The aptly named 2016 Kia Soul features whimsical styling, a trendy tech-filled interior, and a character that transcends beyond a simple driving appliance. Defying stereotypical segment qualifications, the 2016 Soul is equal parts compact, crossover, hatchback and good old fashion station wagon.
When Kia initially launched the Soul in 2010, the unique style and fresh youth-oriented persona of the five-seat hatchback took the automotive world, and even Kia, by surprise. Quickly becoming the manufacturer’s second best-selling vehicle, the Soul defied the status quo, meeting a need that most automakers didn’t even realize existed. The Soul proves that while utility and economy are the primary driving factors for affordable vehicle sales, packaging them in a fun box is equally important.
The 2016 Kia Soul is available in three trim levels, two of which are indicated by a simple punctuation mark or math symbol; base, Plus (+) and Exclaim (!).
The base Soul is powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine. The Plus and Exclaim models employ a more potent 2.0-liter variant. The base 1.6-liter engine is mated to a six-speed manual transmission or an optional six-speed automatic. Plus and Exclaim models are only available with the six-speed automatic.
For many proud owners, an ‘outsider’ judging the exterior styling of the Kia Soul borders on a personal attack. While the boxy attention grabbing looks may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the stylish Kia offers unique curb appeal rarely found in a vehicle with the Soul’s price tag. The waffle-iron inspired lower front grille is complemented by an upper grille that looks like a detail from the R2-D2 Star Wars droid. The almost square front fascia meets a short hood that abruptly ends in a steeply raked windshield which extends to the pinnacle of the Soul’s stance. The roofline terminates into the rear hatch at a gentle pitch, giving the stationary Soul an illusion of forward motion.
Wild wheel arches framing attractive standard aluminum alloy wheels anchor the Soul’s passenger compartment, and larger than life optional LED taillight clusters frame the Soul’s rear in a shape that quietly mimics the Soul’s front. This provides balance that isn’t immediately apparent.
My top-trim Exclaim review vehicle was wrapped in inferno red paint that complemented the style of the Soul perfectly. The bold lines of the Soul deserve a bold color. While not for the faint of heart, the color creates a dramatic appeal that a more pedestrian gray or silver just can’t achieve. My Soul included a $2,600 ‘Sun & Sound’ package that features a stunning panoramic sunroof as well as some interior tech extras.
The fit and finish of my top-trim Exclaim was quite nice. Soft-touch surfaces abound, the optional Nappa leather-trimmed seats are comfortable and the materials appear to be long wearing and easy to take care of. As a dad I have long praised dark leather seats for their ability to resist staining and provide easy clean up in case of spills. The Soul Exclaim’s leather-wrapped heated and ventilated front seats and heated rear seats create a nice environment for growing families.
While the Soul is decidedly compact, the maximum rear cargo area with all the seats utilized is along the lines of a smaller crossover vehicle at 24.2 cubic feet. When the rear seat is folded that number grows to 62.3 cubic feet, which is plenty of room for weekend home improvement projects or even transporting small pieces of furniture. No one is going to mistake the Soul for a moving truck, but the added utility inherent to the design trumps many compact hatchbacks on the market.
There are cars that are fun and then there are vehicles that are fun to drive. The 2016 Kia Soul is a fun vehicle, no doubt about that – I can’t even look at it without smiling, but it is arguably less fun to drive. That isn’t to say that the Soul doesn’t provide decent performance, the formula simply favors comfort and economy over acceleration and white-knuckle cornering.
Driving dynamics are similar to those offered by a nicely equipped compact hatchback. The suspension offers a comfortable and compliant ride, but nothing approaching luxury or sports car levels.
Driving the Soul is a mostly uneventful venture; everything works like it should and you will rarely find the four-door insufficient to the task. Braking is above satisfactory if not inspiring. The Soul will get you there and in style, if not with a giant grin on your face – unless you’re enjoying the illuminated speaker option of course.
Two engines power the 2016 Soul. The base model is has a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard in the base trim level, while an optional six-speed automatic with Eco mode saves the driver a little energy but results in identical fuel at 24/30 mpg city/highway.
The Plus and Exclaim models employ a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque. It’s attached to a six-speed automatic with Sportmatic and active Eco modes. My review vehicle purposed the larger engine and offered adequate performance around town, allowing me to perform most highway maneuvers with little difficulty. The Soul’s sportiest power plant may not win favor with the enthusiast crowd, but for the majority of daily driving situations the level of performance is up to the task. Gas mileage is a tad better than the base Soul at 24/31 mpg city/highway.
The Kia Soul arrives with a good bit of standard technology on board. The youthful, modern nature of the Soul is enhanced with an interior that provides key tech features for a connected world. The base model is equipped with a six-speaker AM/FM/MP3 audio system with satellite radio, USB and auxiliary inputs and Bluetooth connectivity. The steering wheel houses audio control buttons and a nifty Flexsteer driver-selectable steering assist system, which allows the driver to dial in the required steering effort. The system is especially helpful on long highway runs when less steering input sensitivity leads to a smoother ride.
Plus models add goodies inside and out, including auto on/off headlights and front fog lights. The infotainment system includes a 4.3-inch touch screen and a rearview camera. Remote keyless entry, a handful of aesthetic and utility features and long list of available options round out the nicely equipped midlevel trim.
The Exclaim steps the Soul up to near luxury levels, at least for the price point and segment. The enhanced exterior and interior are complimented with Kia’s proprietary UVO eServices and a bevy of optional equipment. My review Soul included an optional 8-inch touch-screen navigation system and an Infinity audio system with LEDs surrounding many of the speakers. The lights danced along with certain frequencies emanating from the speakers. On a dark highway with blaring bass-heavy Top 40 music pouring through the cabin, the loaded-up Soul represents more than transportation, it is a giggle-inducing audio-visual experience.
My review vehicle also included HID low-beam headlights, push-button start with smart key, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel and an additional 4.3-inch gauge cluster mounted LCD screen.
The 2016 Kia Soul received a five-star top overall score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Stability and traction control systems, anti-lock brakes and a tire pressure monitoring system are standard, while a suite of air bags and seatbelt pretensioners work to keep occupants safe in a collision. Top-trim Soul Exclaim models are now available with two new active safety systems. An optional lane departure warning system lets you know if you’ve drifted from the painted dividing lines while a forward collision warning system reminds you to hit the brakes if you are approaching slow or stopped vehicles.
While this list of active safety features isn’t as comprehensive as what’s offered on other Kia vehicles and competitors, the Soul has the essential bases covered.
The base Soul with the 1.6-liter four-cylinder and six-speed manual transmission starts at $15,690.00, while choosing the six-speed automatic adds $1500 to the bottom line. My top-trim Soul Exclaim with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission starts at $21,090.00. After options the final MSRP reached $26,835, including an $825 destination charge.
The base Soul represents good value, especially considering the standard features and Kia’s incredible five-year/50,000-mile limited warranty and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
If something about the Kia Soul connects with your own soul, I cannot think of a good reason not to put one in your garage. The Plus model adds some excellent tech, style and convenience features, as well as a better engine and an automatic transmission for what still amounts to an excellent price at $19,190.
However, top-trim Exclaim models, like the vehicle that I spent a week with, require a little more soul-searching before a purchase is made. There are comparable compact hatchbacks and tiny crossover vehicles that offer better performance, fuel economy and utility for the same amount of money or less. That said, the unique style of the Soul means that there really is no exact equal to the quirky segment defying Kia.
For many the 2016 Kia Soul represents a logical and economical vehicle choice, for others it is almost a way of life. The quirky styling inside and out helps owners stand out from the crowd, even in the presence of cars that cost three or four times as much. While I found the driving performance less than thrilling, I was continually surprised by how much I liked about the vehicle. The enthusiast in me would prefer have preferred a 2.0-liter model with a six-speed manual transmission, but the six-speed automatic proved to be great around the city and on the open road.
The boxy styling limits superior gas mileage, and even the top fuel economy numbers fall behind many of the Soul’s direct and indirect competitors. But for true fans of Kia’s sassy Soul, the tradeoff is insignificant. Night road trips where the speaker lights flash are good for the soul.