By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
The Soul has been an overachiever in the Kia lineup since it first went on sale in 2009. Finally, after finishing as the second best-selling Kia the last few years it pushed the Optima out of the number one spot in 2016 to become America’s Favorite Kia.
It’s easy to understand the popularity of the small wagon – it’s versatile, practical, unique and a whole lot of fun to drive. Other manufacturers have built similar types of vehicles, but none comes close to the attributes and success of Kia Soul.
The three different trim levels each come with a different drive front-wheel drive drivetrain. The Soul is also available in a pure electric version which is available in all three trim levels.
The Base gasoline-powered Soul uses a 130-hp 1.6-liter GDI (gas direct injection) four-cylinder engine with a six-speed manual transmission or an optional ($1,600) six-speed automatic transmission with Sportmatic. We like that Kia has not succumb to the CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) on any of its models, because we like the more positive control offered by a conventional “geared” transmission. Next in the lineup is the “+” version which has a 161-hp 2.0-liter GDI four-cylinder with the six-speed automatic and Sportmatic standard.
New for 2017, the Soul ! (the “Exclaim”) has a new 201-hp Turbocharged 1.6-liter GDI engine with a seven-speed Dual Clutch Transmission with Sportmatic as the standard drivetrain. We recently spent a week driving the Turbo version and it’s a gem. The extra 40 horsepower doesn’t make the Soul a street racer, but it does add a nice new dimension to an already very good driving vehicle with an extra dosage of fun.
We especially enjoyed it’s improved passing power when trying to get around slow moving vehicles on some of the two-lane highways. The buff magazines estimate the Soul ! 0 to 60 mph acceleration at 7.5 seconds, and that feels about right to us when we did our own very unscientific test. The fuel economy on the Turbo version is rated at 26 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 28 mpg combined – that’s one to two miles per gallon better than the two less powerful engines across the board. We averaged 28.2 mpg during our week in the Turbo model.
The new seven-speed transmission is smoother than some double clutch units we’ve driven and it shifts very quickly — up or down. This provides much better driver control and easier use of engine braking. A mode selector switch on the steering wheel allows the driver to select from three modes to optimize economy and performance.
Orth Hedrick, the vice president of Kia product planning, explains it like this, “We wanted to provide loyal Soul lovers and new buyers a sportier option. The 2017 Soul Exclaim with its Turbocharged engine gives the car’s fans another wonderful choice…”
At only 163 inches long, the Kia Soul is more than a foot shorter than a Honda Civic, but the interior and cargo space, according to EPA figures, is larger than the Honda Accord, Toyota Camry or Chevy Malibu. The Exclaim gets a unique trim treatment with sportier features including 18-inch wheels, red body trim accents, a chrome grille surround and dual chrome twin-tip exhaust outlets.
Inside the Turbo has a standard leather wrapped flat bottom steering wheel, push button start and the UVO3 infotainment system with the e-Services along with integrated Android Auto™3 and Apple CarPlay™. The audio system is a 315-watt Harman Kardon system with eight speakers. Kia’s available navigation system is one of the more user-friendly units we’ve used. Other new options for 2017 include Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Blind Spot Detection.
The interior appointments are high quality and very functional with well-designed and easy to use control groupings mounted high on the center stack and on the steering wheel. All Kia models are mindful of techie needs with a good Bluetooth connection, numerous charge points, verbal controls and the UVO app to interact with the Soul from a smart phone.
The Base model Soul has a starting MSRP of $16,950, including the destination charge. The mid-level Soul + starts at $20,650, and the Soul ! we drove starts at $23,650. Add the Tech Package to the Soul ! for $3,000 and you get High-Intensity Discharge headlights, LED fog lights, UVO eService’s with eight-inch touch screen, navigation, HD Radio, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Blind Spot Detection, heated front and rear seats, power folding outside mirrors and a heated steering wheel. The Panoramic Sunroof Package ($1,000) adds the large power sunroof and LED interior lighting. The two available options make for a very well equipped Soul with an MSRP of $27,620.
The 2017 Kia Soul ! takes a very good little sport wagon and makes it even better with a new level of driving maturity. On previous Soul reviews we’ve asked for a turbo, and this new model delivers. Now for a future wish – how about all-wheel drive?