Kia has come a long way from its roots as an extreme economy brand. The Korean automaker now offers cars as attractive as any in its class, but still delivers them at an affordable price point. One model that really put Kia in competition with the Japanese and domestic automakers is the versatile Soul. This "urban hauler" is part SUV, part hatchback, and all good fun.
The Soul can be purchased in three trims. You can get the Base trim with a 1.6-liter engine, the + with a 2.0-liter engine, or the ! with a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine. Yes, the upgrade trims are really designated with a plus sign or an exclamation point.
The Base trim comes with a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission. The 2.0-liter comes with the 6-speed automatic, and the turbo comes with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. I've driven all three trims, and you really will want the + or ! trim level. The 2.0-liter is a peppy car, and the turbocharged Soul is even more fun.
The performance difference between the 2.0-liter and the turbo is distinct. The 2.0-liter has a little more torque at low speeds, but when the turbo engine spools up it will really go. Similarly the 6-speed automatic is a very responsive transmission, while the dual-clutch unit in the turbo model is better in energetic driving. If you're test-driving the Soul, you will really want to drive both models to see which one you prefer.
Inside, the upper trim levels offer the usual upgrades. The ! trim features leather upholstery, while the + comes with cool cloth seats. Heated and ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel, and heated rear seats are available as options.
You get more in the way of infotainment with the top trim, but the mid-trim model offers a good package that includes hands-free phone support and a rear-view camera. Support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard with a 7-inch touchscreen on the ! trim, and optional on the + trim. An 8-inch touchscreen with navigation and smartphone integration is optional on both the + and ! trims.
Safety equipment is standard, with airbags and stability controls. Optionally, you can get the Soul with features like forward collision warning, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane departure warning.
On the road, the Soul is a fun and usable car that is just about perfectly suited to Portland life. You can flip the rear seats down and haul 61.3 cubic feet of cargo, with plenty of loading space under the full-width rear hatch. With the rear seats occupied, you still get 24.2 cubic feet of cargo area. So if you're looking for an affordable all-around vehicle, you should definitely check out the Kia Soul.
Base price: $23,500
Price as tested: $23,620
Type: Compact hatchback
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged inline 4 (201 hp, 195 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 26/31
Overall length: 163 inches
Curb weight: 3,232 pounds
Final assembly: Gwangju, Korea