With a distinctive boxy shape and enthusiastic four-cylinder power, the compact Kia Soul is an overachiever among small crossovers, hatchbacks and wagons. With its sharp angles and neat cabin filled with distinctive shapes and vibrant colors, the Soul doesn't fit neatly into any of those typical boxes, which is of course part of its appeal. It's got reasonable speed and performance, quick handling, loads of cargo space and a good measure of tech.
The current model represents a gradual evolution for a car that debuted back in 2010. Each new year has seen a sprinkling of new features, tech and refinement. The most recent redesign added a little more power, an improved interior and more cargo space to the Soul, but first-generation models still make a solid choice for a used car with charm and utility.
Current Kia Soul
Depending on your perspective, you could call the Kia Soul a wagon (its official classification), a hatchback or a compact crossover SUV. It's available in three trim levels: Base, Plus (+) and Exclaim (!).
The Base model starts with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine (130 horsepower), a six-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive. A six-speed automatic is optional. The Base indeed comes with the basics: 16-inch alloy wheels, cloth upholstery, 60/40-split folding rear seats, Bluetooth, and a six-speaker audio system with a USB port.
The Plus trim adds a more powerful 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (161 hp) paired with the six-speed automatic and key upgrades such as 17-inch wheels, keyless entry, cruise control, a 5-inch touchscreen and a rearview camera. The Exclaim tops off the range with a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder (201 hp), a seven-speed automatic transmission, 18-inch wheels, keyless entry and ignition, leather-trimmed upholstery, and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone integration.
The options sheet is fairly broad. Among other items, Plus and Exclaim models can add a navigation system with an 8-inch touchscreen display, an upgraded Harman Kardon audio system, a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning and forward collision warning. Exclaim trims can also add xenon headlights.
In our reviews, we've found the Soul Plus' 161-hp four-cylinder perfectly fine, but the turbo engine's additional thrust is worth the price. It's a boxy little car, but a compact wheelbase contributes to lively handling. The Soul is a capable cruiser, though the ride quality can seem overly firm with the bigger wheels installed, and fuel economy is mediocre. Still, there's a lot to like about the Soul's 61 cubic feet of maximum cargo space, which is better than space in most hatchbacks and on par with some SUVs.
Used Kia Soul Models
The current second-generation Kia Soul was introduced in 2014 in the same three trim levels available today: Base, Plus and Exclaim. It offered a handful of improvements over the first-gen model, including more low-end power from the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, higher-quality interior materials and more cargo capacity. Since then, Kia has added a few extra features. Souls sold from 2014 to '17 were not available with the turbocharged engine.
The first-generation Kia Soul was produced from 2010 to 2013. Trim levels consisted of base, Plus, Exclaim and Sport. The base Soul had a 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 122 hp; it was available only with a five-speed manual. The upper trims got a 2.0-liter four with 142 hp. It also came with the five-speed manual as standard, but a four-speed automatic was optional.
Standard features on the base Soul included air-conditioning, full power accessories, cruise control, Bluetooth, and a four-speaker sound system with satellite radio and an iPod-USB jack. Moving up through the trims brought alloy wheels, premium audio, power-folding sideview mirrors, a sunroof, automatic climate control and a two-tone interior.
For 2012, several improvements included more engine output, new six-speed transmissions and revised steering. The base Soul's 1.6-liter four made 138 hp and could be paired to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission. The other Souls' 2.0-liter four cranked out 164 hp. The Soul Plus had the same transmission choices as the base model, while the Soul Exclaim came with the automatic only. That year the Soul's styling was slightly updated inside and out, and a number of new technology options, such as a navigation system, debuted as well.
In reviews, we noted that the Soul's cabin offered a nice balance between form and function, while the available two-tone houndstooth upholstery gave the Soul more flair than its rivals. Gauges and controls are well-placed and easy to use, even when fitted with high-tech options such as the voice-controlled Uvo infotainment system that allows you to control your cellphone, iPod and more with voice commands. A major benefit of the Soul's boxy design is the abundant head- and legroom, even in the backseat.
For this generation, the 2.0-liter engine is still the one to get, especially since fuel economy is on par with the smaller engine's. This Soul doesn't offer the sort of zippy nature as other small cars, or even as the successive generation, but it's not a soft snooze-mobile either. The ride quality is pretty agreeable, though models fitted with the admittedly sharp-looking 18-inch alloy wheels can feel harsh over bad pavement.