The 2017 Kia Soul rights one of our longtime gripes with the fun wagon—it now has a more capable turbo-4 that makes it a little less boring to drive
The 2017 Kia Soul gets a much-needed engine upgrade this year to complement its good looks and great packaging.
The compact hatchback is among our favorites for style and versatility—and that's before we've talked about the starting price.
The 2017 Soul earns a 6.5 on our overall scale. The Soul is teeming with style and capability, its only letdowns are overall performance from base models and not-so-great fuel economy figures. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Styling and performance
The Kia Soul is heavy on style thanks to its compact and boxy stance and flair. It's a shape that's been around with us for a few years but doesn't manage to get old. Perhaps that's because the roofline and proportions are just right; chunky body panels and dramatic angles just complement those elements without taking over themselves.
Inside, the Soul is a little more subdued with attention paid in places. There's an acre of black plastic in the dash, but there are hints and touches of chrome and glossy trim that break up those boring places.
The Soul is offered in base, Plus, and Exclaim trims (Kia uses the punctuation "+" and "!" marks, which we'll avoid for clarity) each with a different engine and transmission combo.
Base models get a poky, 130-horsepower 1.6-liter inline-4 that can be mated to a 6-speed manual or automatic. It's fine for around-town duty, but we'll tell it like it is: base cars are slow.
Plus models get a 161-hp 2.0-liter inline-4 with a 6-speed automatic that picks up the pace a little. These models are better on the highway, but we've found that a searching 6-speed manages to spoil the fun a little.
The new top-of-the-line Exclaim models get a 201-hp turbo-4 borrowed from the Elantra Sport that makes the Soul more confident—not necessarily sporty. It's paired exclusively with a smooth shifting 7-speed dual-clutch automatic that we like very much, but the turbo models still howl like the others when pushed past 4,000 rpm.
In all cases, the Soul is composed on the road, although its ride is a little harsh and its tall center of gravity doesn't help much on twisty roads.
Comfort, safety, and features
The Soul excels in interior packaging with enough room for four adults and plenty of gear. With the seats up, more than 24 cubic gear can be stuffed behind the rear seats. Drop the 60/40-split rear seats down and more than 60 cubes can fit into the Soul.
Most body types will find enough room around the Soul's tiny footprint. Our favorite part: rear-seat passengers get more than 39 inches of leg room, which is more than many SUVs.
Federal testers give the Soul a five-star overall rating, and the IIHS has given it top "Good" scores. It stops short of earning higher marks for a couple reasons.
One of them? If you want to add a rearview camera to base models, you'll have to shell out more than $2,000 to do it. The rearview camera is bundled in a $500 optional package that requires an automatic transmission (a $1,560 option for base cars).
Beyond our gripes with the rearview camera, the Soul is fairly well equipped with air conditioning, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, cloth seats, and a 60/40-split folding rear seat. We'd stop short of calling that excellent base equipment because some features such as cruise control and a center console armrest were left off the list.
A long list of options bundles can add everything from leather to ventilated seats or an 8.0-inch touchscreen. Plus models may hit the sweet spot for many buyers, although its starting price of more than $20,000 seems like a far cry from the $16,840 entry price for base models.
A heavy hand on the options list can inflate the Soul's prictag beyond $25,000, but at least buyers will have the bragging rights of ordering a car from the factory with a so-called "Primo Package," which is nice.