The Kia Soul has been one of the most successful small 'utes in history. Those engaging Hamster commercials did a great job of renting some space in our minds.
When the Soul was redesigned, we saw the hamsters hit the gym, slim down, and start dressing like Daniel Craig in the Bond films.
But what happens when the carmaker introduces the turbo, double-clutch 2017 Kia Soul! (pronounced “exclamation”)?
Hamsters on steroids!
And we have to give Kia credit for putting the loveable Soul on the juice, because they could probably sell every one they make already. It’s a great little SUV, with loads of personality, space, and great value. But they decided to do more, and we’re glad they did.
You know it’s better from the first look. All models enjoy a redesigned front and rear fascia with squintier headlights and bulgier fog lamps for a meaner look.
Circling the body is tasteful, red-accented trim, while exclusive 18-inch wheels and a dual chrome twin-tip exhaust make this the toughest-looking Soul ever. Our tester in Bright Silver, carried the upgrades well, and the fit and finish was excellent.
The interior, like the exterior, makes a bold first impression with features that feel like you’re in a much more expensive vehicle. The seats have a leather and cloth combo with orange stitching that looks sporty and upscale.
The supportive driver seat holds you in all the right places, and features power controls including lumbar support – nice surprise #1. The fat, leather-wrapped steering wheel has a flat D-shaped bottom –super sporty and nice surprise #2. There’s even a pushbutton ignition – part of the smart-key keyless entry system, nice surprise #3.
Our tester was without the expensive option packages (more about that later), but still felt like we were well looked after with a 4” LCD info screen between speedo and tach, a 7 “touchscreen with rear view camera, Kia’s excellent UVO infotainment system including Android and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth, SiriusXM satellite radio, USB jack and more. Nice stuff all around.
When you’re done enjoying the goodies and need to haul the goods, the tall square lines pay off with plenty of room in back. Adults will be happy sitting back there. Flip down the split rear seats, and you have a cavernous cargo hold with over 60 cubic feet of space.
Even if it was just a boring putt-putt grocery getter, you’d be feeling pretty good with the hot looks, all the goodies, and the spacious interior. But the Soul! has an ace up a sleeve.
It’s a ball to drive!
We’ve noticed Kia and Hyundai both improving greatly in driving dynamics lately, but that still didn’t prepare us for the fun the Soul! served up.
Let’s start with the engine. Under the ! hood is a 1.6-liter, turbo that pumps out an impressive 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. That’s 40 hp more than the mid-level Plus model, and a jaw-dropping 71 hp bump over the Base Model Soul.
Hooking up to that little workhorse is a new 7-speed Dual Clutch Transmission (DCT) and it’s a perfect Robin to the engine’s Batman – acceleration if quick off the line, that dual exhaust has a nice throaty purr, and that DCT pops off ultra-quick shifts, and is very responsive. For a small SUV, it’s quick. And we easily hit 25-27 mpg, even with frequent forays into the turbo zone.
Helping you have more fun is a Sport Mode button on the steering wheel, that adjusts shift points and throttle response and brightens up an already sparkling drive. We were a little bummed out that there were no paddle shifters, but you can go manu-matic with the shift lever – frankly the DCT works so well on its own, you don’t bother.
Kia was also nice enough to bump up the size of the front brakes to give you a little more bite – a good idea with all that power on top.
The smile on your face continues when you hit the twisties. A sport suspension combined with the larger 18-inch wheels gives a firm ride, but also suppresses body roll, and you cut and thrust in traffic with ease. Add in the excellent visibility from the tall seating position, and this is an urban weapon of excellence.
2017 KIA Soul! Exterior Mega Gallery
Hit the freeways, and the Soul surprises with a hushed quiet, ride with little wind noise – impressive for a big, blocky vehicle.
While the short wheelbase and sport suspension/tires can give a little choppiness, the Soul’s impressively tight structure shrugs it off. Is somebody from Audi moonlighting at Kia? It sure seems like it.
While the Soul has gotten a big dose of style and performance, Kia makes sure it hasn’t gotten too big for its britches. If you just want style, space and some nice features, the Base model rings in at $15,990. It’s also the only Soul available with a stick. Add $1,560 for the auto.
Go for the + (Plus) model and you go from a 1.6L to a 2.0L engine, add a 6-speed automatic, get a touch-screen with color display and rear view camera, Auto A/C, 17-inch alloys, color-keyed fascias and more. It’s a nice package at $19,650.
The ! (Exclaim) starts at $22,650, and that was exactly how our model was equipped. You get an arm’s long list of features, that awesome turbo/ 7-speed DCT transmission, sporty exterior and sports suspension. At that price, bargain!
The options are bundled into two packages. There’s a Tech Package with HID Projector headlights and LED fogs, power folding mirrors, an 8” touch-screen with Navigation and Blind Spot Detection, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and heated front and rear seats. Comprehensive, and fairly priced at $3,000. A Panoramic Sunroof is a nice option for $1,000, but is only available once you’ve splurged for the Tech Package, kind of a bummer.
Still, loaded to the gills, you only come in at $27,500. And Kia offers loads of tempting accessories to make your Soul your own.
If it was ours, we’d go for the big, buff, turbo-enhanced Soul !. The performance is exceptional, it’s handsome, useful, doesn’t break the bank. We might even skip the option packages – we didn’t feel like we were missing out at all. You’ll not only surprise most other small SUV’s, you’ll give some sporty cars a real run for their money.
And if you run into a Hamster with ‘roid rage – you can easily outrun him, too.