DALLAS, April 5, 2016 – Kia has been making huge strides in its product in the last several years. Kia chose to inject some style into our review rides by loaning us a 2015 Kia Soul!
No, we are not shouting. The “!” in Soul! is an actual trim level at the top of the Soul line, with the + model right below it and the now plain-named Soul as the base, which starts at $15,190. One will not find the Soul! at that price, which starts at $20,790.
Can Kia use its subcompact crossover people mover to inject some Soul into your life? They may have just made a deal with the devil to bring a car with this much fun, utility and value to these shores. To find out in what way, let us delve into specifics.
The exterior of all Souls received a needed freshening with the release of this badge’s second generation model for 2014. Fortunately, the Soul did not lose its hip appeal in the second iteration the way the Scion xB did.
(The Soul was, incidentally, designed in California, where other great things like iPhones are designed.)
The tail lights and headlights are much more modern-looking than before, while still proudly wearing the utility van box badge. Our Soul! came in eye-catching Inferno Red with a black leather interior. Indeed, we received more than our normal share of comments on the Soul! in the week we drove it. There was quite a bit of interest from the masses.
Our vehicle also included avant-garde 18-inch wheels, competing well with the best designs from Europe. The rear is very futuristic looking, including the LED tail lights in our model. All in all, the Soul is startlingly cool-looking for the such a utilitarian vehicle. It exudes a metropolitan vibe that seems to match the demographic it’s targeting. However, there is one weakness we did uncover.
2015 Kia Soul! Image courtesy of Kia
Although there are many great vehicles on the market today, few are nearly perfect. The Soul! does have one soft spot, and that is its powertrain. The 164 horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder of our Soul! had enough grunt to get the 2,837-pound vehicle rolling, but it’s manners were distinctly not cool.
Reminiscent of a Ninja-powered blender, the engine screams loud and clear it’s not one of those smooth motors that purr inside even a basic Honda. However, the noise factor is mainly an issue when one is mashing the accelerator pedal to the floor. Around town, that blunt-force maneuver is only needed occasionally, due to the respectable power that resides underneath the hood.
Fortunately, the rest of the vehicle is a pleasant place to find oneself on a beautiful evening.
Enter the vehicle’s interior with the keyless remote and one finds Soul fully commits to the cool look.
The LED interior lighting in our Soul! felt modern and upscale. The LED-backlit gauges are clear and easy to read. The style appeals to the young and young at heart.
Aside from being integrated into the interior styling in a way that accentuates the speakers, the Infinity sound system in the Soul! is one of the better premium sound systems we have heard in our test vehicles. Infinity is a name that has been known for high-quality speakers for decades, and the speakers inside this vehicle soundly live up to their reputation.
Although some may roll their eyes, the door speakers also have a unique feature: An available setting illuminates the LED lighting around the speaker on the beat, encouraging the driver to crank the volume up. If you are feeling extra 1970s, go with the mood lighting, which changes color every few seconds.
Comfort is also important and the Soul! has that in spades. The seats in our Soul! were leather covered and quite comfortable. They included adjustable lumbar, though only two-way. This is only an issue for very tall drivers, who may like to move the lumbar support up.
Tall drivers will find the head restraint goes high enough to provide protection in case of a rear end collision. The heated and cooled front seats make for a comfortable place to be any time of year, and this combination is rare at this price point.
We would like to see a bit more console space, the only place where we are reminded of this vehicle’s small size. But to compensate, we enjoyed the panoramic sunroof with power shade, included in the Sound & Sound package.
We would be negligent if we did not provide some positive comments on the rest of the interior, which seems to magically feel bigger than this model’s exterior implies. Very tall drivers may find the “dead pedal” area of the footwell to get a little uncomfortable for long drives, but this will not bother 98 percent of drivers. Room for three in the rear, heated outboard seats and plenty of cargo means taking friends out clubbing is in order.
The bonus of the small exterior is a vehicle that is easy to park in compact parking spots found in the city.
The eight-inch infotainment system is the same easy-to-use system found in most Kias. We particularly liked the traffic and graphics on the navigation, which we found to be better than on some recent BMWs we have taken out on the road. However, finding addresses is never as easy on this system as it is on a smartphone.
Also driven by this system are HD and SiriusXM radio, Bluetooth, and MP3 support. The only issue we found is one few manufacturers seem to handle correctly, the annoyingly variable volume levels between disparate sources. It is quite irritating to either get blasted when switching from a Bluetooth source or have to remember to turn the volume down when going back to the radio.
The biggest complaint we can muster with regard to the infotainment is that some of the system’s icons are starting to look a bit dated. That said, the system is generally better than what is found in most other vehicles. For multitasking drivers, there are useful USB ports, an auxiliary input and multiple 12-volt ports for powering additional tech gadgets.
When slipping our hands around the thick, leather-wrapped and heated steering wheel, we got the feeling this would be a special drive. But it is best to lower such expectations, as the ride and handling of this little van appropriately match its utilitarian looks.
Is this a bad thing? No, not really. We do not expect many people to go throwing this vehicle into corners at high speed. If they do, understeer will abound. The steering feel is actually fine for electric power steering, but a bit flavorless. If Kia can make magic happen with the handing like it did with its newly revised Optima, watch out world.
The counter to the car’s non-sporty handling is that the ride is comfortable. The six-speed automatic transmission is a sigh of relief in a world increasingly filled with continuously variable transmissions (CVTs). The pedal feel is slightly muted in Eco mode, but is not as blunted as on some other vehicles boasting a similar feature.
In mixed driving, we managed a solid 25mpg. This almost matches the combined 23 mpg city/31 mpg highway rating of 26 mpg. Note that we did not have Eco mode engaged at all times, so this car might do better in slightly less aggressive hands.
All models of the Soul come standard with the same safety features, which is to say there is nothing too advanced to be found here. Even so, advanced front, seat-side and curtain airbags, Antilock Braking System (ABS), and stability control can be found, plus a few smaller safety features.
There is a backup camera on this model, though we wished it were wide-angle. There were no changes to safety features between our 2015 model and the 2016s. The rumor is the 2017 model will receive a facelift and, hopefully, at least offer more advanced safety features in the future.
In the end, we were slightly disappointed to return our Kia Soul!
Our loaded test vehicle hits the bank account at a clip of $26,835. Kia truly makes that a deal with all the value and style it packs into the Soul! For a bit less, the basic Soul! trim level can be had for $20,790. However, that means giving up the audio system and the Whole Shebang Package with luxury items such as leather and heated seats.
If you are in the market for a smaller crossover vehicle and all-wheel drive is not required, we wholeheartedly recommend putting the Soul! on your shopping list.