Kia and Hyundai have long struggled to break into the sport-compact space. And to be fair, it is a challenging nut to crack, what with favorites of ours like the Volkswagen GTI, Ford Fiesta ST, and Concentrate ST clogging up the tubes. Korea’s attempts to court enthusiasts as a result far, including the Hyundai Veloster Turbo and Kia Forte SX Turbo, have fallen just short of true hot-hatch status largely due to detail shortcomings like vague steering and rubbery shift action.
At very first glance, the new turbocharged version of the Kia Soul seems to be playing a similar sort of game. Red exterior accent lines are evocative of the GTI’s aesthetic, a flat-bottomed steering wheel suggests some degree of raciness, and larger 18-inch wheels give the boxy Soul a much more athletic stance. It also has a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-four making 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque—not precisely barnburner numbers, but not shabby, either.
Think Warm CUV, Not Hot Hatch
Kia is keen to point out that the Soul is not at all a sport compact or a hot hatch. Rather, it’s a small crossover set up to compete with the likes of the Mazda CX-three, Chevrolet Trax, and Fiat 500X. The Soul is currently the greatest-seller in that segment, and Kia desires to preserve the excellent occasions rolling. Purchasers had been asking for two things: more power and all-wheel drive. With the latter proving difficult in terms of packaging and expense, Kia decided to prioritize the wish for additional grunt and make the 1.6-liter turbo engine normal for the Soul’s best trim level, which is just denoted “!” (and pronounced Exclaim, according to Kia).
As when the very same engine is installed in the Kia Optima and the Hyundai Tucson and Sonata, the turbocharged mill pairs only with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic—no manual transmission is provided with the turbo, and Kia’s justification is the now-familiar spiel about low take prices and the costly certification procedure for distinct powertrain combinations. If you want a manual gearbox with this engine, Kia will happily steer you toward a Forte5 SX Turbo hatchback with a six-speed stick.
The Soul Turbo’s aforementioned sporty touches are not meant to recommend that this is a efficiency machine. Its basic suspension setup is the very same strut front and torsion-beam rear as the lesser models in the lineup, despite the fact that Kia says the Turbo’s springs and dampers are tuned slightly differently. Its 45-series all-season tires and 18-inch wheels are the same size as the optional wheels and tires offered on the Soul Plus (or “+”), which has a 161-hp naturally aspirated 2.-liter. Kia did install slightly bigger, 12.-inch-diameter front brake rotors for the turbocharged model, but the 10.three-inch rear discs are the identical on all Souls.
With no the expectation of higher-performance driving on its shoulders, the turbocharged Soul’s mildly sportier demeanor hits its mark effectively. The 1.6-liter turbo four is a satisfied and smooth engine, with mainly linear power delivery, powerful midrange torque, and a decent-sounding engine note. The dual-clutch transmission is a smooth operator as effectively, delivering rapid shifts and minimal low-speed clunkiness of the sort that occasionally plagues these torque-converter-less automatic gearboxes. Paddle shifters are notable by their absence, though the shifter does have a manual shifting mode. We preferred driving in the Sport mode, which adjusts transmission shift points and throttle response to be a bit much more aggressive the transmission can be reluctant to downshift in Typical mode, which combines with a bit of turbo lag to make for a less-eager attitude.
Picking Sport mode also tends to make the steering really feel a bit heavier, but does not modify the electrically assisted steering rack’s lack of feedback and on-center feel. Even so, the Soul’s stiff structure and effectively-tuned damping make for a satisfying balance of ride and handling, at least on the glassy-smooth pavement in northern California where we drove the new model. Body roll is nicely controlled in corners, the all-season rubber has a reasonably higher grip threshold when pushed on twisty roads, and there’s a commendable lack of torque steer. Even though the Soul Turbo is short on the fluidity and harmoniousness of the greatest compact automobiles such as the Volkswagen Golf and the Mazda 3, the Mazda CX-three is the only modest crossover that surpasses the Soul’s general dynamic goodness it also offers all-wheel drive, the missing element in Kia’s contender.
The squared-off Soul shames the CX-3—and nearly all other subcompact crossovers—in terms of practicality and interior space. The cabin is airy and spacious, with good sightlines all around, an expansive rear seat with lots of headroom, and a large cargo area that effortlessly expands by folding the back seat flat. With the seats down, there is up to 61 cubic feet of space back there, which tops even the versatile Honda HR-V.
Pricing is another sturdy suit for the Soul Turbo, which begins at $ 23,500—just $ 1350 a lot more than last year’s Soul ! model with the two.-liter naturally aspirated engine. That starting cost brings a decent amount of regular kit, which includes push-button start and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay even our loaded test vehicle with a panoramic sunroof, blind-spot detection, navigation, and a Harman/Kardon audio technique topped out at a nevertheless-reasonable $ 27,620. As with other Soul models, the interior layout is ergonomically sound, and material good quality is best-notch in the sub-$ 30,000 arena.
If you’re nevertheless not convinced that the turbocharged model is the clear choice of the Soul lineup, contemplate this: Despite possessing 40 a lot more horsepower than the two.-liter vehicle and 71 more horses than the base 1.six-liter model, it beats each in EPA fuel economy, at 26/31 mpg city/highway.
Far more of a Excellent Thing
Kia says that the majority of Soul buyers are value-oriented people, so it makes sense that solution planners anticipate the less-expensive naturally aspirated versions to remain more common. The Kia Soul is an appealing, sensible, and properly-rounded box (however oxymoronic that sounds) no matter the trim level.
We could very easily be upsold to the Soul Turbo. Although it’s not the sharp-edged hot hatch some may possibly be hoping for from Kia, the Soul with a bit a lot more pep in its step is entertaining to drive and an appealing overall package with lots of practicality baked in. And enthusiasts shouldn’t worry, because we’re nevertheless holding out hope for the two-door, 250-hp, tough-core Soul Track’ster.Vehicle and Driver BlogCar and Driver Blog