You have to hand it to the Kia Soul. It’s a survivor.
Remember when boxy cars were the rage? You could get the Nissan Cube and the Scion xB. If you wanted more room Ford had the Flex. Here we are years later and the only boxy shape left in the daily commuter world is the Kia Soul. But it’s more than just surviving. Last year Kia sold almost 150,000 of the squared off bodies. That means it’s more than any other small crossover SUV.
So how do you keep a car that owns its niche growing? Add more power, of course.
Last year the Soul’s engine options maxed out at 160 horsepower. Adding a turbo moves the 1.6 liter four-cylinder engine up to 201 horses. We’re not talking fast, but the Soul has definitely moved into the peppy range. One morning I was pulling into traffic from a side street. It didn’t bother me to punch the throttle and zip into a little spot that opened up. The engine responded quickly and I didn’t have to worry about the oncoming car chasing me down.
A 7-speed, dual-clutch transmission helps as well. Some reviewers have complained about the lack of paddle shifters given the additional power. I’m not one of them. I’m convinced very few people actually use the paddles after the first week. They’d rather save the money.
Increasing power usually means lower MPG numbers. That’s not the case. The efficient turbo actually gets better numbers than the normally aspirated versions. You can expect 26 MPG in the city and 31 MPG on the highway. During my week I averaged 30 MPG and I wasn’t gentle on the throttle.
I guess it’s important to point out that the Kia Soul Turbo is designed to peppier, not sportier. Kia only made slight tweaks to the suspension. But that’s OK, there are plenty of other options if you want to hit the parking lot slaloms.
Inside the Soul is a long way from cheap, and not trying to be a wannabe luxo imposter. The front seats were a pleasant mix of leather and cloth with red baseball stitching. The dash has three prominent speakers that give it an old school boombox look. I think it works nicely. The Soul has the Kia/Hyundai UVO display interface. Frankly, it’s one of the best on the market. Everything works exactly the way you think it should. Having said that, the navigation is just OK. But then there aren’t many cars that do well in that department. The Soul does have Android Auto and Apple CarPlay so you can tap into your phone for better directions.
There’s a fair amount of room in the back. I hauled some passengers who called the rear seat roomy and reasonably comfortable, if a little on the firm side. Fold the seat down and you get 61 cubic feet of cargo space which is pretty impressive.
Outside, the Soul turbo has gotten some minor body refreshing. It has slightly new styling front and rear and the side skirt has a red accent.
When you buy a Soul, you can get the Base, a model called “+” (which they creatively call “plus”) and the top of the line which is the “!” When you talk to your friends, just call it the “exclaim” and avoid trying to visualize the point with body movements
You can get a base Soul for $16,100. Step up to the “!” with the turbo and the price starts at $22,800. My test car came in near $28,000.
So the Kia Soul is a successful survivor that has given buyers yet another reason it should be considered. I guess you could call it a peppy, boxy-looking, small crossover. Now that’s a niche.