Kia Soul turbo — Personality and performance

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Honda and Volkswagen have done it for years, and it has become a popular tactic of other automakers this year — offer a special edition of their popular compact sedans and hatchbacks with more horsepower and an extra measure of driving performance in an effort to generate interest in the brand.

Honda has just released a powerful Si trim level into its newest-generation Civic. Volkswagen has been building a high-horsepower GTI version of the compact Golf since the nameplate hit the North American market decades ago. This year, Nissan jumped into the fray with a turbocharged four-cylinder version of its Sentra, and Hyundai has enticed buyers with a Sport version of its popular Elantra sedan.

Perhaps the most intriguing horsepower infusion has come in the quirky Kia Soul (wagon, hatchback, crossover — you choose), which for 2017 gets a turbocharged version of its top trim Soul! (pronounced Exclaim). We are of the belief that an extra dose of horsepower improves a small vehicle, adding to the car's overall feel and drivability.

In the case of the Soul, the power boost coming from a turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four is significant, measured at 71 horsepower more than the base naturally aspirated 1.6-liter engine and 40 more than the mid-level 2.0-liter engine. The extra horsepower and torque comes through a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission with manual shifting mode measured at 6.5 seconds from 0-to-60 and 15.1 seconds @ 93 miles per hour in a quarter mile. These numbers suggest that you can get wild and crazy with your Soul!.

Gas mileage is not sacrificed. The turbocharged Soul is rated at 26 mpg city, 31-highway and 28-overall, and it runs on regular gas. The mid-level 2.0-liter has a rating of 25/30/27.

Unfortunately, the turbocharged engine comes only in the top trim Exclaim for a starting price of $23,500 including destination charge. But we think that's a small price to pay considering the base Soul with the small engine and a six-speed automatic transmission starts at $18,550 and the mid-level Plus (+) Soul with 2.0-liter engine and 6-speed automatic starts at $20,350.  Figure also that in addition to the more powerful engine, the Exclaim comes with a more upscale interior and more tech features including navigation and Apple Car Play and Android Auto.

Beyond the performance aspect, we discovered to our delight that the little car is loaded with style and character. Its cabin exuded quality, and it was pleasantly comfortable be it on a long rather arduous trip through one of the worst thunderstorms we can remember in terms of constant rain that included periods of torrential downpours. The Soul handled the extreme conditions quite well exhibiting a smooth ride while providing us with more than adequate solitude.

The Soul's boxy design results in excellent head room for both rows of passengers while providing a good field of vision in all directions. The quiet interior feels large and spacious and rear passengers will find ample legroom. Cargo space is a very useable 24.2 cubic feet, and with the seats folded the Soul has 61.3 cubic feet of storage available. The tailgate is defined by black glass that morphs into gloss black trim that runs around the back and surrounds the large vertical taillights. It's very fetching.

Inside the Soul, gauges and controls are intuitive and easy to read. We enjoyed the upgraded audio system in our test car and we found the navigation system excellent, providing meticulous information including easy to read informative boxes on the large eight-inch touchscreen that made navigating easy. The driving position is excellent because you sit taller in the driver's seat than in a sedan. Another positive for older drivers are the tall doors that make entering and exiting a breeze without the need to bend over.

The base Exclaim comes with a host of standard equipment including remote keyless entry and ignition, automatic climate control, rearview camera, 18-inch wheels, leather-wrapped steering and upholstery trim, and the aforementioned Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. But it's the $3,000 Technology Package that sends the top-trim Soul over the top. It brings an 8-inch touchscreen with navigation (replacing a 5-inch screen), blind-spot monitoring, HID headlights, a premium Harman/Kardon audio system with speaker lights, LED fog and taillights, power-adjustable and heated front seats, heated outboard rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and power-folding exterior mirrors.

Another $1,000 adds a huge panoramic sunroof that literally turns the roof into a glass ceiling. Those extras brought the bottom line of our test car to $27,620 including destination charge.

Base price: $23,500; as driven, $27,620
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged 4 cylinder
Horsepower: 201 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 195 pound-feet @ 1,500 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 101.2 inches
Length: 163.0 inches
Curb weight: 3,232 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 24.2 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 61.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14.2 gallons (regular)
Fuel capacity: 26 city, 30 highway, 27 combined
0-60: 6.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Honda HR-V, Toyota CR-H, Fiat 500X

The Good
• Excellent performance
• High-quality interior
• Spacious interior

The Bad
• Unimpressive fuel economy

The Ugly
• Best stuff comes in high-priced package