A more emotional, but still flawed Soul

By Christopher A. Sawyer
The Virtual Driver

(October 15, 2017) The Kia Soul competes at the confused end of the small car market. When the original Scion xB and Nissan’s Cube were new, the small crossover craze hadn’t begun. And square, upright vehicles like the Soul were classified as funky city cars by most observers. However, the almost logarithmic proliferation of vehicles like the Chevy Trax, Mazda CX3, Nissan Juke, Honda HR-V, etc. has changed the landscape to the point where even Kia is a bit confused where the Soul fits in.

Is it a four-door city car or a trucklet? Even Car and Driver isn’t sure, slotting the Soul into the small crossover segment where it took a 10 Best Trucks and SUV award.

None of that matters here. For us, the Soul is an efficiently sized four-door hatchback city car that’s long on passenger room, and slightly light on cargo room. If you need more of the latter, you’ll have to sacrifice some of the former by folding at least one side of the 60:40 seat back, but — since it’s unlikely many buyers will be using their Soul for a cross-coun
try jaunt — the compromise is relatively painless.

The last time we drove a Soul Exclaim (or Soul! in Kia speak),
we found it to be quiet, comfortable, capable and handsome. It rode better than the first generation car, and exhibited none of the rear suspension gyration or regressive damping (stiff then soft) of the predecessor.

It also showed less personality, having matured while its rough edges were sanded down. So when we were given a Soul! fitted with the 1.6-liter turbo motor mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, we hoped for more personality to go with the increase in power. Especially since the second g
eneration Soul is quite a bit heftier than the first generation car. (Car and Driver puts the weight gain at nearly 600 pounds, which gets a big ! from us.)

The turbo engine produces 201 horsepower and 195 lb.-ft. of torque, a gain of 71 hp on the naturally aspirated base 1.6-liter, and 40 more hp than the midlevel naturally aspirated 2.0-liter engine. And, with the torque peak starting at 1,500 rpm and carrying across much of the remaining rev range, it makes the Soul both quick and drivable, a good combination.

If there’s any fault with the powertrain, it’s the dual-clutch automatic. Yes, the six-speed manual out of the Forte5 SX would be nice, but it’s never going to be used in this car. Which means the transmission’s slightly lazy response around town is part of its, uh, charm. Which brings up another sore spot. This laziness can be eradicated by putting the Soul! into Sport mode, with the side benefit of crisper throttle response and a slight bit more heft to the steering.

But in a car with a turbo motor, re
d accents inside and out, larger front brake rotors, meaty 18-in. wheels and tires and a recalibrated suspension, why oh why does it need a Sport button? Ditch the switch!

And while you’re at it, rethink the susp
ension tuning. Others have said the revalved dampers, stiffer springs, Kumho Solus TA31 tires, and firmer bushings make little change to the ride and hanging equation, but I beg to differ.

The Soul! Turbo has unacceptable impact harshness, bounces over rough pavement, and rides with all the subtlety of a buckboard. Especially when you consider that the Titanium Gray paint, tasteful detailing, and high quality interior materials subliminally suggest a level of refinement the car can’t deliver.

There’s no reason that the Soul! Turbo has to be this stiffly sprung, or induce wincing when traversing uneven expansion joints, rough patches and errant pieces of paper. W
ith its upright seating position and favorable ergonomics, thickly satisfying steering wheel, flexible power and grip, the Soul! Turbo could be a tiny terror whose mischievous personality goads you into driving with gusto by marrying ride comfort, responsiveness and grip.

Of course, this would also require revisiting control feel and feedback, as further refinement in the ride and handling equation would accentuate shortcomings not so apparent with the present tuning.

Of course, there’s another way of looking at the Soul! Turbo. As tested — with only one option, $120 carpeted floor mats, and a destination charge of $850 — this little runabout topped out at a surprisingly reasonable $23,820. And for that price, the theory goes, you should be ready to accept some shortfalls. Except that the auto biz is an extremely competitive industry where — as Kia itself has shown — improvement takes place at a rapid pace.

With the added weight it has the solid feel of a VW Golf, but needs to marry that with the supple responsiveness of a Mazda3 to build a car that lives up to its name.

The Virtual Driver