by Roger Biermann
A decade has passed since the Kia Soul first started turning heads, making a name for itself amongst its other "box-car" rivals. Fast forward to 2019, the Soul still earns its namesake, extruding a sense of style, fun, and character that makes it anything but square. This subcompact crossover SUV brings more than looks to the table too, with three engine options to choose from, sporting either a 1.6-liter (130 horsepower / 118 lb-ft of torque), 2.0-liter (161 hp / 150 lb-ft), or 1.6-liter turbocharged (201 hp / 195 lb-ft) inline-four engine, it offers performance at different price points. With quirk in its corner, the Soul is a strong rival against the likes of Mazda's CX-3 and the Jeep Renegade, in a segment where charm is needed to sway the buying masses.
The 2019 Kia Soul remains largely the same as last year's model, with only minor changes present in the form of features and technology shifting between trims. The base model Soul boasts better standard specification, getting some of the tech and convenience features normally only available on its more expensive Plus and Exclaim trim levels such as automatic on/off headlights and a rearview camera. The base derivative also receives a new paint color - Inferno Red. Economy on the Base model has also improved a fraction when paired with an automatic transmission, albeit only from 27 to 28 mpg. Updates have been kept minor, however, as an all-new Soul is expected later in 2019 as a 2020 model.
The exterior remains largely unchanged from 2018's model to the current, featuring multi-reflector headlights at base trim, optional High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights on the higher trims, as well as optional LED Fog lights. 16-, 17-, and even 18-inch alloy wheels are equipped to base, Plus, and Exclaim trims respectively, while other exterior cues dependent on trim include gloss black and red trim elements on the Exclaim as well as chrome twin exhaust tips. Also available is a Designer Collection Package, which features 18-inch alloy wheels with gloss black inserts for added flair.
Riding high at 63.5 inches tall with 5.9 inches of ground clearance, the Kia Soul uses its height for the benefit of its occupants. With a total length of 163 inches distributed over a 101.2-inch wheelbase, the compact crossover boasts short overhangs front and rear, while at 70.9 inches wide, it has a square stance befitting its square design. The Kia Soul has a curb weight of 2,884 lbs in its base configuration, adding another 58 lbs when paired with its optional automatic transmission. Opting for the Plus model, the bigger motor puts the curb weight at 3,163 lbs, where the top of the range Exclaim trim peaks at 3,232 lbs.
The Soul can be finished in 11 exterior finishes, including a selection of two-tone offerings, but combinations are limited to specific trims. Available on all, Clear White, Bright Silver, Titanium Gray, Shadow Black, and new for 2019 Inferno Red are great looks, but it's the more exclusive hues that suit the Soul's funky character. Mysterious Blue is a Soul + specific color, while the green Alien II is limited to the base and + derivatives. A range of color offerings are exclusive to the + as part of the Designer Collection, including Caribbean Blue, Wild Orange, and two two-tone offerings, Clear White with a red roof, and Inferno Red with a black roof. Each of these designer options adds a further $400 to the Soul's price tag.
Available only as front-wheel drive, the 2019 Kia Soul doesn't boast any off-road capabilities, focusing on the city crossover vibe, unlike the Jeep Renegade which has available all-wheel drive and a range of off-road capabilities. However, there is some performance to be had from the Soul, particularly in the top-of-the-range Soul ! (Exclaim), which is equipped with a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. Like many iterations of this motor in Kia and Hyundai products, it sends 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, giving the Soul hot-hatch aping performance with a 0-60 mph time of around 7.5 seconds. It's not lightning-fast, but it's more than adequately punchy.
In its base configuration, the 2019 Kia Soul sports a 1.6-liter inline-four-cylinder engine, producing 130 hp and 118 lb-ft of torque. Mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission, the motor struggles to give life to the Soul and leaves it feeling sluggish. Around town with frequent stop-and-go traffic, acceleration is smooth and the automatic gearbox well suited, however, the motor feels strained and breathless when tasked with anything more.
To benefit from a bigger engine, you'd have to move up in trim levels to the + (Plus). Equipped as standard with a 2.0-liter inline-four-cylinder motor, it fills the void left by its lesser counterpart. Power figures are a respectable 161 hp and 150 lb-ft, providing ample power to get the Kia off the line. The transmission is also bumped up to an electronically controlled, six-speed Sportronic gearbox, doing well to exploit the motor's larger capacity. Overtaking at speed is also done with ease, as the motor feels much more composed and ready to deliver on promising outputs.
Topping the line-up of the Soul's available motors is a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-four. Unfortunately, this means moving up another trim level as it's only available on the Soul ! (Exclaim). It does, however, net you a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The result is a highly impressive 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, and a very punchy Kia crossover that's ready to overtake, even if traffic sees the DCT shifting clunkily.
The 2019 Kia Soul handles like a much smaller car than it actually is. Steering inputs feel direct and seldom require correcting, even at highway speeds. Road feedback is also just enough to make the Soul feel predictable but unintrusive enough to allow you to relax when behind the wheel. When sporting the base trim, the manual transmission is very forgiving to drive and gives a heightened sense of control on back roads and through corners. The Plus and Exclaim trim levels also have Drive Mode Select (DMS) as standard, allowing you to engage sport mode if and when the urge arises. Most notably, this stiffens up the steering wheel by a small amount, which makes cornering feel more composed, but doesn't really add anything in the way of communication.
Although the 1.6-liter motor in the base model is sluggish and hampers the car's driving pleasure, the same can't be said of the 2.0-liter and 1.6-liter turbocharged variants. Both have the Soul feeling limber and ready to spring into action, which is just as well, as the Soul's chassis darts in and out of corners with agility, while still feeling refined enough should you drive a little more sedately. Bumps and dips in the road are ironed out well, with the suspension dealing with them more than adequately enough to give the Soul high levels of composure, particularly on the base model. However, moving up the trims and equipping larger wheels tends to unsettle things a little, and sharper jolts permeate the cabin more than is ideal on the 18-inch wheels on the Exclaim.
Larger wheels also tend to drive up the amount of tire noise, which detracts from the otherwise impressive levels of noise damping.
Fuel economy is unfortunately not the Soul's strongest quality. With the Base model's 1.6-liter motor, gas mileage estimates are pegged at 24/30/27 mpg for city/highway/combined cycles in the manual configuration. Opting for an automatic does net you an extra two mpg in city driving, and one mpg on the highway, with 28 mpg the resultant combined figure. The 2.0-liter motor found in the Plus is rated at 25/30/27 mpg, making it more efficient than its weaker counterpart, even if only just. At the top of the lineup is the 1.6-liter turbocharged motor. With an estimated 26/31/28 mpg, it places it directly in line with its non-turbo variant, but with the added benefit of more power. Fuel tank capacity sits at 14.2 gallons across all trims, with a total estimated range between 383-398 miles in mixed driving conditions, depending on the configuration you choose.
Designed to match the exterior of the Soul, the interior feels premium, refined, and stylish. A plethora of hard plastics are found throughout, but soft-touch elements are found on all key touch points. None of it looks or feels cheap, however, with a grained pattern and curves to the dashboard that just makes sense ergonomically. Small hints at the less serious side of the Soul are found in curious places too, with speakers protruding from the driver and passenger air vents, visible seat stitching, and a sporty instrument cluster. Higher trim levels also see the addition of colorful stitching on the steering wheel, seats, and a matching inlay on the shifter. With the addition of the panoramic sunroof on the Exclaim, the Soul boasts a premium feel usually reserved for vehicles with a much higher price tag.
The 2019 Kia Soul is a five-seater with an emphasis on space. Headroom at the front and rear are a generous 39.6- and 39.5-inches respectively, ideally suited to even adults taller than six-foot. With the inclusion of the sunroof, those figures reduce to 37.9-inches both at the front and rear but impact little on tall occupants. Rear-seated passengers are greeted with spacious seating too, with rear shoulder room a comfortable 54.7 inches, and 39.1 inches of legroom. The seats themselves are quite accommodating as well, with gentle but firm padding. Whether it be teenagers or full-size adults, the Soul has the space to take passengers anywhere you want to go, comfortably.
The interior of the Soul is fashioned with grained hard plastics, with a dark finish on the dashboard, door panels, and center console. Color-matched soft padding is conveniently placed on the elbow rests and other major areas and the dash does have a soft-touch element to it. The Base model sees the seats dressed in black tricot cloth, with no leather or color options available. Go for the Exclaim model though, and black leather seats come as standard, with the inclusion of colored stitching and a glossy black trim surrounding the infotainment system. The Plus trim sees the most options, however, with black woven cloth, gray two-tone woven cloth, and even gray two-tone leather available.
The Kia Soul offers decent cargo space for its segment, with total cargo volume at 24.2 cubic feet with the rear seats up, and 61.3 cubic feet with the seats down. Space inside the trunk is very limited with the rear seats up, offering just enough storage space for a tall suitcase or about five large shopping bags. However, with the rear seats folded the square space is ideal for loading large items. Optional from Kia is a cargo tray placed at the bottom of the trunk that provides storage for miscellaneous items and even fragile goods, for added convenience. This does reduce cargo volume with the seats up to a mere 18.8 cubic feet, and 49.5 cubic feet with the seats down.
Interior storage is average, though, and while the bins, door pockets, and cupholders are adequate in number and size, they aren't exceptionally sizable and several fail to accommodate a smartphone comfortably.
Kia certainly didn't leave the Soul feeling under-equipped with features, driving strong focus towards convenience and practicality. As standard, you get power mirrors, auto light control, a rearview camera, cruise control with steering wheel mounted controls, power windows, power door locks, air conditioning, and a day/night rearview mirror. Upgrading to the Plus trim, you gain heated outside mirrors, Drive Mode Select (DMS), remote keyless entry, climate control, and a center console armrest. The Exclaim trim adds mirror-mounted LED turn signals, and push-button start as standard. Optional extras include power adjustable seats, as well as heated front and rear sats on higher trims. In terms of driver assistance, optionally available on the mid-spec Plus and top-level Exclaim are autonomous emergency braking (Plus only), forward collision warning, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and blind spot monitoring. Why these features aren't included, or even available, on the Exclaim trim beggars belief.
The Kia Soul is an entertainment powerhouse, and its infotainment system is indicative of that. As standard, the Soul comes equipped with a five-inch touch-screen display that features AM/FM/MP3 and SiriusXM radio streaming, delivering loud and clear audio through six speakers with two dash-mounted tweeters. Connectivity comes in the form of Bluetooth, USB, and auxiliary inputs, with steering-wheel-mounted audio controls to boot. Both the Plus and Exclaim models see the infotainment system upgraded with a seven-inch touch-screen display, and native Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support. The sound system can be bolstered even more on the latter two trims if opting for the optional Audio Package, which upgrades things to a Harman Kardon speaker system with a subwoofer and external amplifier.
With a very positive predicted reliability, the Soul carries on its strong track record. With the majority of owners only reporting minor issues and no recalls issued over the last three years, Kia's subcompact crossover SUV offers peace of mind. In the event that something does go wrong, the Soul boasts an outstanding ten-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, five-year/60,000 mile basic warranty, and five-year/60,000 mile 24-hour roadside assistance.
Despite being geared towards fun, the Soul takes its safety record seriously. Achieving Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS), and an impressive five-star rating from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), driver and passengers alike can feel at ease.
All variants of the Kia Soul come equipped as standard with Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Vehicle Stability Management (VSM), Traction Control System (TCS), Hill-Start Assist Control (HAC), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS), and six airbags placed strategically inside the cabin, including dual-front airbags, front side airbags, and side curtain airbags. Additional safety features to assist the driver are available when opting for the Technology package, however, the most crucial safety feature (Autonomous Emergency Braking) is only available to the Plus trim.
With a good set of standard features, a comprehensive options list, and additional packages that make sense, the 2019 Kia Soul is a good companion for drivers and passengers alike. It offers both fun and practicality, wrapped in a stylish exterior at a very reasonable price point. Compared to its Mazda CX-3 and Jeep Renegade rivals, it's cheaper to buy and maintain but lacks an AWD system and any off-road potential. Kia's Soul makes a compelling argument for itself however, with an excellent warranty period, a reliable track record, and an inexpensive base model for the budget-conscious buyer. However, the base engine is lacking potency, and the higher output engines offer more in terms of both drivability and better gas mileage. On the whole, the Soul is worth a look and nearing the end of the current generation, there are bound to be great deals on offer at the dealers.
The Soul carries a base model price of $16,490 in base trim, excluding tax, registration, licensing, and a $995 destination charge. At the top of the range is the Exclaim trim, with a starting MSRP of $22,990 before options, while splitting the difference is the Plus, with a price in the USA of $20,490. However, with a new model due for 2020 release, there are bound to be deals galore as dealers look to clear their lots for the arrival of the new version, so it pays to shop around.
The Kia Soul range comprises three trims: Base, + (Plus), and ! (Exclaim). Each of the trims is only available with a single engine/gearbox configuration unique to that trim, with the base model being the exception with two transmissions available.
The Base trim is powered by a 1.6-liter motor and a six-speed manual transmission. Optionally, a six-speed automatic is available. The exterior of the Base has matte black font and rear bumper inserts, body-color power windows, multi-reflector headlights, and 16-inch alloy wheels. Standard infotainment features include a five-inch touchscreen display, a rearview camera, six-speakers with two dash-mounted tweeters, USB/Aux inputs, power door locks and windows, air conditioning, and a day/night rearview mirror.
The Plus trim sports a 2.0-liter motor paired to a six-speed automatic. In addition to the base models trim, it offers body-color front and rear inserts, heated outside mirrors, front fog lights, a seven-inch touchscreen display, cruise control, Drive Mode Select, remote keyless entry, climate control, and 17-inch alloys.
At the top of the range is the Exclaim, featuring a 1.6-liter turbocharged motor mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The Exclaim wears red accents on its grille and lower body, with twin chrome exhaust tips at the rear. You also get mirror-mounted LED turn signals, a Supervision meter cluster, push-button start, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Exclusive to the Plus trim level is the Designers Collection Package at $400, which adds 18-inch alloy wheels with gloss black inserts, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, and a selection of exclusive body colors.
Also exclusive to the Plus is the Audio Package at $1,500. It features an eight-inch touchscreen display with navigation, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, a Harmon/Kardon audio system with additional speakers, speaker lights for the cabin, push-button start, USB charging ports, glossy black accents, chrome interior door handles, a leather-wrapped steering wheel/gearshift knob, and leatherette inserts on various panels.
The third package available is the Primo Package (+$4,500). This includes Autonomous Emergency Braking, Forward Collision Warning System, Lane Departure Warning System, Smart Cruise Control, Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, HID Headlights, LED positioning lights, ventilated/heated seats front/rear, heated steering wheel, LED interior lighting, and a Supervision Meter Cluster.
Exclusive to the Exclaim trim is the Sunroof Package (+$1,000), adding a panoramic sunroof and LED interior lighting. The Technology Package (+$3,000) adds a blend of the Primo and Audio Packages available to the Plus, with the omission of Autonomous Emergency Braking.
The 2019 Kia Soul Plus is the best buy in our opinion. Featuring a 2.0-liter motor and six-speed automatic, it's capable of producing the grunt needed but lacks the outright pace of the turbocharged Exclaim. However, with a plethora of standard features, exclusive packages and body colors to choose from, and a price point that remains exceptional value for money, it really outshines its base model counterpart. We recommend the Primo Package here, as it adds the Audio Package by default, and delivers the best experience all-around. The Exclaim model omits autonomous braking from its features, making it the performance option with a disregard for safety. That said, the base model, despite being at a great price point, lacks some of the qualities that make the Soul fun.
Comparing the Soul to the CX-3 at a base level leaves the Soul both underpowered (130 hp vs 148 hp) and at a loss from a gas mileage standpoint, 24/30/27 mpg to the CX-3's 29/34/31. Furthermore, the CX-3 is available with all-wheel drive, while the Soul isn't. Further up the model ladder, though, the Soul redeems itself, offering extremely good value for money and a pair of more powerful motors that aids the Soul's city-centric demeanor. The Soul also redeems itself inside, boasting more spacious interior accommodation and advanced infotainment options the CX-3 can't match. Cargo capacity for the Soul is also substantially better, with 24.2 cubic feet of space compared to 12.4 cubic feet. The CX-3 is vastly more fun to drive, but the Soul is more practical, and those are the key traits buyers will need to decide between.
The Jeep Renegade has a substantially larger and more powerful motor as standard, with a 180-hp 2.4-liter motor, compared to the Soul's 130 hp from its 1.6-liter. At base trim, the Renegade carries an MSRP of $22,025, finding itself priced just shy of Kia's Exclaim trim, without the features to boot, which gives Soul buyers a little more flexibility in terms of kitting the Soul out, while still undercutting the Renegade. Off-road capability goes the way of the Renegade, however, with no AWD available for the Soul. Cargo capacity is in the Soul's favor too, with only 18.5 cubic feet of cargo space in the Renegade compared to the Soul's 24.2. Ultimately, the Soul is more fun to drive and better equipped, too, but if you need to tackle moderate off-road scenarios, the Renegade lives up to the Jeep badge on its nose and delivers impressively.