2017 Kia Soul ! Review by Carey Russ +VIDEO
A Turbo Hamster! What's not to like?
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Kia Research and Buyers Guide
Kia’s fun, funky, and functional Soul gets its most major update since its debut back in model year 2010 — a 201-horsepower turbocharged engine in the premium ! (Exclaim) model. That handily beats the 130 from the base model’s 1.6-liter engine, and the 161 from the 2.0-liter found in the + (Plus) — with no real penalty in fuel consumption, and still at an attractive price.
Is the Soul a small crossover or is it a tall hatchback? Does it matter? Call it whatever you want, but call it good because the Soul seems to be able to pack more inside into less outside than almost anything on wheels. With 5.9 inches of ground clearance, it’s not getting too far off of pavement or at least a well-maintained forest road, but it has carved its own niche in the automotive marketplace with its style and practicality. Now add power and a bit of swagger in the !’s red lower perimeter pinstripe, LED running lights, and oversize foglamps, especially in the signature “Wild Orange” color.
The !’s engine is based on the 1.6-liter unit found in the plain (base-model) Soul, re-engineered for turbocharging. It’s used in other Kias, including the Optima and Forte, and here is offered with a seven-speed dual-clutch automated sequential manual transmission. Interestingly, there are no paddle shifters on the sporty-looking flat-bottomed steering wheel, although manual shifting can be done with the shift lever on the console. With peak 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque on tap, the Soul ! is quicker than the average small crossover, if not in the hot-hatch category. It’s a bit big and heavy for that — but then it’s also a bit larger, especially inside, than most small crossovers, and that’s a plus. It has the same basic suspension setup as lesser Souls, but tuned a bit stiffer. Sporty, not sports, and that should suit the customer base just fine.
This week’s test car is a ! (Exclaim) with, interestingly for a press fleet car, no options other than carpeted floor mats. Meaning no Tech Package of auto-leveling HID headlamps, LED foglights, larger UVO infotainment touchscreen, heated front and outboard rear seats and steering wheel rim, and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Also no panoramic sunroof. On the plus side, that’s $4000 to spend going places and doing things, and as is the 2017 Soul ! is entertaining, roomy, useful, practical, and, at 27 mpg overall, not particularly thirsty for its power potential. Practical small cars are often boring transportation appliances, even in their top trim. Not the Kia Soul. In top Exclaim form, it not only is eminently practical and versatilely useful, it has character. Soul, even…
APPEARANCE: Don’t mess with success! Changes to the Soul over the years have been relatively minor, and it’s instantly recognizable. Other manufacturers may have abandoned the “box it came in” style, but Kia has succeeded here, big-time. The “grille” between the headlights is a solid piece of gloss black plastic, trimmed with chrome in Kia’s signature tabbed shape. The !’s projector-beam headlights are accented with LED running lights, and its gloss black lower (real) grille completes the face. Large foglamps at the lower front corners are tied together with a red accent line. Similar lines in gloss black trim do the same for the sides between the wheels. As ever, the bulging wheel arches and grille shape give the Soul a pugnacious look, but it doesn’t take that seriously. The silver plastic panels beneath the front and rear could be SUV skid plates of sports car aero bits, take your pick. But I suspect the reality is that the front in particular is all about underbody air management to help fuel economy. The ! is the first Soul to get a dual-tipped exhaust.
COMFORT: Inside, the Soul is as fun and functional as out. Its high stance means no shortage of headroom, and there is ample legroom as well. There are plenty of interesting shapes, but styling is cohesive and form follows function. In ! trim materials are upscale with soft-touched textured materials for the instrument panel and upper door panels, leather seat bolsters with cloth centers, and a leather steering wheel rim. It’s any color you want as long as that’s black, with orange stitching on the instrument visor, seats, and steering wheel rim. Instruments are Kia’s electroluminescent “Supervision”, bright and easy to see in any light. The driver’s seat is power-adjustable, including cushion height; the front passenger seat is manual. The steering wheel adjusts for both tilt and reach, and has controls for audio, phone, cruise, and information systems. Front seat comfort is better than the class average.
Audio choices are AM, FM, and Sirius/XM radio, external player via jack or USB, and streaming including Apple CarPlay™, Android Auto™, Pandora, and Sound Hound. Electronic systems are accessed through the central UVO touchscreen and hard buttons that surround it, with further information shown between the tach and speedometer controlled from the steering wheel. The rear seat is not at all cramped, especially the contoured outboard positions. A flat floor makes the enter feasible, although width means three people will be cozy. When no one’s there, a fold-down center armrest with cupholders can keep carpool people happy. The rear seatback folds 60/40, and there’s further space under the main cargo floor, with a fix-a-flat kit under that, in space for a space-saver spare. Other storage includes a huge glovebox.
SAFETY: All Soul models have active front headrests, seat-mounted front side, and full-length head curtain airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, hill-start assist, vehicle stability management, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. The unibody structure features a central safety cage with front and rear crumple zones and side-impact door beams.
RIDE AND HANDLING: The ! uses the same MacPherson strut front, coupled torsion beam axle rear suspension as other Soul models, but the springs and shocks are a bit firmer. That, and the 235/45 R18 tires that are optional on the + give it sporty ride and handling characteristics, but not at the expense of passenger comfort. The ! does get larger front brake discs than the others, 12 rather than 11 inches, with the same 10.3-inch discs at the rear. The electrically-assisted power steering is crossover, not sports car, a bit light and with minimal feedback. My test car was fitted with Nexen CP671 all-season tires, which were not particularly confidence-inspiring in wet weather. Minor quibble, easily fixed with better rubber. Remember that $4000 worth of options not on the car? Better rubber is one of the best “investments” you can make for a car.
PERFORMANCE: The 1.6-liter turbocharged twincam four uses direct fuel injection for efficiency, since that allows higher compression than with port injection, and that contributes to extracting more power from the fuel-air mixture with less waste and lower emissions. Maximum horsepower is 201, at 6000 rpm. That likely won’t be invoked too often, but the maximum torque of 195 lb-ft is developed between 1500 and 4500 rpm and that will be felt. Regularly and happily. A seven-speed dual-clutch electronically and hydraulically-automated sequential transmission (DCT) send that torque to the front wheels, and contributes to the fuel economy and acceleration thanks to its lower low and higher seventh gear ratios. Like every DCT I’ve experienced, it can be sluggish and slow to shift when cold, but once warm it’s smooth and quick. All 2017 Souls have Drive Mode Select, with default, Eco, and Sport settings. Default works well, but Eco keeps higher gears for better economy and Sport shifts more quickly and holds gears longer, for better acceleration. Manual shifting is possible using the shift lever.
CONCLUSIONS: Turbo hamster! What’s not to like about that? Especially since fuel economy was actually better than that of the last 2.0-liter naturally-aspirated Soul I drove, 27 to 25 mpg.
2017 Kia Soul !
Base Price $ 22,650
Price As Tested $ 22,770
Engine Type DOHC 16-valve turbocharged inline 4-cylinder with direct fuel injection
Engine Size 1.6 liters / 97 cu. in.
Horsepower 201 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 195 @ 1500-4500 rpm
Transmission 7-speed DCT
Wheelbase / Length 101.2 in. / 163.0 in.
Curb Weight 3232 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 16.1
Fuel Capacity 14.2 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane regular unleaded gasoline
Tires 235/45R18 94V m+s Nexen CP671
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / coupled torsion beam axle
Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 26 / 31 / 27
0 to 60 mph 7 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Carpeted Floor Mats $ 120
Destination Charge $ 850