Since it first showed up on American shores in 2009 with adorable dancing hamsters promoting it in advertisements, Kia’s Soul, a front-wheel-drive box on wheels has met success. At first the mechanicals vested in this vehicle weren’t exactly the greatest, in particular a four-speed automatic transmission that was, to put it politely, antiquated.
Much has changed since a first encounter with the Kia Soul in 2009. Now in its second iteration, the Soul’s chassis has become more robust, the styling has evolved and become more modern. And the running gear of this subcompact crossover is far better than it was in the first generation, which was produced from 2009-2014.
The opportunity to drive one of these cute utes to Phoenix for the Verizon IndyCar Series race was too cool to pass up. The 2017 Kia Soul ! (Exclaim in Kia-speak) is definitely a fun machine that appreciates being driven. And why not drive this Soul hard? It has a new inline 1.6-liter directly-injected and turbocharged engine that produces 201 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and a close 195 lb-ft of torque at 4,500. Redline comes just over 6,500 rpm. Just the right amount of power to handle this car’s 3231 pounds.
Putting forth that power is a modern, 7-speed dual clutch transmission that can be shifted on the floor. Three pedals are only available on the base model. MacPherson strut and coupled torsion beam suspensions assist handling while electric power steering is only modestly vague on-center. Kia fits FlexSteer to the Soul !, which adjusts the steering from normal to comfort to sport. You can be sure it was kept in sport for much of our week together. Brakes are excellent, even in panic mode. Kumho 235/45R rubber mounts on 18-inch twinned five-spoke polished and painted alloy rims.
Our Kia Soul ! has only one option, carpeted floor mats, giving it a list price of $23,620. Included among the standard offerings are Sirius/XM satellite radio with three months gratis, an excellent CD-based audio system with seven-inch touchscreen, six speakers and dash-mounted tweeters, keyless entry and pushbutton start, backup camera, a lovely, grippable leather-trimmed steering wheel with audio and phone on the left, cruise, drive mode and trip info on the right. There’s more, of course, but it’s worth noting that this particular Kia is bereft of nannies, leaving smart driving to its operator. The hood is opened via struts, not a post – I like that.
The turbo Soul has red accents on the sills, front end, interior red – and orange – stitching and red Soul lettering at the rear of this rather long wheelbase crossover. With overall length of 163 inches and a 101.2-inch wheelbase, the ride is far better than it might be with a shorter wheelbase, especially for this long haul. Two exhaust pipes have a healthy tonality. The driver gets full power seat adjustments for the very supportive cloth sport seats; passengers fend for themselves with manual adjustments.
There is a USB for those relegated to the back, along with cup/bottle holders in all four doors. Lots of soft plastics adorn the cabin’s dash and doors, and there are a pair of 12-volt plugs, auxiliary and USB outlets at the base of the center stack, accompanied by an open tray of grippy material. Bright black accents stop the 2017 Kia Soul ! from looking too boring inside the cabin.
When the driver selects sport mode, access to torque and boost info arrives in the central display, which changes color to announce its sporting readiness. The font is italicized for emphasis, which is a bit over the top. But then, this car is available with a lighted speaker surround that flashes in sync to music, so that color-change fits. Sport mode makes throttle and transmission response more crisp; you can still cruise well in top gear. Sport also aids in increasing steering feel.
While there’s not much on this car in the way of infotainment items, the Soul easily pair phones and offers Kia’s UVO eServices (some requiring a subscription). One can call roadside assistance, check vehicle diagnostics, discover “My Car Zone” for safety, access a parking minder along with eServices settings. Apps include Pandora, Apple Car Play and Android Car Play, a quick guide to the vehicle, voice commands, “SoundHound” to adjust the speakers and lighting, SiriusXM data and climate controls.
The Soul’s setup screen encompasses sound and display settings, Bluetooth connectivity (easy), secondary UVO eServices, clock adjustments, WiFi, home screen and standard connectivity. All apps and settings are easily accessed and used through the central screen.
Because we traveled by car, not plane to Phoenix, we were grateful for wonderful storage in this 2017 Kia Soul. While the cargo tray beneath the covered hatch removes a few cubic feet of storage, it’s awfully nice to be able to hide items below the floor. With all seats up, there are 18.8 cubic feet of cargo space; fold the 60/40 rear seats and that climbs to 49.5 cubic feet. Order without the cargo tray and cargo space climbs by another six cubes.
If there’s any quibble with the 2017 Kia Soul ! it’s concerning mileage from the 14.2-gallon tank. Running regular fuel – there was no signage telling us to use premium – we were fortunate to get mileage in the middle to upper 20’s. Sure the limit in Arizona is 75mph and one gets run over at that speed, much as one does ascribing to California’s 70mph speed limit, but for a car rated by the EPA at 26/31/28, we were hoping for better. Only on the final tank, driving through LA’s cut-and-thrust traffic were we able to achieve mileage over 30mpg.
It was a wonderful week with this bright silver on black 2017 Kia Soul !. Everybody’s favorite hamster crossover has grown up to be exceptionally viable as a traveler and still fits into spaces a larger crossover wouldn’t dare to access. The engine is peppy, suspension is agile, steering (especially in sport mode) and brakes complementary and all the entertainment one needs to assuage the boredom of six hours behind the wheel are right there at your fingertips. With an excellent price point, who could ask for more?
Words and Photos by Anne Proffit