The Kia Soul is a runaway success.
It is the best-selling global Kia vehicle in the brand’s history. And it has outlasted its Nissan Cube or the Scion xB box-car rivals in the marketplace by being better.
This acclaim is perhaps why the Soul still wears its original sheetmetal — albeit revamped slightly for the exterior of this latest iteration. Fresh LEDs, bumpers and trim details are all this car needs to be fresh in 2017.
If the core package was so right-sized and right-priced, it does make sense to keep it humming along nicely with the same look.
Beneath the skin, however, the Soul has almost a completely redesigned platform, suspension and drivetrain. The cabin is bang up-to-date in 2017 as well. The Soul offers three engines and pricing below $20k — but we’re especially intrigued by this top level trim with its turbo power and double-clutch autobox.
On paper, the Soul Exclaim is essentially a tall-boy Jetta GLI by performance. Nearly a tall Civic Si based on power-to-weight ratio.
We spent a week flogging the Soul — and came away deeply impressed. A high-performance drive review gets the tires spinning along with a few dozen photos of the Soul in Wild Orange metallic.
Performance Drive Video
Legacy sheetmetal can be a blessing and a curse. Yes it is familiar and a solid, well-liked design. But it is also very familiar on the road. Not quite enogh in the profile of the Soul to make you do a double-take.
The overall look is solid, however, even years since its debut. The design begins with an ultra-rounded, bottlenose approach to the high hood. This flows in near-perfect semi-circle from the “Tiger nose” false upper grille and over the flat horizontals of the main hoodline. Similar rounding for the hood-to-fender transition.
New looks for the lower grille bring a slightly Aston-ish shape of gloss-black lower grille and intake. The middle portions are air intakes — feeding a visible, intercooler for the first time! The intercooler is vertically-mounted and beside the standard radiator. At the edges of this lower grille are the swanky new LED foglamps in a contrast silver bezel. LED corner lamps live in this housing too — and both are exclusive to the Tech Package models. Silver accents the lower chin-splitter that almost doubles as a skidplate in appearance. This semi-SUV look is pretty fun and playful in the flesh.
The Soul’s sixth set of headlamps are also new for this loaded 2017 Soul. Halogens for the projectors handle low and high-beam duties, with no HID lamps available yet on Soul. The Soul Exclaim does wear standard LED daytime running lights that form a fresh cup of white light along the bottom of the lamps.
The red accent line running across the sills all around the Soul are a nice nod to the Soul Exclaim’s mission as a tall GTI (of sorts..). But this accent detail is hard to stomach with this particular exterior orange, if we’re honest.
New-look 18-inch, 10-spoke alloys have dark inner details that are fresh and on-trend — darkening on the move nicely.
LED blinker repeaters in the side mirrors and LED taillamps are other special touches on this top Soul. Slightly meek twin exhaust pipes peek from a single muffler, and make a nice putt-putt idle rumble from outside.
The Soul’s exterior shape is hard to change for many reasons. But mostly because the distinctive windshield with its tall rake has a big influce on the cabin. Basically, the dashboard is super shallow as a result. This brings incredible visibility and is slightly Jeep-like in its utility.
The rest of the Soul Exclaim cabin is firmly shooting for the Mini Cooper. You have that same sense of playfulness in the circular patterns, stamps and shapes all around the cockpit. A modern houndstooth pattern even decorates the leatherette of the seats.
These tall power-adjustable seats up front let you get pretty comfortable right away, though they are slightly short in the base for long-legged folks. Medium-good support around corners means you will have to brace a leg or hang on when the G-forces rise.
The $3k Tech package brings an eight-inch nav screen and premium Harmon-Kardon audio. The Soul even packs speaker lights that can make a choice of ambient colors or can dance along in sync to whatever music is playing. Fun and playful, right?
The orange stitching for the seats is suitably youthful — but the safety and comfort tech is very grown-up. Impressively, Soul Exclaim includes will parking sensors/backup cam and blind-spot monitoring system from its low-$20s price. Heated seats front and rear join a heated steering wheel for a serious posh level of comfort at these prices.
A favorite detail? The Soul ! (Exclaim) runs the same core displays and tech as the latest Genesis G80 luxury car. Same keyfob, too, and same perk-up as you approach. The Soul unfolds its power side mirrors as you approach, and lights up puddle lamps when the doors open. The touch-proximity handles are slightly yestertech with a black square on the outside of the handle. But still — the level of modernity and premiumness in Soul is impressive in 2017.
A final treat on the test car? The $1000 full-length moonroof. Feels like a steal at these prices for how light it makes the cabin, and how cool the slide-above glass is when open. A very speedy power-operated sunshade rounds out the upgrade nicely. Easily makes the Soul feel like it should have a price in the $30s.
Of course, the Soul’s main benefits are in how easy it is to get in-out and its SUV-ish versatility. The seat height is near perfect for just sliding in or out. While the back seats tumble away easily to handle tall packages. Overall cargo room with the seats up is slightly tight — and all that reminds you how neatly this machine is packaged. Feels big, drives small.
The Kia Soul has three engine/drivetrain choices available. This top dog makes 201-horsepower and is the only turbo and only one paired to a sporty dual-clutch automatic. Despite the CUV looks, no AWD is offered on an Soul models.
The 1.6-liter turbo engine here is strongly proven via the Hyundai Velostor and upcoming Elantra GT, among others. It has healthy low-end torque that is plenty to get the front wheels spinning when provoked.
Curiously, this does not include a brake-torque launch — generally the way to achieve headline 0-60-mph figures. When you brake-torque the Soul, it computer overrides and does not rev the engine or build boost. As a result, Soul Turbo has the power of a GLI but not the same off-the-line aggression. Even if not aggressive, the Soul Turbo is definitely sporty on throttle.
The Soul Turbo has exclusive drive mode selections to flip the steering and throttle into Sport mode. This adds excitement with a boost gauge and power meter in the gauge cluster, more eager kickdown and slightly heavier steering.
The overall ride/handling balance is genuinely pretty good. Steering is accurate and has good crispness around hard corners. The Soul stays admirably flat at all times, yet rides pretty calmly on the highway.
There is a bit more firmness around town — but it’s worth it for such a pointy front end. (A solid rear axle means the front end does do most of the work in corners.)
The double-clutch automatic is slightly curious. In daily driving, it feels totally conventional. This is a good thing — no rough shifts, confusion or oddness in traffic. Its best trait might be the snappy kickdown the Soul Turbo has in traffic. Definitely more sophisticated than a standard automatic on the cheaper Souls.
But Soul Turbo lacks shift paddles and its upshifts are a world away from VW DSG’s imperceptible and instant changes.
Overall, there are few other cars — and no compact crossovers — that can deliver 0-60mph in the low 7-second range while keeping pricing below $25k to start.
The Soul is priced from about $16k with its cheapest layout. The Soul Exclaim stickers from just above $23k with this engine and style.
$1000 for the moonroof and $3k for the Tech pack with nav, LED fogs and premium goodies took the total to $27,620 in total.
The Kia Soul might be a familiar sight on the roads. But even drivers of a 2010 model would be shocked with how far the Soul has come in seven years. It is not just a curio. Not just a quirky Scion-fighter. As the car market has exploded with compact crossovers, the Soul seems like a brilliant way to have econobox pricing and efficiency. But utility and curb appeal a world above depressing sedans.
Pairing all that goodness with a near-VW level of chassis and powertrain sophistication?
Along with seriously easy features and tech?
All this makes Soul easy to own. Easy to drive. And very easy to love.
Tom Burkart is the founder and managing editor of Car-Revs-Daily.com, an innovative and rapidly-expanding automotive news magazine.
He holds a Journalism JBA degree from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. Tom currently resides in Charleston, South Carolina with his two amazing dogs, Drake and Tank.
Mr. Burkart is available for all questions and concerns by email Tom(at)car-revs-daily.com.