2021 Kia Soul Review
About a decade ago, there was a brief moment when small and boxy SUVs were very popular. At the time, these included the Scion xB, Honda Element, Nissan Cube and the Kia Soul. Of these, only the Soul is still in production. If we ever get a reality TV show about them, Jeff Probst could give the Soul the title of "Sole Survivor." (Cue our drum ... ba dum tss!)
After a full redesign last year, the third-generation 2021 Kia Soul returns with only minor changes. Along with the Mazda CX-30 and Hyundai Kona, it's one of our higher-ranked extra-small SUVs. All of these represent strong choices that offer a lot for the money. The question is: Are you funky enough for the Soul?
The Kia Soul has a lot going for it. Its boxy shape gives it a seriously roomy passenger cabin and cargo area. It's also fun to drive, with above-average handling abilities and an intuitive CVT automatic. Minor grievances aside, this small SUV is one of the best out there.
How does the Soul drive?
Maximum acceleration from the 2.0-liter engine is a little lacking, but the Soul feels perfectly spry around town. The steering is natural, and cornering abilities are better than expected. In most cases, the CVT automatic feels like a traditional automatic. In Edmunds track testing, the Soul posted a 0-60 mph time of 8.8 seconds, which is a respectable time for a little SUV.
The steering features a light effort that builds up naturally when you move from center. The Soul has cornering abilities similar to sportier rivals such as the Mazda CX-3 and Mini Countryman. The only true downside is the touchy brake pedal, which takes some getting used to. The brake response builds too quickly, so you have to be smooth on the brakes to avoid lurching. Unlike some other subcompacts, the Soul doesn't offer all-wheel drive.
How comfortable is the Soul?
The front seats are reasonably comfortable even after you've been sitting for hours. The rear seatback angle is fixed but is set at a comfortable angle. The ride is firm and controlled but never harsh. Unlike some rivals, the Soul doesn't shudder like it's falling apart when it's driven over bigger bumps.
At highway speeds, the upright windshield generates a noticeable — but not irritating — level of wind noise, and some tire noise is evident too. Simulated gearshifts mean the engine doesn't drone at full throttle like some CVT automatics.
How’s the interior?
From an ergonomic standpoint, the simple interior design means there's not much to mess up. Navigating through touchscreen menus is easy thanks to an intuitive interface and physical buttons for high-level functions. A height-adjustable front seat and a generous range of steering wheel adjustment help accommodate drivers of all sizes.
The tall roof and wide door openings allow easy access to the front and rear of the deceptively large cabin. There's lots of headroom and legroom in front and back — four adults will have no problem taking road trips. All windows are tall and narrow with the exception of the small upturned window in the rear three-quarters view.
How’s the tech?
We tested the X-Line trim level, which has the basic six-speaker audio system. Without a dedicated subwoofer, bassy sounds come out of the speakers but lack punch. At least the speakers don't rattle at high volume. At this trim level, there's only one USB port, but it's illuminated so you can see it at night. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard. On every trim except the base LX, you also get advanced safety features such as forward collision mitigation and a blind-spot monitor.
How’s the storage?
The Soul has a deep cargo well that gives it more cargo room than other small SUVs. Though this configuration has impressive volume (24.2 cubic feet), there's a large hump at the base of the rear seats when you fold them, which limits utility.
Storage space is decent for the class, with a good number of bins and cubbies for front-seat occupants. Installing a car seat is tough despite a roomy back seat — the anchors are inset quite far and access to the tethers is hampered by this trim's nonadjustable headrests.
How economical is the Soul?
The EPA rates the CVT automatic-equipped Soul at 30 mpg combined (27 city/33 highway), which is slightly better than most competitors. However, we weren't able to replicate these numbers in real life. Over 350 miles of driving (100 of which were on the highway at a reasonable pace), we averaged just 26.8 mpg.
Is the Soul a good value?
The Soul is inexpensive even for a subcompact SUV. There's not much soft-touch plastic, yet it doesn't feel cheap. There's faux leather on the door rest where you rest your elbow, and the leather-wrapped wheel feels nice. There's also lots of silver trim to break up the monotony of an all-black cabin. As usual, Kia's warranty is class-leading.
The continuously variable automatic transmission isn't exactly fun to use, but it is well tuned and a bit more responsive than other CVT automatics. There's also not much power aboard — get the Turbo for a peppier engine. Still, even the midtier Soul is fun to toss around corners and has a pleasant ride.
The Soul uses its boxy shape to its advantage by providing lots of interior and cargo room. Styling is distinct and unmistakable. The premium audio system even gets beat-synced speaker lights, which adds to the fun factor.
Which Soul does Edmunds recommend?
The EX trim hits the sweet spot for features and cost. It adds plenty of creature comforts to make it feel a lot more upmarket than supporting trims. The Turbo trim's extra power is nice, but you effectively have to buy the top trim level to get it, which limits its appeal.
Kia Soul models
The 2021 Kia Soul is available in six trim Levels: LX, X-Line, GT-Line, S, EX and Turbo. For most of the lineup, you get a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (147 horsepower, 132 lb-ft of torque). The top-of-the-line Turbo receives a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (201 hp, 195 lb-ft). The LX comes with a six-speed manual transmission as standard, but it can be optioned with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that is standard on other trims. The Turbo model comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.