not go that far. In normal mode, there is a bit of a delay in the power off the line, but it is a very quick car if given full throttle once underway. There is a Sport Mode that does its usual tricks of keeping the engine in the power band and making the throttle more sensitive. However, it didn’t satisfy.
With Sport engaged and starting off more or less normally, the front inside wheel first breaks loose and then the torque yanks the steering wheel to the side. In normal mode, the car is fine, but not as fun as the Kia Soul Electric. You read it here first: Turbocharged car shown up by EV version. The Kia Soul! isn’t a rocket like a Golf GTI. Nor should it be expected to offer that thrill at its price point.
There is another little issue with the turbocharged Soul! The above comparison should be all you need to see.
The Soul!’s seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT) is well behaved overall, but a little more uneven than the smooth CVTs others in this class are offering. It being a DCT, I’m supposed to tell you now that there are paddle shifters behind the wheel, but, surprise! There are no paddle shifters. Weird. You select gears using the regular gearshift between the seats.
Ride and handling
Do not let our commentary on the drivetrain give you the impression that this Soul! isn’t fun to drive. It is enjoyable to drive. It feels a bit like a tall MINI or a VW Golf. It leans very little in turns and is easy to point and shoot in traffic or in suburbs. Steering is precise and it hangs on in corners and lets you carve up the road. The 18″, low-profile tires add some harshness to the ride that we don’t remember from other Soul trims, but it does not spoil the fun. The upright position and excellent outward vision is an important part of why we like this car.
The front seats of the Kia Soul! with the Technology Package are supportive, comfortable, and power adjusted. There is also heat for the other three outboard seats and even the front passenger seat has power adjustment. Amazingly, the cloth seats have leather trim. During this review, we had to check the price point because we could not believe it. It is hard to understand why there is so much content at this low price point.
Like the new Chevy Bolt, and many other new models, compact cars are becoming more upright and morphing towards subcompact crossovers in shape. This is entirely positive from a comfort and usability perspective.
A cube is the best possible way to package humans in a motor vehicle and the Soul’s rear seating area benefits from that and also the front wheel drive arrangement which eliminates the hump that AWD and RWD vehicles have. Headroom is great since the roof is flat and does not slope back much. In our images, we have the front seats moved back, so all that rear legroom area you see is real. This would make for a great small family vehicle or a vehicle that a pair of couples would find comfortable using to run out in on a double-date.
In a compact vehicle the shape and size of the Kia Soul, one must rethink the idea of space. Behind the upright rear seats there is only limited depth for cargo. It is more than enough for a small family’s groceries, and in fact, they fit there better than in a vast SUV where they all just roll around. That space is tall, so one could stuff a lot of soft luggage in that cargo area if need be. However, the whole idea of hatchbacks is that they have a huge cargo area when the rear seats are folded. This was the original genius of the Golf and Older Civic hatchback shaped cars we all know and remember fondly. The Kia Soul! has plenty of cargo space, and also plenty of passenger space. Just don’t expect both of those to be used simultaneously.
One of our only disappointments in this vehicle is that Kia opts not to offer a spare tire in the Soul! Even worse, there is a perfect spot for a spare under the cargo area’s under-floor storage area. You read that right, not only is there the cargo area, plus an under-the-cargo-floor storage space, but a third space under that where a spare does fit, but Kia opts not to put one. What a huge disappointment. There seem to be kits for sale on the internet, but in a practical car of this type, this is almost unforgivable.
Infotainment and controls
Our Soul! came with the optional Technology Package. At $3,000, it is about 1/6th the total cost of the automobile. Setting aside the questionable value for a moment, we love the infotainment system. It is easy to operate and very intuitive. The 8″ display is large for the price point and there are goodies included in the Tech Package like a heated steering wheel and heated seats (four of them) that we think ups the desirability of this car in its class. Navigation is part of the Tech Package. The panoramic sunroof with power shade was another $1,000, but it is hard to argue the final cost of this Soul!, despite the pricey options.
We hope the admiration we have for the 2017 Kia Soul! comes through in our review. Where we have been critical, it is because the vehicle is so good we want it to be absolutely perfect. Kia has done everything important correctly in this vehicle.
The Soul! trim will work very well for those that want an added dose of power and slightly sharper handling in an already very competent vehicle. At its sub-$24K price point this Soul! is more than a match for the best in the subcompact hatchback segment, particularly for those whose tastes lean toward practicality and usability.
The “!” trim is just one of four ways Kia can build you the Soul. Shoppers who want the most comfortable Soul may find it in other trims, and certainly, there are even more affordable versions. However, we are now spoiled by this Soul! and wonder if the lower-power versions will leave us wanting that extra kick we have now had a taste of.
2017 Kia Soul!
Base price: $16,100
Price as tested, $23,965 including $895 destination charge:
Technology Package: $3,000
Nav w/ 8″ Display
Harmon Kardon Premium Audio and Lighted Speakers
LED Lighting, Power Folding Mirrors, Power Heated Seats, Heated Steering Wheel, Blind Spot Detection
Panoramic Sunroof: $1,000
Carpeted Floormats: $120
- Fun To Drive Handling
- Driving Position And Outward Vision
- Usable Space
- No Spare! What Are You Kidding Me!?
- Did We Mention There Is No Spare?
- DCT Not For Me, I Prefer a CVT