Possible competitors include hatchbacks like the Subaru Impreza and Mini Countryman, which have similar features and utility. See the three models compared here.
The Soul's trim levels include the base, Plus and Exclaim, the latter two of which Kia designates "+" and "!." For 2017, each has a different engine. I tested an Exclaim.
Exterior & Styling
The Soul is boxy; given its fairly high ride height, it could be mistaken for an SUV. Its proportions are good and the upright styling helps the Soul stand out in a crowd.
The Soul Exclaim has a few styling tweaks to separate it from a regular Soul, including red-accented body trim, a chrome grille surround, a unique tailgate badge and dual chrome twin-tip exhaust.
How It Drives
The Exclaim's new engine, a 201-horsepower, turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder, is the star of the show. It's got 40 more horsepower than the middle engine in the lineup, a 161-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder without a turbo (the Soul's previous top engine). The turbocharged engine gets the best gas mileage of any Soul engine, including the base one: a 130-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder.
The top engine is paired with a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. The base has a six-speed manual, while a conventional six-speed automatic is optional on the base and standard on the Plus.
The turbocharged 1.6-liter engine we tested is rated 26/31/28 mpg city/highway/combined. With the base, non-turbocharged 1.6-liter engine and automatic transmission, the Soul gets an EPA-estimated 25/30/27 mpg; with a manual transmission, it's 24/30/27 mpg. Models with the 2.0-liter engine and six-speed automatic are rated 25/30/27 mpg.
The Soul is nice to drive with the turbocharged engine, though there's a bit of lag from a standstill. It's easily overcome by using the Soul's Sport driving mode, though that can affect mileage over time. In general, though, the Soul offered good power from a standstill and was able to easily pass on the highway, whether in Sport mode or not.
The brakes deserve mention because they're better than average for this class. They're strong and exceptionally linear on both application and release, meaning the amount of braking closely matches the pressure you apply on the brake pedal. That's unexpected and appreciated.
The downside of the Soul's driving experience is its ride. Ride quality isn't necessarily firm, it's just "busy," always feeling like it's jittering around. Where you really notice this is when trying to use the touchscreen: Your finger moves around a lot. Unless you anchor your hand, it's easy to miss the button you want. After driving across a highway with a lot of expansion joints, I knew the Soul was not the car I'd want for a long drive.
The Soul Exclaim’s ride quality isn't necessarily firm, it’s just “busy,” always feeling like it’s jittering around.
Given the Exclaim is the Soul's top trim level, it's reasonable to expect a bit nicer interior than in a standard model, and the Exclaim delivers. The cloth and leather-trimmed seats look nice and feel comfortable. (Some of our longer-legged editors noticed a lack of thigh support, but it wasn't an issue for me and I'm more than 6 feet tall.) There's also some nice orange contrast stitching that brightens up the interior's otherwise dark tones.
All in all, I wouldn't go so far as to say the Soul has a luxury cabin, but it's a nice-looking, well-made interior that's a step above most in the class.
Backseat room is a mix of good and bad. There's plenty of legroom, but when I sat up straight, my head brushed the roof. The available panoramic moonroof is nice in that it makes you feel less claustrophobic, but I had to wonder if its presence was cramping my headroom as moonroofs often do.
Lastly, outward visibility is excellent. The Soul's upright styling combines with thin window pillars all around to give you a really great view of what's around you. The Soul's height helps, too, offering a better view of the road than a more car-styled hatchback would provide.
The optional panoramic moonroof ($1,000) really brightened up the cabin and was most welcome on the gray, early-winter days when I tested the Soul.
Ergonomics & Electronics
This is another strength of the Soul. Kia's UVO touchscreen multimedia system has always been quick to respond and easy to use, and that's no different here. The system's high-resolution screen and simple, easy-to-read graphics are a boon to usability. And the home screen that allows you to easily choose among a variety of frequently used systems is a treat.
Also, Kia has the right amount of buttons controlling the right things. Heated seats? Button. Heated steering wheel? Button. Zoned climate control? Button. You get the idea. Too often, things like heated seats are on a touchscreen menu, making them harder to find and use. Kia deserves praise.
Finally, our test model included Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. What's interesting is that I used CarPlay less often than in other cars. Why? The in-dash multimedia system was so easy to use. The reason I most often choose to go with CarPlay is to work around poorly designed multimedia systems.
Cargo & Storage
The Soul has a smaller cargo area than one might expect from its boxy body; the fairly shallow cargo area behind the backseat is closer in size to a sedan's trunk than a hatchback's cargo area. If cargo-carrying is important to you, be sure to eye the Soul's hatch before buying.
Kia executed the hatch pretty well by mounting the latch low, so it's easier for shorter-statured people to reach and open the liftgate. And I don't think it opens too high for those same folks to close the hatch.
The Soul's load floor was also at just the right height: I didn't have to stoop to get things, but nor will shorter folks likely be challenged by the height.
The 2017 Soul received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest rating — good — in its small overlap front test as well as the moderate overlap front, side, roof strength, head restraint and seat tests (see details). For a better look at how the Soul ranks among other small cars in the Institute's test, click here.
The Soul doesn't have as many advanced safety features as some competitors. Our test car was equipped with blind spot warning but lacked the Primo option package that adds forward collision warning and lane departure warning to the Plus trims. Despite its available forward collision feature, however, the Soul doesn't include autonomous emergency braking. This is a shortcoming, as competitors like the Subaru Impreza (through its EyeSight system) and the Mini Countryman offer some form of emergency braking and adaptive cruise control.
Value in Its Class
The Soul's sticker price is a bit surprising, if for no other reason than Kia made its name offering cars that were — and in many cases still are — less expensive than its competitors. But times change, and the Soul — and compact hatchbacks as a whole — haven't been "econoboxes" for some time.
Both the Countryman and Impreza are being redesigned for 2017, and while we can't yet compare the driving experience, a look at their features is helpful.
The Kia Soul we drove had $5,000 worth of options, including a heated steering wheel, heated seats front and rear, a panoramic moonroof (itself a $1,000 stand-alone option) and a navigation system, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Its price tag totaled $27,620.
Mini says the Countryman will start at $27,450 (all prices include destination charges) and come standard with a panoramic moonroof, rear parking sensors (which our Soul didn't have) and a sliding and reclining backseat (our Soul didn't have this, either), but no heated front or rear seats and no heated steering wheel.
The Impreza's base 2.0i hatchback starts at $19,215. It features standard, full-time all-wheel drive (not offered on the Soul), Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Picking higher trims gets you closer to the same content as the Soul, though as of this writing no version had heated rear seats or a heated steering wheel.
So, based on features and price, the Soul — while expensive — offers features that are competitive or better than what others in the class offer for the same price.
Ultimately, the Soul isn't a slam-dunk winner in its segment. It's got a lot of content and is a nice size for maneuvering around the city, plus its visibility is good, but the jittery ride alone would make me test-drive some competitors, as well.