In many regards Kia’s cute little Soul had everything going for it — first, its looks. The slope-roofed compact stands out in the dull boxy crossover market.
It’s also decidedly economical to buy and operate, with a low starting price and good mpg figures. The darned thing even handles well and has oodles of interior room so four hipsters can hop in, slap on their headphones and head for the beach, or, well, in Milwaukee, maybe a brew pub.
What it didn’t have was power. Now it does, thanks to Kia adding a turbocharger to its 1.6-liter I4. That boosts what had been a mild 130 horses up to 201. That may sound like it turns Soul into a rocket, but let’s just say it makes it quick, once you trounce the accelerator.
Still, this week’s metallic gray Soul! (Exclaim) with its snazzy neon red accent stripe below the lower door line, was peppy and still had all the other good stuff in its plus column.
This is the top-level Soul, but you’d be hard-pressed to prove it by the price tag. With delivery built in, the Soul! lists at $23,695 and this only added floor mats to end up at $23,815.
For that you get the zippy and efficient turbo engine that’s rated 26 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. I got 30.2 mpg in a mix of driving, and you know I was testing the turbo pretty aggressively at times. Nice!
Note too that Soul comes with two drive modes, Normal and Sport. Engaging the Sport mode helps the vehicle jump away from stoplights a bit quicker and as in all such Sport settings, allows the transmission to hang onto the low gears a bit longer as you accelerate, giving it more oomph. Sport mode also modestly firms the steering effort, adding more handling performance.
Still standard though is light responsive steering in Normal mode, better than most compacts and many intermediate cars that tend to have too much play in the steering wheel and lull you into mild driving habits that encourage texting and cell phone use.
Soul rides a little higher, like a crossover, and delivers just a bit of lean in tight turns, but nothing to slow your progress toward a lively, fun drive. Plus the turning radius is a modest 34.8 feet, so placing this into a parking space or maneuvering crowded East Side streets is a breeze.
Soul has gained a little weight as it has aged, now hitting 3,232 lbs., nearly 500 heavier than earlier models I tested. But the Soul still feels light and agile. It also adds 18-inch tires, which is up from 16 inches on the base model and 17 on the Soul+.
Ride is where the Soul behaves more like other short-wheelbase cars and utes. There’s more jiggle here than many of us might like, especially in city driving where potholes are common. Still, the ride is better than some and the 101.2-inch wheelbase helps. It was stretched a couple years back. The good news remains that the car handles well enough to avoid most potholes!
Inside the Soul remains roomy. Its tall roof allows for both front and rear seat occupants to be tall and not knock their noggin on door sills or the roof once inside. Legroom is good too, but rear seat legroom comes at the cost of cargo space behind the rear seat, under the hatch.
Kia continues to deliver finely designed interiors, even at this low-ball, entry-level price point.
What surprises me most each time I’ve driven the Soul is its quiet cabin. Kia, despite this being a value-minded vehicle, did not scrimp on sound deadening material. Soul is quiet on the highway, better than some mid-size sedans I’ve had as well as many small sport-utes and crossovers.
This is a youthful looking interior too, and well laid out. The gray test car featured black leather and cloth seats with copper-colored accent stitching. The upgraded seats are standard on the Soul!. Trim is black gloss on the console and center stack with a matte black steering wheel hub.
At each end of the dash are tall round speakers built into the top of the air vents. These look like they should be sitting in your trendy apartment hooked up to your iPod or iPad, or something modern and cool. Again, this is a direct appeal to younger buyers. At night there’s even muted pulsing lights that synch to the sounds coming from the speakers. Fun!
Seats, which had been a strong point in my last test drive seemed to digress from a comfort standpoint. They were quite stiff with a tight butt pocket. However, the driver’s seat was powered, including a power lumbar support.
The steering wheel remains a manual tilt/telescope model and it was easy to find a comfortable driving position in Soul. You still sit higher, as in a crossover, so visibility is good too. There are the usual trip computer, radio, phone and cruise controls on the wheel’s hub.
Kia provides a small touchscreen with XM radio, but the volume and tuning knobs also are small, while climate control knobs are large. There are 8 buttons to adjust the air flow, etc. A big plus, that small radio screen comes standard with a rearview camera to help avoid parking lot issues.
The Soul! also features keyless entry, leather on the shifter and steering wheel, fog lights and automatic headlights, chrome exhaust tip and a cool D-shaped steering wheel to add to its sporty appeal.
For the electronically minded the vehicle comes now with smartphone interfaces, the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Plus there are two 12-volt hookups, a USB port plus an auxiliary hookup under the center stack.
I also still like the car’s taller ride height (5.9-inches of ground clearance) which makes it easy to get in and out of. While another plus is the plentiful compartmentalized under-floor storage beneath the hatch.
A sunroof is $1,000 extra, but is monster in the Souls, so could be a fun addition. And there’s a $3,000 tech package available that powers up the passenger seat, adds a rapid charging station for phones, heated seats and a stereo upgrade, among other goodies.
A base Soul starts at the nearly unheard of price of $16,995 including delivery and comes with a non-turbo version of the 1.6-liter I4 and a 6-speed manual gearbox. The Soul+ with a fine 161-horse 2.0-liter I4 begins at $20,695. All are bargains!
Hits: Still cute, high value, low cost, good mpg, good power, sporty handling, roomy interior, hatchback, power driver’s seat.
Misses: Ride can be stiff and seats are hard, which adds to ride concerns.
Made in: South Korea
Engine: 1.6-liter, I4, turbo, 201 hp
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic w/Sportmatic
Weight: 3,232 lbs.
Length: 163.0 in.
Wheelbase: 101.2 in.
Cargo: 61.3 cu.ft. (rear seats down)
MPG: 26/31 (EPA)
MPG: 30.2 (tested)
Base Price: $23,695 (includes delivery)
Invoice: $22,456 (includes delivery)
Carpeted floor mats, $120
Test vehicle: $23,815
Sources: Kia, www.kbb.com
Photos: Mark Savage