The 2016 Kia Soul remains one of the most space-efficient, fashionable vehicles on the market for city-dwellers who don't have a lot of parking space to work with—and simultaneously need to watch the price tag and mind their fuel budget.
The Soul continues to defy classification, and that's mostly a good thing. It's a small hatchback, but it doesn't share the same swept-back profile that most small five-doors do; and it could be mistaken for a utility vehicle at times, but it's low, lean, and small car-based.
Its boxy profile is like no other, and its capitalizing on that silhouette by providing more space for people and cargo. The design has a blunt front end, with a roof that appears to float over a blacked-out greenhouse. The rear end is dominated by tall taillights, while the front end uses bug-eye headlights. Inside, the Soul thankfully doesn't get too overt with the styling; it feels sophisticated to the right amount, with grown-up soft-touch materials, as well as a few extras like ambient lighting.
We recommend against the base 1.6-liter inline-4 and its 130-horsepower, 118-pound-feet output unless you’re getting the 6-speed manual transmission. Soul Plus and Soul Exclaim hatchbacks are fitted with a 2.0-liter, direct-injection 4-cylinder that produces 164 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, paired only with a 6-speed automatic (optional on the base). The Soul isn't a downright sporty car in any of its combinations; but with the larger engine you’ll find the Soul quick enough—although tall gearing leads to frequent downshifts on the highway, and the transmission tends to hunt on long grades.
There's also an all-electric version; we cover that, the 2016 Kia Soul EV, on a separate page.
Thanks to a much-improved structure that was introduced with the current generation, two years ago, the Soul now provides a smooth, comfortable ride, yet it's taut enough to lend a feeling of security. The electric power steering system provides limited feedback, and offers three levels of weight—comfort, normal, and sport—that are more gimmicky than useful. Yet, this is an easy-driving vehicle in every respect.
The interior of the 2016 Soul is quite comfortable, and dual-density foam and somewhat extended seat cushions help in front. It's very easy to get into or out of, front or back, and there's a complement of steering-wheel controls, plus center-console controls canted slightly toward the driver. Back-seat space is impressive, but keep in mind that the Soul has the width of a small car. Even though there’s plenty of head room and leg room, fitting three adults across in back is a no-go. The rear hatch opening is wide, and seats fold forward easily. The engine noise you hear inside the cabin is the only reminder that this model is built on economy-car roots.
The NHTSA rates the Soul as five stars, giving it five stars in each category save for rollover resistance, where it scores four stars. The IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick. All models include a total of six airbags, with dual front airbags, seat-mounted side bags, and full-length side curtain bags. Also worth noting that even the base Soul includes superior four-wheel disc brakes, while many other inexpensive small sedans include just drum brakes in back. You can opt for front collision warning and lane-departure warning systems this year on top Exclaim models, but they don't include automatic braking.
There are three different trim levels: base Soul, Soul Plus (+), and Soul Exclaim (!). All models now for 2016 include alloy wheels, and at a four-figure premium you can add things like a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and cooled/ventilated front seats. Connectivity and infotainment hardware—and the optional navigation system—are fully up to snuff with the systems available in much more expensive, premium vehicles.
For 2016, Kia has added an inexpensive Convenience Package that allows a rearview camera, touchscreen audio, and satellite radio on base models; there's also a new Designer Collection package that brings a two-tone exterior.
The Soul is rated by the EPA at 24 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined with the 1.6-liter engine—and that holds whether you opt for the manual gearbox or automatic. Upgrade to the Soul Plus and Exclaim models equipped with the 2.0-liter engine, and you actually get slightly better mileage—24/31/27 mpg.