2018 Kia Soul

2018 Kia Soul Review

The Kia Soul is a fantastic alternative to the growing crop of tiny SUVs.
author
by James Riswick
Edmunds Editor

Edmunds expert review

When it debuted for the 2010 model year, the Kia Soul was difficult to classify. Was it a hatchback, a wagon or something else entirely? In recent years there has been a growing number of so-called subcompact crossover SUVs that provide the elevated seating height and enhanced cargo capacity of larger models but with a lower price tag. Really, they're an awful lot like the Soul in concept. Maybe we can add "trendsetter" to the Soul's list of attributes.

Yet, the 2018 Kia Soul is more appealing than its newfound competitors in a few ways. It has a roomier interior, with greater cargo and backseat space than the often-cramped competition that deserves the name "subcompact." Its crash scores are exemplary. It's also available with more power than its rivals — and not just the 201-horsepower turbocharged engine found in the range-topping Exclaim (!) trim level. The midgrade engine has a better-than-most 161 horsepower, too. And then there's the Soul's list of comfort, convenience and infotainment items at a price that undercuts those little SUVs considerably. You can get a lot more for your money by opting for the Soul.

Unfortunately, one thing you can't get is all-wheel drive, which is something those subcompact SUVs typically offer. Its fuel economy, regardless of engine, also disappoints. That should be of particular concern if you're looking at the Soul as more of a compact car alternative. On the whole, however, the Soul is an attractive little (insert vehicle type of your choice here) that should be a fashionable yet value-rich addition to your garage.



What's new for 2018

The Soul gets even more equipment for 2018. The base trim's Convenience package now features Kia's Uvo infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as automatic climate control. Uvo is also now standard on the Soul Plus trim. Buyers of the Plus can add new packages called Primo and Primo Lit.

We recommend

We like the midgrade Soul Plus. It's a bargain yet comes nicely equipped with just about all the features you'll likely need or enjoy, including an automatic transmission and the 7-inch Uvo infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration. Its 2.0-liter engine is noticeably more powerful than the base Soul's 1.6-liter engine. Another nice aspect of the Plus is the array of options available. While you could buy a stock Plus for the budget play, just about everything in Kia's upgrade arsenal is available should you want it, including heated and ventilated power-adjustable front seats, a Harman Kardon sound system and the latest advanced driver safety aids.



Trim levels & features

The 2018 Kia Soul is available in three trim levels: base, Plus (+) and Exclaim (!). Each comes with a different engine. An automatic transmission is standard on the Plus and Exclaim and optional on the base Soul, which comes with a six-speed manual.

The base trim comes standard with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine (130 horsepower, 118 pound-feet of torque), 16-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, air conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, 60/40-split folding rear seats, Bluetooth, and a six-speaker sound system with a USB port and satellite radio. The Convenience package (automatic transmission only) adds automatic headlights, automatic climate control, a rearview camera, and the Uvo tech interface that includes a 7-inch touchscreen and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration.

The Soul Plus includes the Convenience package content and adds a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (161 hp, 150 lb-ft), a six-speed automatic transmission, 17-inch wheels, foglights, heated mirrors, keyless entry, selectable drive modes, upgrade cloth upholstery, a rear center armrest and a cargo cover.

The Soul Exclaim adds a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (201 hp, 195 lb-ft), a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission, 18-inch wheels, upgraded exterior trim (gloss black and red accents), upgraded gauges and interior trim, a mix of cloth and leather seat upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and keyless ignition and entry.

The Plus is available with a number of optional packages. The Audio package includes an 8-inch touchscreen, navigation, the Exclaim trim's upgraded interior materials, keyless ignition and entry, two USB ports, LED speaker lights and a Harman Kardon premium sound system. The Designer's package adds 18-inch wheels, the leather-wrapped steering wheel and a two-tone roof treatment.

You can also get the Plus with a Primo package that adds a panoramic sunroof, power-folding mirrors, the Exclaim trim's upgraded gauges, heated and ventilated eight-way power-adjustable front seats (with driver lumbar adjustment), heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, and a suite of driver assistance systems that includes adaptive cruise control, blind-spot and lane departure warning, and a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking. To all of that, the Primo Lit package tacks on xenon headlights and LED running lights.

The Soul Exclaim is available with a Technology package that effectively includes everything it doesn't already have from the Plus' Primo Lit package. The exceptions are the panoramic sunroof, which can be added separately, and leather upholstery, which isn't available at all.



Trim tested

Each vehicle typically comes in multiple versions, although trim levels share many aspects. The ratings in this review are based on our evaluation of a 2017 Kia Soul Exclaim (!) (turbo 1.6L inline-4 | 7-speed dual-clutch automatic | FWD).

Driving

Most drivers won't need the added power from the Kia Soul Exclaim's turbo engine, but there's no doubt any driver will appreciate it. We were surprised by how entertaining and capable this boxy little car is on a twisting road, which translates to a more confident ride for less than sporty drivers.

Acceleration

The Plus trim's standard engine has more guts than most competitors' powerplants, and the Exclaim's turbo engine really can't be matched. Right off the line, there's a little hesitation, but power builds steadily to highway speeds. Sport mode sharpens response.

Braking

The brake pedal is appropriately firm and easy to modulate. With more aggressive braking, the car remains poised and controllable. The brakes remain strong even after repeated use.

Steering

The steering effort feels right at all speeds. It lightens up at parking lot speeds and gets heavier as speeds increase. There's a good on-center feel to keep you tracking straight on the highway for effortless road trips.

Handling

The Kia Soul is surprisingly agile and, dare we say, even fun on a winding road. It takes a little getting used to, but you can drive it much harder than you'd expect.

Drivability

The turbocharged Exclaim has a dual-clutch automatic transmission that can be annoyingly hesitant in traffic. Otherwise, and with other trims, the Soul is very easy to drive with confidence whether you're commuting, maneuvering in a tight spot or blasting along some fun roads.

Comfort

The Soul rides a little stiffer than other SUVs, but it's far from being a deal-breaker. Even on long drives you're unlikely to feel fatigued.

Seat comfort

Despite having only basic adjustments, the front seats are comfortable after several hours on the road. The rear seats are a little firm and flat by comparison.

Ride comfort

The Soul's suspension is the same regardless of trim level. The ride quality is stiffer than that of other compact SUVs, but even on really rough roads, it's never objectionable. Wheel size does make a difference, so test-drive different trims.

Noise & vibration

Wind and road noise is always present, but it's not so loud that it becomes intrusive. Under more aggressive acceleration, the engine can get a little loud, but it sounds pretty good for a four-cylinder.

Climate control

The single-zone automatic climate control is easy to use, and once set, rarely needs to be adjusted.

Interior

There's a lot of plastic throughout the interior, but the panels are nicely grained and feel substantial. Any spots that you regularly touch or rest your elbows on are padded. Really, it's better than most.

Ease of use

Primary controls, as well as buttons and knobs for secondary systems, are well labeled and easy to operate.

Getting in/getting out

The tall doors and slightly taller ride height make getting in and out of the Kia Soul a breeze, even in tight spots.

Driving position

You sit taller in the Soul than in a sedan, but not quite as high as in a typical compact SUV. It's an excellent compromise that gives you a great view of the road.

Roominess

Generally the Soul has more room than subcompact SUV competitors. Its cabin feels big and spacious, even if you ignore its relatively small footprint. The rear seats are especially spacious, with plenty of head- and legroom for taller passengers. The panoramic sunroof enhances the sense of space.

Visibility

The rear roof pillars are pretty thick, but overall outward visibility is excellent. There's no guesswork when backing into a spot, and you won't have to rely too much on the rearview camera.

Quality

Materials used and construction are slightly better than expected for a car at this price. Even better materials and nicer seat upholstery can be found in the top Exclaim trim and with the Plus Primo package.

Utility

The Soul's boxy shape allows it to make the most of all available space. Cargo capacity is better than in most subcompact SUV competitors, though space aft of the back seat is still only so-so. Interior storage could also be better.

Small-item storage

Bins, pockets and cupholders are adequate but not particularly generous or clever. Other vehicles offer more and larger storage areas, as well as thoughtful solutions for phones and personal items.

Cargo space

There's up to 19 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats if items are piled to the top. Capacity increases to 61 cubic feet with the seats folded (but they don't fold flat). It's better than most hatchbacks and subcompact SUVs, and it even beats some compact SUVs.

Technology

Kia exceeds expectations when it comes to technology. A lot of features are built into the touchscreen infotainment system (including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), which is easy to reach and operate. Response time is immediate, and the optional audio system delivers a solid punch.

Audio & navigation

The optional Harman Kardon audio system sounds great and is easy to operate. Similarly, the navigation benefits from sharp screen resolution and easy-to-read graphics. The mix of physical and onscreen buttons makes switching between systems quick and simple.

Smartphone integration

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included with the Uvo3 touchscreen interface, which is optional on the base trim and standard on all others. One USB port is standard, and two are optional.

Driver aids

Lane departure and blind-spot warning systems are packaged together with adaptive cruise control and a forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking system.

Edmunds expert review process

This review was written by a member of Edmunds' editorial team of expert car reviewers. Our team drives every car you can buy. We put the vehicles through rigorous testing, evaluating how they drive and comparing them in detail to their competitors.

We're also regular people like you, so we pay attention to all the different ways people use their cars every day. We want to know if there's enough room for our families and our weekend gear and whether or not our favorite drink fits in the cupholder. Our editors want to help you make the best decision on a car that fits your life.