Kia’s charming little box ticks all the right boxes
Words by: Adam Allen
This thing just screams cool.
You don’t have to be well versed in the subcompact SUV market segment to know that this one is not like the others. The Kia Soul features pleasant oddities like blacked out A pillars, a floating trim panel on the rear hatch and its unapologetically cube-like aesthetic which collectively serve as a cheeky middle finger directed at conformity. Our tester featured an eye-catching hue of Wild Orange as well as striking LED taillights, Xenon HID headlights and attractive 10-spoke wheels wrapped in generously sized Kumho rubber (235/45/18 to be precise) which further enhanced its curb appeal. The Soul is one of those cars that you see around frequently but it’s still quick to elicit a smile from fellow motorists.
Hold on just a moment. You just called the Soul an SUV, but Kia refers to it as a UHV. What gives?
Kia’s marketing brigade has determined that since the Soul is such a unique conveyance it deserves a unique classification. They call it a UHV which stands for Urban Hatchback Vehicle, mostly because it doesn’t have the option of all-wheel drive thus distancing itself from the SUV designation (more on that later.) Our tester kitted out in SX Turbo trim is the hottest of available Souls with its punchy turbo engine and astute 7-speed gearbox, but you’re mistaken if you classify this trucklet as a hot hatch. C’mon Kia- no one is going to be fooled. If it’s a hot hatch you’re after, you will be better served by segment titans such as the Volkswagen GTI or the Ford Focus ST. Unlike the Soul, both offer more power and the choice of a manual gearbox.
It’s a charming little box, and boxes are good for holding stuff.
The Mazda CX-3 is one of the best in the segment and competes head on with the Soul, but it can’t come close to the Kia’s ability to swallow all kinds of things in its cargo hold, even more so when you drop the second row of seats. The rearmost area has been thoughtfully designed so you can haul whatever your heart desires- we were surprised at what we could get to fit back there. Actually, the whole interior has been well thought out. Build quality is impressive and the seats are comfortable while also providing an excellent relationship to the controls. As usual for Kia, the Soul is chalk full of standard goodies and our loaded tester brought even more to the table including things like a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats and an upgraded touchscreen infotainment system (which works beautifully, by the way.) That a Kia represents a good value should surprise exactly no one, but we found ourselves feeling exactly that at how refined the little Soul is. It combines a shrewdly tuned suspension that makes short work of bumps but still offers good grip ensuring the chassis can keep up with the engine. Mostly, we reveled in how competent a cruiser it is, silently clicking off kilometers and on some trips we were even able to beat NRCan’s forecast for highway fuel economy.
Boxes aren’t supposed to be fun to drive.
We’d guess the Soul didn’t get that memo, because it is a hoot to drive. When you show it some throttle, the 1.6 litre turbo four rises to the occasion and delivers its enthusiastic 201 horsepower through the dual-clutch transmission which, in Sport Mode, delivers satisfyingly snappy gearchanges. The Soul SX is easily the hot rod of its segment, besting even the Nissan Juke Nismo in the 0-100km/h sprint despite being short 14 horsepower. As we eluded to earlier, handling is confident and secure, but expectations should be tempered by the highish centre of gravity because of its SUV proportions. We suspect that it would be even better in the curves if it ditched the torsion beam rear suspension for something with a little more sophistication, but that would add cost to the Soul’s bottom line. If you judge the Soul in the context of hot hatch thrills, it lands with a thud. Change the perspective to subcompact SUV standards, and the Soul suddenly becomes a gratifying machine to toss around- one that will happily accept a huge haul from your local Costco.
What might go wrong?
Our whining will commence with what the Soul doesn’t have. It does not offer a manual gearbox- strange, since this engine can be mated to one in other vehicles within the Kia lineup. The dual-clutch transmission practically begs to be manipulated by paddle shifters, and yet Kia doesn’t offer them. Huh? This is supposed to be the hottest Soul you can have, right? While we’re talking gearboxes, the dual-clutch auto needs to spend a little more time at finishing school- it can become flummoxed at finding ratios smoothly especially during low speed driving. We touched on this earlier, and the lack of available all-wheel drive seems incredulous. This omission doesn’t seem to influence sales, because the Soul is one of Kia’s best-selling offerings. Still, we think the option to drive all four wheels would be one very positively received by potential customers and would likely pad the already impressive sales figures. One last thing: we’d like to see the lane departure warning, adaptive cruise and emergency braking plus the all-important ventilated front thrones which would have been great to have during the heat of summer added to the SX’s already lengthy list of standard goodies.
Should I buy a Kia Soul Turbo?
When measured up against other Soul trims which offer a couple of less powerful naturally aspirated engines, we’d insist that you insist on the Turbo. It’s not only significantly more powerful and fun than the others, but the fuel economy penalty is negligible at best. It also runs happily on regular unleaded. Compared to the Mazda CX-3, a subcompact SUV we love for its unabashed dedication to serving up driving enjoyment, the Soul is a worthy adversary (although the Mazda offers all-wheel drive while the Soul does not.) Its assets like the commodious cargo area, praiseworthy refinement and passenger comfort and of course, the rip-snorting Turbo engine make a seriously compelling case for itself. We think you’ll find that it does tick off the right boxes, reason enough to add one to your fleet.
2018 Kia Soul SX Turbo– Specifications
- Price as tested: $32,035
- Body Type: 4-door, 5 passenger UHV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/front-wheel drive
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Engine: 1.6 litre turbo inline-four DOHC, 16 valves
- Horsepower: 201 @ 6,000 rpm
- Torque (lbs-ft.): 195 @ 1,500 rpm
- Curb weight: 1,452 kg (3,202 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Consumption: 10.7L/100km (22 mpg)