2017 Kia Soul ! Turbo Review

A sporty crossover with the soul of a hot hatch


Wade Thiel, Staff Writer



Positives: Actually fun to drive, good power and handling, spacious interior lots of features.
Negatives: Seating position feels too upright and high for a sporty car, some cheaper interior materials, doesn't handle as good as a designated hot hatch.
Bottom Line: The Kia Soul ! Turbo is a subcompact crossover for the person who really wants a hot hatch but also feels they need the high seating height of a crossover. It takes the tiny crossover up several notches by adding more power, improved handling and a real-deal sport mode. If you like the Soul and want something more fun, this is a smart choice.
We find the whole crossover craze a bit odd. However, you can’t argue with sales, and crossovers sure do sell well. What’s weird to us is that most crossovers are basically hatchback cars on stilts. The Kia Soul is a perfect example of this. It’s more or less a hatchback car, but it stands tall enough to be placed in Kia’s lineup next to the Niro and Sportage. The interesting thing is that it doesn’t even sit up all that much higher than many of Kia’s cars. Still, its slightly taller ride height and unique packaging makes it stand out. People like it and Kia has been catering to the masses. Recently, the company has released a higher-performance variant of the model called the Soul ! Turbo. Yes, the “!” is supposed to be there. Yes, we know it’s ridiculous. It's like when your grandpa tries to use slang. That’s why we're refusing to use it in the rest of this review.

The Kia Soul Turbo takes everything people love about the little boxy crossover and adds a more powerful engine, retuned suspension and a sport mode that alters the Soul’s performance noticeably. We got to spend a few days with the sporty Soul to see exactly how Kia’s changes impacted the little box of a crossover. Here’s what we found.
 

Driving Experience

8.7

 

You notice the extra power right away. The Soul Turbo actually feels quick. The 1.6-liter turbocharged four cylinder’s 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque really scoot the boxy hamster-associated CUV down the road. We never thought shooting around in a Kia Soul would be genuinely fun, but the little CUV can put a smile on your face.

Punch the sport mode button and the Soul’s characteristics change. The throttle is a little sharper, the transmission holds gears longer (sometimes almost too long) and the steering tightens up a bit. We only had a few stretches of curvy road we were able to hit, but the Soul proved to navigate them with an eager assurance that we didn’t expect. While the seating position felt a little too high and upright to be especially sporty, the oddity of it actually made things a little more fun.

Ride Quality: The firmer suspension and relatively short wheelbase means you feel the bumps. However, it’s not extremely unpleasant.

Acceleration: Surprisingly quick. The dual clutch transmission could be smoother in the first couple gears, but otherwise, we had no gripes about how this thing shoots off the line.

Braking: The brakes are powerful and progressive. They’re well-suited to the vehicle.

Steering: Steering is precise enough and offers decent road feel, although there’s plenty of other cars out there that do it better.

Handling: The higher ride height doesn’t seem to do much to upset the Soul’s handling capabilities. The CUV performed better than we thought on a twisty road. It corners pretty flat and inspires a lot of confidence.

Technology

7.3

 

Our tester came with Kia’s UVO eServices infotainment system that includes a 7-inch touchscreen display and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. There’s the option to upgrade to the 8-inch screen size should you please. That upgrade also includes navigation and some additional features. While our car was lacking navigation and some of the other optional features, it was still well appointed from a technology standpoint. It had Bluetooth, a backup camera, USB and auxiliary input jacks, steering wheel controls and plenty more. Overall, we felt the Soul Turbo was well-equipped.

Infotainment System: The infotainment system worked well and was easy to use, but at times it proved to be a bit slow.

Controls: The Soul’s controls weren’t hard to figure out, but the setup isn’t as good as some of Kia’s other vehicles. The Cadenza, Sportage and Optima all offer better control setups.

Bluetooth Pairing: Pairing a phone was easy and reconnecting upon re-entry seamless.

Voice Call Quality: Calls were clear on both ends with no connectivity issues.

Styling

7.4

 

The Kia Soul has styling most people either seem to love or hate. In general, we’re not big fans of it. However, Kia sells tons of these vehicles so they obviously appeal to many people. The styling is fun and quirky. In some ways it mimics the Turbo’s driving characteristics, and in that way, it’s fitting of this little crossover.

Front: The front of the vehicle is easily recognizable as a Soul and incorporates Kia's tiger nose grille well, though it's on the small-ish side. The lower facscia below the bumper is a tad busy, but the overall look is distinct.

Rear: The rear features the tall C-shaped vertical taillights and low small round reflectors set in a black accent bumper. Like the front, the rear is a bit busy, but the redesign looks way better than the first-gen car.

Profile: From the side, the Soul resembles and windswept box. The sloping roof is a nice touch that gives the Soul character, unlike the soul-less and now gone Scion xB.

Cabin: The cabin offers a simple design with hints of the trim level’s sportiness thanks to the flat-bottomed steering wheel and the accent stitching.

Comfort

7.1

 

Due to its somewhat odd exterior shape, you might think the Kia Soul’s comfort levels aren’t very high. In actuality, the vehicle’s cabin is a nice place to be. Everything is within reach and you can get comfortable quickly. Larger drivers and passengers will likely feel at home too. There’s plenty of room in the cabin. It’s not as spacious as other, larger crossovers, but Kia uses the cabin space in a way that makes it easy to situate yourself comfortably.

Front Seats: The leather-trimmed front seats of the Kia Soul are nice but nothing to ramble on about. They’re well-padded and offer plenty of support. The seating position is a little too upright for our liking but overall not bad.

Rear Seats: The rear seats of the Kia Soul aren’t quite as nice as the front ones, but they’re clad in similar material and offer a reasonable amount of space. Three adults will be cramped, but two works just fine.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): With the Soul being a budget vehicle, we didn’t expect it to be extremely quiet and you do get a little road and engine noise, but for the most part it seems like a solidly built car.

Visibility: Seeing out of the Soul is easy. The rear can be a little tough. The rear window looks a lot bigger from the outside and the large C-pillars are a hindrance, but the backup camera makes up for most of the vehicle’s visibility shortcomings.

Climate: Heating or cooling down the cabin proved to be easy thanks to a competent climate control system.

Safety

8.2

 

The Kia Soul Turbo is a small crossover but that doesn’t stop it from getting food safety marks. The NHTSA gives it five stars and the IIHS rates it high as well. You can bet you’ll be safe in this little turbo-box.

IIHS Rating: The 2017 Kia Soul received Good ratings in all categories except the child seat anchor ease of use. In that category, it received an acceptable rating.

Standard Tech: Airbags, ABS, electronic stability control, vehicle stability management, electronic brake-force distribution, hill start assist control, tire-pressure monitoring system, LATCH and a backup camera.

Optional Tech: Monroney not provided.

Storage/Cargo

8.8

 

The Soul has a lot of space in its cabin but overall it could utilize that space better. The center console doesn’t offer much in terms of storage and the rest of the cabin doesn’t provide many bins or trays for everyday carry items. However, the cargo space is rather large and the vehicle’s boxy nature allows you to fit quite a lot of stuff in there when needed.

Storage Space: Bins, trays and cup holders could be improved. There’s some there, but many vehicles offer better solutions.

Cargo Room: The rear cargo area is great and offers up to 24.2 cubic feet of storage space with the rear seats up. Fold those rear seats down and you get up to 61.3 cubic feet of space.

Fuel Economy

8.1

 

With the bump in power, you might think that the Soul Turbo is lacking in the fuel economy department. You’d be wrong. The little 1.6-liter turbo mill boasts an EPA-estimated 26 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. That makes it the most fuel-efficient Soul out there.

Observed: We saw an average 26 mpg with the Soul.

Driving Factors: We drove the vehicle mostly in the city under relatively heavy throttle.

Audio

7.6

 

The 6-speaker audio system with dash-mounted tweeters provided excellent sound for the reasonably small sized cabin. The infotainment system was also adequate and offered us everything we needed in terms of audio. Kia does provide a Harman/Kardon premium audio system should you feel that the standard system is not up to snuff.



Final Thoughts

On the whole, the Kia Soul Turbo is a great option for anyone who appreciates the styling and everything a subcompact crossover can offer but still wants a little extra oomph. Don’t let anyone tell you that the Kia Soul is a bonafide badass. It isn’t. What it is, is an even more fun take on an already quirky and enjoyable crossover. If you already thought highly of the Soul, you’re likely to absolutely love the turbo. If you didn’t like it before, the Turbo’s characteristics might be enough to win you over, but they might not.
Shopping for a new
Kia Soul?