2017 Kia Soul Turbo

INDIANAPOLIS — Kia’s little Soul is much more than a uniquely styled little box, aimed at first-time buyers, club queens, or a teenage fashion diva.  Well into its second generation, it’s proven to exude competence and driving pleasure beyond what may be your first impressions.  Stoking it with a new turbocharged engine makes it a practical and comfy ride for driving enthusiasts.

The base 1.6-liter engine enjoys an additional 40 horsepower and 45 lb.-ft. of torque over the mid-level 2.0-liter four-cylinder, for 201 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft.  All of that power is sent to the front wheels through a new 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission with manual shift mode. 

The turbo, especially with Sport mode engaged, serves up hair trigger acceleration off the line and spirited running at highway speed.  It’s no sports car, and power will eventually run out, but adds zip to morning commutes.  Fuel economy is rated 26/31-MPG city/hwy.

You know you’re in Sport mode when you press the console button and a mini-tachometer with digital speedometer appears in the instrument cluster.  Heated leather-and-hounds tooth cloth seats, dual-pane sunroof, and Harman/Kardon audio system elevate the car’s ambience and comfort — as do a heated D-sh
aped leather-wrapped steering wheel, push-button starting, and an infotainment system with easy-to-use touchscreen, Android Auto, and Apple CarPlay compatibility.  Navigation gets you there.  Rock out with customizable ambient lighting.  Safety is enhanced by Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Blind Spot Detection.

The Soul Exclaim with the Turbo engine looks the part of a hot hatch from its 18” alloy wheels with low profile tires, red accented body trim, chrome grille surround, and unique tailgate badge.  Check the dual chrome exhaust pipes too.  Redesigned headlights and foglights, finessed front and rear facias, and sporty color choices amp up the visual appeal.

Kia did far more than just create a funky urban commuter with a peppy powertrain.  Interior materials exceed their class, the dash-top audio speakers could have come from Audi, and every detail of the cabin seems as if designers did their best work.  The suspension is firm, yet compliant, and crossover ride height provides a good view out of all windows.  If you only think of the Soul as a cute hatchback, go throttle the turbo engine.  You’ll be surprised.

Kia prices the Soul at just $15,990, but the Soul Exclaim with the turbo engine rises from a very affordable $22,650.  Our loaded test model came to a heftier $28,625.  Given all that comes with the car, it’s serious competition for the Volkswagen GTI, Mini Countryman, Nissan Juke, Chevy Trax, and upcoming Toyota C-HR.

— Casey Williams (MyCarData)