2021 Kia Soul

By November 11, 2020

The Kia Soul is a distinctive, economical hatchback with a roomy cabin. It offers both style and substance. Its base engine is a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 147 horsepower, mated to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). It’s not fast but it’s competent around town.

The Soul is front-wheel drive, with no available all-wheel drive. For that, you might look at the Kia Seltos across the showroom.

The upgrade engine on higher models is a 201-hp 1.6-liter turbo-4, mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that’s somewhat indecisive when it shifts.

The Soul’s standout feature is the amount of interior space it offers, relative to its exterior size. It seats five comfortably with room for gear behind the rear seat.

The Soul is EPA-rated at 28 mpg city, 33 highway, 30 combined. Base versions rate slightly higher at 29/35/31 mpg due to their wheels. The turbo-4 models get 27/32/29 mpg.

The NHTSA gives the Soul a four-star overall safety rating, including four stars for front- and rollover-crash protection. The IIHS made it a Top Safety Pick, with top “Good” scores on all its crash tests, including front small overlap crash protection on the driver and passenger sides, which simulates hitting a tree or light pole.

Model Lineup

The 2021 Kia Soul comes as LX, X-Line, S, EX, and GT-Line.

For $19,000, the LX is fairly well equipped, other than lacking automatic emergency braking and other active safety features, and also keyless ignition and some other basics. It comes with a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and one USB charge port.

For about $21,500, the Kia Soul S adds that safety equipment, plus upgraded cloth upholstery, 17-inch wheels, and fog lights.

For a big jump in price to about $28,000, the GT-Line 1.6-liter turbo adds a 10.3-inch touchscreen, synthetic leather upholstery, 18-inch wheels, a wireless smartphone charger, two USB ports, keyless ignition, active safety features, light-up speakers, and a head-up display.

Kia’s 5-year/60,000-mile warranty is a standout feature and value.

Exterior

The Soul’s funky good looks strut a fine between cute and kitsch. Its style is its calling card. It’s a box with a flat-top and some clever lines that make it look cool.

The nose is related to the rest of the Kia lineup only in the grille. It comes with three different headlight designs, and our favorite is GT-Line’s thinner treatment and red accents. The X-Line gets chunky cladding, while the GT-Line is more sporty.

Interior

The cabin has a unique flair that belies the price. The interior materials get richer up the line, but even the LX materials are good. The upgraded cloth upholstery in the S feels better, and the GT-Line’s synthetic leather and interior accents look great.

The front seats are roomy and comfortable, with good padding for long hours. Most Souls come with six-way manual adjustment, as only the top trims get power seats.

The rear seats are marvelous, with shoulder room for three adults, and leg room for 6-footers to sit behind 6-footers in the front.

Behind the second row, the Soul offers 24.2 cubic feet of cargo room that expands to 62.1 cubic feet with the seats folded, enough to challenge any same-sized crossover, and many larger ones. The load floor height may be a little taller than expected, but a flexible shelf and wide opening are helpful. There’s a compartment in the floor, which can conveniently be accessed when there’s nothing on top of it.

Rearward vision in the Soul is mostly OK, although the fat rear roof pillars can make it difficult from some angles.

Driving Impressions

The Soul’s performance might not match its personality, but neither does it hamper it. It’s fun to drive.

The base engine 2.0-liter inline-4 makes 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, as it drives the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), or less commonly, a 6-speed manual transmission. From a standing start, the Soul has good acceleration for around town; it’s only when you start climbing mountains that it runs out of ideas. A sport mode makes the steering heavier and lets the engine rev higher, but the Soul is best at calmer driving.

The available 1.6-liter turbo-4 brings a big increase in power, to 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, but it’s mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic that’s not adept at slower speeds. It’s clunky in stop-and-go traffic, and hesitates at lower-speed shifts. We’ll stick to the normally aspirated 2.0 liter, and won’t often miss the extra power.

The Soul’s ride is calm and collected, and it’s smoother than might be expected for a car with a price below $20,000. The Soul also steers well, although the steering wheel feels a bit light without that Sport mode.

Final Word

There’s nothing about the 2021 Kia Soul not to like. It’s brilliantly packaged, bringing a ton of passenger and cargo room for its footprint. The interior quality and comfort rises above its price. The powertrain and gas mileage hold their own with rivals. You have to go to the S model to get automatic emergency braking, but the price there is still very good.

 

—by Sam Moses with driving impressions by The Car Connection

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