Kia’s second best-selling vehicle gets a boost in performance, tech, and price.
– Napa, California
The Kia Soul has always been cute in that awkward, goofball way, kind of like Zac Efron in Summerland: gap-toothed, unruly SoCal beachside hair, friend-zone antics. He was an adorable dork. And, like Mr. Efron, the Soul has now grown up. Sex symbol perhaps the Soul is not, but refined, sculpted, found-a-comb-handsome, and capable it is. And now with a fun new turbocharged engine.
- Turbochargers for the friggin’ win, man. The Soul’s new 1.6-liter turbocharged GDI produces 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque – and it’s quite good. Only the higher-trim Exclaim (Kia writes it simply as “!”) receives the turbo though, which is a shame because it’s not a poser. It doesn’t feel underpowered nor is it overwhelmed when pushed hard. Rather than whine, it hums, as if saying, “Oh, I know you’re flooring it. Don’t worry. I can handle it.” Also, turning on the Sport drive mode is entertaining. While it doesn’t change the suspension or anything fancy, it does adjust steering feel, shift points, and throttle mapping. It won’t turn the Soul into a sports car but it definitely makes things a little more fun.
- You can now get a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in a Kia Soul. The first-generation 2010 model offered a four-speed automatic, and I can still remember its wonky shift points during my frequent Las Vegas-to-Los Angeles drives (lots of elevation and lane changes). But the new DCT performs extremely well and shifts smoothly. Even when utilizing manual mode, the DCT is not clunky. There’s very little to complain about, and considering the only other Kia to currently feature the DCT is the strong-selling Optima, it shows just how important the Soul is to the brand.
- Call it a box. Call it a crossover. Call it an urban multi-purpose vehicle. Regardless of the blurred segment lines, the Soul remains distinctive. Its design has clearly been embraced as it has only grown 1.4 inches in length (163.0 inches) and 0.6 inches in width (70.9 inches) from its first iteration to this second-gen model. Its shape is still dominantly square, but it works. I feel it’s the only car comfortable in its own skin because it’s not trying to be something else. The late Scion xB was its closest competitor not to look super weird (ahem, Nissan Cube) but then it got fat in all the wrong places.
- The new Exclaim gets quite an upgrade on tech. It receives an UVO3 telematics system, which, among other things, means you finally get to choose a 3D vantage point on the navigation map. There’s also a Harman/Kardon premium sound system available, and as is the status quo with Harman products, your ears will smile. On the safety side, there’s now Blind Spot Monitoring and Rear Cross Traffic Alert. You know, in case the Soul’s large windows aren’t big enough for you to see out of.
- The navigation system still has a frustrating feature I wish I could turn off: the automatic split-screen when approaching a turn. Whether you’ve set the map to north-up, direction-up, or 3D, the navigation changes from a single display screen into two. Your preferred view is on the left but a 3D-only view of the impending directional change is on the right. I prefer my maps be north up so when my navigation splits on me to show north up and 3D, my brain splits.
- It’s kind of pricey. The vehicle I tested was equipped with a Technology Package ($3,000), Panoramic Sunroof Package ($1,000), and floor mats ($120). Add those to the Exclaim’s $22,650 start price and you’ll be paying $27,620, including destination. The Soul sells well because it’s a great car (safety, warranty, awards, etc.) that also is affordable. When you consider the base Soul starts at $15,990 and the turbo is an Exclaim-only engine, it seems the value-minded shopper isn’t allowed to have as much fun.
Photos: Kia Motors