In a world where CUVs are slowly becoming the dominant species in the automotive world, one particular entry has always stood out for offering a unique yet successful approach to this often rehashed segment of the market, the Kia Soul.
The Soul arrived when boxy was in, and it competed with mainly with its equally square counterparts the Nissan Cube, and the Scion xB. Both the Cube and the xB have entered automotive retirement, but the Soul has managed to soldier on, and transform itself into a solid competitor for a new wave of CUV entries. But can a dash of performance and a new turbo engine finally give the Soul the spice to back up its sizzle? or does it end up under-cooked?
Like other Souls, our Titanium Grey tester pitches curves and angles for a decidedly square look that allows it to be very distinctive when out in traffic. The front fascia will never be known for its aesthetically pleasing lines, but it does have a subtle hint of aggression to it, and it is distinctively Kia in both execution, and function.
Turbo models (officially known as the Exclaim!) bring bigger rims, and tasteful red accents to the lower front bumper, side profile, and even the Soul nameplate.
The beefy rear tail lights remain unchanged, but a tasteful rear spoiler and dual exhaust tips help round out the look, and further set the Soul Turbo apart from its more mundane siblings.
It also allows it to stand out against rivals such as the Jeep Renegade, and the Honda HR-V though its still out-shined slightly by the more athletic looking but decidedly more cramped Mazda CX-3.
The interior of our tester still retains the familiarity and quality feel that has defined the Soul ever since it was first introduced. The various materials in this funky box have a premium look to them, and the soft touch plastics are a welcome departure from the hard shiny stuff that typically define compact crossovers.
Kia is still one of the top choices when it comes to their infotainment systems, and its because of the pure simplicity that exists in units like the 7-inch example in our tester. While some of the menu icons are still too close together, the way each feature is accessed and operated is logical and easy to understand.
We'll also give Kia engineers credit for equipping the UVO system with Android Auto AND Apple CarPlay for the 2017 model year. Soul Turbos bring their own unique flair, and come equipped with leather/cloth seats, a flat bottomed steering wheel, and orange stitching on the dashboard, steering wheel, shifter.
However, the boxy proportions also require a price to be paid, and like before, Soul drivers have to live with massive rear corner blind spots that can make passing in certain driving situations a bit challenging. Thankfully, the rest of the visibility is pretty decent, and the Soul redeemed itself on a trek to Ohio where it served as transport for my girlfriend and her family while we were attending a wedding. Back seat room is on the tight side, but our passengers liked the Soul's interior design and were pleased with its good amounts of rear legroom.
The key ingredient in this delicious pie is performance, and the Soul Turbo delivers in abundance once you get used to the engine's unique character. Unlike the Soul + we recently tested, "!" models pitch the naturally aspirated 2.0 liter in lieu of a 1.6 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine. This engine also makes its presence known in the Hyundai Elantra Sport, and is good for a healthy 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. These figures may not seem like much at first glance, but the low-end thrust generated by the turbocharger helps transform the Soul into a sporty box with go-kart esque handling. Our tester channeled its power to the front wheels through a seven speed DCT automatic transmission that delivered smooth shifts, and allowed our Soul to squirt through city traffic with confidence especially with Sport mode selected. A manual is also available, but only on the $16,100 base Soul model, which lacks a turbocharger and is more about looks than go.
However as mentioned earlier, the engine has a unique character that takes some getting used to. In this case, the spirited four banger loses some of its luster out on the freeway, with the boost rapidly fizzling out as the revs climbed higher and speeds increased.
Freeway speeds also revealed how noisy and clunky the Soul is, though this is mainly due to its budget oriented mission in life. But once you get off the freeway and take it out on twisty roads, the Soul Turbo regains its composure, and rewards drivers with an experience that is actually better than some European sports cars that cost twice as much. As expected, fuel economy takes a hit when your putting the Soul Turbo through its paces, but relax your right foot, and you are rewarded with 26 mpg in city driving and 31 mpg on the freeway. This puts the spunky Kia in the middle of the segment in this category, a solid achievement.
Pricing for the 2017 Kia Soul Turbo starts at $22,650 with our lightly optioned tester ringing in at a final sticker of $23,620 which includes the $850 destination fee and the $120 carpet floor mats. This pricing allows the Soul Turbo to compete with rivals such as the Nissan Juke Turbo, the Mini Countryman in "S" guise, as well as non-conventional rivals like the Subaru Impreza and Civic hatchbacks.
Curiously, the Soul Turbo can be equipped with optional 10-way power adjustable heated seats, but misses out on ventilated seats. However, they are available as an option on the mid range + model due to the different seat fabrics that are offered on that trim level. Regardless, it is still a viable alternative to the Countryman which can balloon its price tag very quickly when equipped with various options and accessories.
So when it comes down to it, does the 2017 Kia Soul Turbo manage to deliver the goods without ruining the basic formula? To a certain extent it does, though some fine tuning and refinement is necessary to truly allow it to dial in as the perfect budget performance CUV for young millennials. We look forward to checking it out when this happens, especially if a manual transmission is indeed in the works.