Small turbocharged engines are all the rage these days for manufacturers looking to boost their mileage ratings while still offering decent performance. Kia is jumping on this bandwagon, now offering a turbocharged 1.6-liter inline four cylinder engine in its quirky but popular Soul compact wagon.
The new engine achieves its purpose, making the Soul more fun to drive while delivering better mileage than the normally-aspirated base 1.6-liter engine or optional 2.0-liter engine. But there are tradeoffs.
Like many other small turbocharged engines, the 1.6 Gas Direct Injection engine in the Soul has to be driven thoughtfully for the best performance and mileage. Even when mated with a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, it's a little sluggish off the line in the Normal drive mode and only slightly better in the Sport mode. The engine/transmission combination is fine once it gets up to speed, but a light touch works better than a heavy foot on the gas pedal.
On top of that, the new engine is only available in the most expensive trim level, the Soul ! (Exclaim). Fortunately, it is not that much more than the mid-level Soul + (Plus), starting at around $23,000. Our fully-loaded test model included an additional $4,120 of desirable extras, including a dynamite sound system, a panoramic sunroof, heated rear seatsm and blinspot monitoring, raising the price to a still reasonable $27,620.
Although the Soul was clearly aimed at the youth market when it was introduced (remember the urban hamster TV ads), it has been embraced by drivers of all ages because of its all-around practicality. The unconventional boxy styling creates an enormous amount of interior space, including enough cargo room behind the huge rear hatch to haul a week's worth of luggage or a round of garden supplies. Front and back seat passengers will have no reason to complain, and the optional leather seats and trim pieces give the otherwise simple layout an upscale feel.
On the road, the Soul rides as high as many SUVs, improving visibility for the driver. But it is not available with all-wheel-drive, contradicting its crossover-like appearance. Keep that in mind if your weekends include a little off-roading. The compact Kia Sportage is a better choice for that.
Kia has improved the quality of the Soul over the years, and the 2017 model now offers a smooth and relatively quiet ride over most road surfaces. It can't really be considered a "hot hatch," however, even with the turbo. If you want something sportier, check out what Kia is doing with the same engine in the compact Forte5.
There were two other boxy compact wagons on the market when the Soul was introduced, the Nissan Cube and the Scion xB. Both have been discontinued, and Scion has even been absorbed by parent company Toyota. So if you're looking for a practical compact wagon with a funky personality, the 2017 Soul is just about your only choice these days. And the new turbocharged engine increases the appeal.
2017 Kia Soul
Base price: $16,100
Price as tested: $27,620
Type: Compact wagon
Engines: 1.6-liter 4 (130 hp, 118 lbs-ft); 2.0-liter 4 (161 hp, 150 lbs-ft); turbocharged 1.6-liter 4 (201 hp, 195 lbs-ft)
Transmissions: 6-speed manual; 6-speed automatic; 7-speed dual clutch automatic
EPA estimated mileage: 25/30 (2.0) to 26/31 (T1.6)
Overall length: 163 inches
Curb weight: 2,884 to 2,942 pounds
Final assembly: Gwangju , South Korea