by Roger Biermann
The 2018 Kia Soul can be loosely described as a subcompact crossover SUV, while some might argue that it's a wagon or a hatchback. Whatever you think, the Soul is one of the few cars that has a distinct and unmistakable appearance. It comes in three different trims, the base, Plus (+), and Exclaim (!) and each comes with a different engine giving buyers a range to choose from to suit their needs. Power outputs range from 130 horsepower in the base 1.6-liter to 201 hp in the turbocharged 1.6-liter on Exclaim models, with 2.0-liter slotting neatly in the middle generating 161 hp. A six-speed manual is standard on the base model, but an automatic is available on the base and standard on the Plus derivative, while the turbocharged Exclaim gets a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. In a crossover-crazed world, can the boxy Soul steal buyers away from the more conventional Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V?
All trims in the range get automatic climate control and Kia's UVO3 Interface for 2018. The UVO3 is Kia's multimedia system to connect smartphones to their cars. Meanwhile, the Primo package, which is available on the Plus trim, includes automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control to elevate the levels of safety technology.
The Kia Soul stands out in a crowded segment by having such a unique design. The front has a chunky look, bumper inserts of matte black on the base model, body color inserts on the Plus, and gloss black with red accent inserts on the top-of-the-line Exclaim. There is the distinct Kia tiger-nose grille and multi-reflector headlights standard on all models, with HID projectors available on the upper two trims. Chrome twin exhaust pipes set the turbocharged Exclaim apart from the rest, while a power sunroof is available on Plus and Exclaim models only. Wheel sizes range from 16-inch alloy wheels on the base derivative to 18-inch alloys on the Exclaim, while the Plus slots neatly in between with 17-inch alloy wheels.
The Soul is a small car that looks and feels big thanks to the boxy shape. However, the dimensions show just how compact it is, measuring 163 inches long and riding on a wheelbase of 101.2 inches. It stands tall at 63.5 inches in height, with a width of 70.9 inches. All trims also have a ground clearance of 5.9 inches, placing it closer to that of a compact hatch than an SUV. In it's lightest guise, the manual Base trim has a curb weight of 2,884 lbs, while the Plus has a curb weight of 3,163 lbs and the Exclaim tips the scales at 3,232 lbs, making it the heaviest of the lot.
There are nine external colors available for the 2018 Kia Soul, but some are available on the automatic transmission only, while others are limited by trim and package availability. Across the range, buyers can equip Clear White, Bright Silver, Titanium Gray, and Shadow Black, while Alien II is only available on the Base and Plus trims. Inferno Red can be equipped to Plus and Exclaim models, while Mysterious Blue, Wild Orange, and Caribbean Blue are exclusive to the Plus derivative, the latter pair only with the Designer Package equipped. The Designer Package also offers the option of a white/red roof and a red/black roof two-tone packages and is only available on the Plus model.
The 2018 Soul only comes in front-wheel-drive but with three different trims each packing a different engine. The Soul Exclaim is the most potent performer of the three, extruding 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque from a turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four, and pairing this with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. Flat out, the turbo engine and quick-shifting dual-clutch ensures a sprightly 0-60 mph time of 7.5 seconds with a top speed of 134 mph. It's one of the quicker compact crossovers around but finds stiff rivalry from the Mazda CX-3, which also boasts the option of all-wheel-drive, something buyers of the Soul don't get the option of.
The Kia Soul comes in three different trims, each with a different engine and transmission layout. The base is the entry-level trim and comes with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that's connected to either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed automatic transmission and makes 130 hp and 118 lb-ft. The Plus is equipped exclusively with a six-speed automatic transmission and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine generating 161 hp and 195 lb-ft. Lastly, there's the Soul Exclaim, with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission churning out 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque.
The base is the slowest of the three and the 1.6-liter engine struggles to accelerate, but at least manages to keep its momentum once it finally gets up to speed. While it isn't the best, for short trips around the city it is bearable. The Plus is where the fun starts to happen. The two-liter engine never feels short of power and there's an immediate surge once the accelerator is pressed. Considering that the Soul could sometimes be carrying a load, the Plus has no problem whether overtaking or getting up to freeway speeds. The Exclaim pushes things to a new level, with turbo-torque giving it thumping performance. However, there's a fair chunk of turbo-lag, and the dual-clutch gearbox can be jerky and indecisive at lower speeds, dulling the experience somewhat.
The Soul was given a suspension upgrade in 2014, making a world of difference to the way it drives. While the base might have the weakest engine of all the trims, it still has responsive steering that's quick to see the Soul change direction. Unfortunately, the base model makes the Soul feel bigger than it is due to its lumbering performance. Driving gets even better with the Plus and Exclaim trims due to their abundance of torque.
Despite the boxy shape of the Soul giving it the visual impression of weight, there isn't much body roll; even when taking corners at a fair speed, it never feels like it's losing grip. For a car of this shape and size, the ride quality sits in the sweet spot of not being too hard and not being too soft. It easily absorbs the bumps and maintains its stability, however, as wheel sizes increase with the trim levels, the ride quality over broken tarmac is decreased, while road and tire noise gets louder and more invasive.
It's no hot hatch, but the Soul strikes a good balance between comfort and capability and manages to cater to the needs of most in the ride and handling department.
All cars have a weakness and on the Soul, it's the fuel economy. While it's by no means the worst out there, it definitely won't be winning any prizes, and regardless of which trim you opt for, gas mileage estimates are nearly identical and fairly middle of the road. The base trim, equipped with a naturally aspirated 1.6-liter engine and manual transmission manages EPA estimates of 24/30/27 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles, while the automatic transmission achieves 25/30/27 mpg. The Plus model (2.0 inline-four) is rated at 25/30/27 mpg, while the Exclaim, with a turbocharged 1.6-liter and seven-speed DCT, is the most economical with estimates of 26/31/28 mpg. Regardless of trim, all Souls boast a gas tank of 14.2 gallons, with the Exclaim extruding the greatest range of approximately 453 miles in mixed driving conditions.
While these figures may seem ample, they're not as impressive as the 31 mpg combined figure achieved by the Mazda CX-3.
There's no doubt about it, the Kia Soul has a handsome interior that only gets better with each trim level. Cloth seats are standard, but there's also the option of combination or full leather seating available in either black or black and gray. Hard black plastic is found throughout the cabin, but it never feels cheap and build quality feels solid. Ergonomics are on point, and visibility out of the boxy crossover is impressive, largely due to a tall, commanding driving position without feeling perched. Seats are comfortable throughout, and due to the boxy proportions, the Soul is able to make a compact footprint seem immensely spacious, catering for adults of most heights in the rear seats. Cargo space is also generous and highly versatile, making the Soul one of the best vehicles in its segment in this regard.
While the Soul has been advertised as having a seating capacity for five, four is a more realistic target, predominantly due to slightly limited room in the rear of the cabin. The front seats have 39.6 inches of headroom and 40.9 inches of legroom, catering to adults of all sizes, while the back seats have 39.5 inches of headroom and 39.1 inches of legroom, catering to six-foot adults rather comfortably despite a compact exterior footprint. The middle of the rear seat has an armrest to make things more comfortable and it also splits 60/40 to increase the rear cargo area. Overall, thanks to the Soul's unique shape, there's more than enough headroom and legroom for both front and rear passengers. There's also great all-round visibility for the driver despite the thick roof pillars and sloping roofline, and seats are generally comfortable enough for long-distance travels as well as brief city trips.
The Soul comes in three different trims and with each trim, the interior colors and materials vary, with influence also being derived from the exterior paint color chosen. The base model comes with either black or grey two-tone cloth seats, while the Plus is available with either model-specific black cloth or a black/gray leather combination. The top of the range Exclaim has the option of black leather seat trim with cloth accents and orange stitching, carried through to the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. It also comes with a leatherette instrument cowl, door inserts, and armrest, while other interior accents are piano black and satin chrome.
Another area where the Soul shines is in cargo space, with 18.8 cubic feet of volume behind the rear seats. The 60/40 split folding seats can be stowed, which increases storage capacity to 49.5 cubic feet. With a large square opening and high roof, the Soul presents a square load bay ideal for large boxes and suitcases that can easily be stood upright, while the load floor is low enough for heavy objects to be lifted in. In comparison, the Mazda CX-3 has a cargo space of 12.4 cu-ft with the rear seat up and 44.5 cu-ft with the rear seats down. The Honda HR-V has a massive 24.3 cu-ft with the rear seats up, and 58.8 cu-ft with the rear seats down. An impressive trick that the Soul has up its sleeve is an additional compartment for loading smaller items that's located under the main cargo area and is accessible by lifting up a false floor.
Inside the cabin, there is an overhead sunglass holder on all trims, as well as a sizable glove box, storage pockets on the front doors, as well as dual cupholders in the front and rear.
Considering its price, the Soul comes with an impressive list of features depending on which trim is chosen. A rearview camera is an available option on the base trim but comes standard on the upper two models along with cruise control and a drive mode selection system. All models boast power windows and a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, as well as standard air conditioning (automatic climate control on higher trims). Available on the Plus and Exclaim are blind spot detection and rear cross-traffic alert, while the best assistance features are reserved as options on the Plus model, which can be outfitted with adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, and autonomous emergency braking.
The Kia Soul has an impressive infotainment system that's highly customizable depending on model and the package chosen. The base gets a seven-inch touchscreen and AM/FM radio, MP3 Player, SiriusXM satellite radio with three months subscription, Bluetooth connectivity, and auxiliary input jacks. A seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is available as part of the Convenience Package.
The Plus and Exclaim models get the same seven-inch touchscreen with a rearview camera and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It also has Kia's UVO system, which allows voice and remote control of the car. Both of these models also come with two fast-charge USB ports and an available Harmon Kardon Premium audio system with eight speakers, subwoofer and amp with speaker lights. They can also be upgraded with an eight-inch infotainment screen at a price.
The Soul, like all the other Kias, comes with one of the longest warranties available on any vehicle. The basic warranty is five-years/60,000 miles supplemented by a powertrain warranty of ten-years/100,000 miles. There is also a roadside assistance plan for five-years/60,000 miles. Owners of 2018 models have reported surprisingly few problems, while there have been no recalls for the 2018 Soul, suggesting high levels of reliability and owner satisfaction.
With a family car like this, safety is of paramount importance and this is another area in which the Soul excels. The Soul has the best possible five-star overall rating from the NHTSA. In IIHS testing, the Soul also performed admirably with a best possible score of good in most areas. The Soul also received the highest honor of IIHS Top Safety Pick +.
Key to the IIHS's TSP+ rating of the Soul is a standard raft of impressive safety features and the optional availability of key driver assistance systems. As standard, the Soul is fitted with six airbags including dual front, front side, and side curtain airbags, as well as standard ABS, ESP, EBD, and Hill Start Assist. On the Exclaim model, available blind spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert ups the standard further, while exclusive to the Plus, and only available as an optional extra, additional safety systems include autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control.
The Kia Soul is a stylish mix between a compact crossover SUV and a hatchback/wagon. Although a bit unusual, the Kia Soul is a handsome looking vehicle offering enough space for most occupants, with cargo volumes to rival and most of the segment. It pairs this practicality with impressive ride comfort and enticing driving dynamics and, provided you forego the base model, fairly potent engine choices, even if they aren't the most efficient. With an impressive amount of technology and safety features, the Soul is capable of competing against some more expensive cars out there, but we wish the driver assistance features were available on more than one trim. This is perhaps the biggest omission but is comfortably remedied by the perceived sense of quality and longevity, with Kia's extensive warranties giving buyers peace of mind. It's unorthodox, but the Kia Soul is a great car, particularly in a crossover crazed society.
The MSRP of the base model in the manual configuration is $16,200, while the one with the automatic transmission is $17,800. The starting price of the Plus is $20,400 while the turbocharged Exclaim starts at $22,900. These prices exclude tax, registration, and licensing fees, as well as a destination charge of $995.
There are only three models in the 2018 Kia Soul range: Base, Plus (+), and Exclaim (!).
The base model comes with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine attached to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission and makes 130 hp and 118 lb-ft. The base model comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, a seven-inch touchscreen with UVO services and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. It doesn't have any onboard navigation or rearview camera.
The Plus comes with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine connected to a six-speed automatic which makes 161 hp and 195 lb-ft. In terms of features, the Plus has the same as the base model but adds many more in the form of the Primo Lit Package, Audio Package, and Designer package. The Plus comes with 17-inch alloy wheels and makes itself available for a range of additional styling and safety options.
The Exclaim is the highest model in the range and comes with a turbocharged four-cylinder 1.6-liter engine generating 201 hp and 195 lb-ft, paired with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. The Exclaim comes standard with the tech package which includes HID headlights, a Harmon Kardon premium audio system, and blind-spot detection. It also gets 18-inch alloy wheels but misses out on additional safety systems.
Kia makes the Soul available with several package add-ons, depending on the trim at hand.
The Base model has no optional packages available but for the mid-range Plus model, a bunch of features can be added. A $400 Designer Collection Package adds 18-inch alloy wheels, Designer Collection two-tone exterior colors, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift lever. The Audio Package is priced at $1,500 and equips the Plus with an eight-inch infotainment screen as well as a Harman Kardon sound system and a range of additional interior highlights. The Primo Lit package is the one you want, however, as it includes autonomous emergency braking, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, smart cruise control, and blind spot monitoring, as well as leather seats, HID headlights, a heated steering wheel, heated front seats, and power seat adjustment. The catch - it adds $4,500 to the Soul Plus's price tag and requires the Audio Package to be equipped, too.
The Exclaim, in contrast, offers two simple packages; a $1,000 sunroof package, and a $3,000 Technology package, the latter including LED interior lighting and a panoramic sunroof.
Three Souls each have their own personas to offer, and each brings to the table its own engine offering. So which is best? In our opinion, it's the mid-spec Plus. But there's a caveat to the choice, as it's only the best because of the additional safety features available, which come in the form of costly options packages, driving the price up well beyond the turbocharged Exclaim model's fully loaded price. However, we feel these safety features are needed to make the most of the Soul, while the 2.0-liter inline four is an impressive compromise between power, cost, and drivability.
Mazda's new SUVs are renowned for their car-like handling and nippy engines. They also have an aggressive sporty look that's completely different to the boxy Soul. So how does the CX-3 stack up against the Kia Soul? The Mazda CX-3 starts out at around $20,500 and is only available with a 2.0-liter engine which makes a paltry 148 hp. The Soul has far more interior space for passengers, as well as cargo which the CX-3 just can't match. Where the Mazda shines is in the fuel economy department, as well as having agile handling. Although the ride and handling of the Mazda may seem slightly better than the Kia, the Soul makes up for it by being faster and having a great ride. The CX-3 is also available in all-wheel-drive, while the Soul is only available in front-wheel-drive.
The Mazda CX-3 is a worthy competitor to the Soul, but the Soul wins due to having more power and space at a lower price.
In stark contrast to the boxy Kia Soul, the Toyota CH-R is a very sleek and sporty looking crossover. The base model CH-R starts at around $21,000 with a two-liter, four-cylinder engine that only makes 144 hp. In comparison, the mid-level Soul Plus makes 161 hp and starts at $20,400. In the space department, the Soul has more passenger space with more headroom and legroom in both the front and rear. The Kia also beats the Toyota in cargo space, which is a big factor when buying a car in this class. The CH-R beats the Soul when it comes to gas mileage estimates, but loses out in the technology department because it only has Android Auto and lacks Apple CarPlay. However, the CH-R offers a wider availability of safety systems, which are limited and expensive on the Kia. Overall it can be argued that the Soul is better in almost all areas, but the Toyota is still compelling, and offers excellent levels of refinement and build quality. This one comes down to which of the two catches the buyer's eye the most.