PowerSteering: 2016 Kia Soul Review
The Kia Soul leads the Compact Multi-Purpose Vehicle segment when it comes to quality and overall vehicle appeal, according to the 2016 versions of the J.D. Power U.S. Initial Quality StudySM (IQS) and the J.D. Power U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM Keep in mind, however, that only two other models in the segment—the Ford C-Max and the Toyota Prius V—have enough sample to be included in the official study results.
While it might not be all that difficult to receive awards when you’ve got no more than two competitors vying for the same accolade, rest assured that the 2016 Kia Soul is a terrific choice not just within its own segment, but also when compared across segments and stacked up against small crossover SUVs and small 5-door hatchback cars.
What Owners Say
Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2016 Soul, it is helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this multi-purpose vehicle and what they liked most and least about their Kia.
According to J.D. Power research, Soul buyers are more often women, compared with the Compact Multi-Purpose Vehicle segment average (56% vs. 53%, respectively) and earn a lower median household income ($63,065 vs. $67,903).
In terms of how they feel about making a new-vehicle purchase, Soul buyers more often disagree that they are willing to pay more for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (46% vs. 41% segment average), and are more likely to agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (71% vs. 67%). Otherwise, Soul buyers and compact multi-purpose vehicle buyers generally share the same sentiments about vehicle choice and ownership.
Buyers say that their favorite things about the Soul are (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design, storage and space, visibility and safety, and driving dynamics. Buyers indicate that their least favorite things about the Soul are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, fuel economy, climate control system, infotainment system, and seats.
What Our Expert Says
In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the 2016 Soul performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2016 U.S. APEAL Study.
Styling helps to sell Kia’s Soul. Buyers indicate this is true, and with no more than a look it is clear that this expressive compact multi-purpose vehicle benefits from extra time spent in the design studio. Though the test car’s Tarmac Special Edition package tones down the Soul’s visual exuberance with black paint and dark-finish aluminum wheels, it still looks like nothing else on the road.
Designers made sure the Soul’s interior was as engaging as the car’s exterior. From the tweeter speaker towers at either end of the dashboard to the pulsing light rings around the door panel speakers, the Soul’s cabin is a special place.
Looking at the Soul from the outside, you’d never guess how comfortable it is on the inside.
The front seats sit high off of the floor, making it easy to get into and out of the car. Roomy and supportive, the seats provide an excellent view out, and the driver faces a steering wheel that is pleasurable to hold. The test car had a thickly padded center console armrest and soft material on the door panels, adding to comfort levels.
Rear-seat passengers enjoy impressive support combined with lots of foot space and decent legroom.
Depending on the trim level, the Soul can be optioned with premium Nappa leather, heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel.
Climate Control System
Another unexpected treat, a single-zone automatic climate is an option and it includes a Clean Air ionization system. Kia says that it “helps to clean the cabin air and keep the interior smelling fresh.”
The test car included Kia’s Your Voice (UVO) eServices infotainment system with an 8-in. touch-screen display. A robustly equipped setup that is remarkably easy to use, it includes navigation, voice-recognition technology, real-time traffic reports, and smartphone-projection technology.
Better yet, Kia provides subscription-free access to connected services like 911 Connect with automatic collision notification as well as safe teen driver features such as speed, curfew, and boundary alerts. You can even use the system to find out where your car is parked.
An optional Infinity premium sound system was also installed in the test car, and it sounds terrific, faithfully reproducing a wide variety of music.
Storage and Space
If you like to keep lots of stuff in your car, the Kia Soul is unexpectedly accommodating. The glove box is huge; large bins are built into the door panels; and the center console box and the bin forward of the transmission shifter are decently sized.
Cargo space varies depending on whether the rear seat is in use by passengers, and whether the owner has removed the compartmentalized storage tray located under the trunk floor. According to Kia, measurements range from a minimum of 18.8 cu. ft. to a maximum of 61.3 cu. ft.
Practically speaking, there isn’t much usable space behind the rear seat. The area above the load floor and below the cargo cover fills quickly. For daily driving duty, however, the Soul’s trunk can tackle most tasks.
Visibility and Safety
It is easy to see forward and to the sides of the Soul, but rear visibility is challenging. Fortunately, all Soul trim levels except for the basic car include a reversing camera.
Forward-collision and lane-departure warning systems are optional for the Soul, but this car is unavailable with a blind-spot warning system, rear cross-traffic alert, or an automatic emergency braking system.
Basic versions of the 2016 Kia Soul have a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine making 130 horsepower. A 6-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a 6-speed automatic transmission optional. Kia also offers the Soul EV model with an electric drivetrain, one that supplies 93 miles of driving range, according to the EPA.
The Soul Plus test car had a larger 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed automatic transmission. Rated to make 161 horsepower, this engine gives the Soul adequate acceleration and response, but you’ll never call this car fast. The transmission holds a lower gear when driving up hills, so there is no excuse for becoming a 4-wheeled traffic cone—as long as your Soul has this more powerful engine.
According to the EPA, the Soul’s larger 2.0-liter engine should get 27 mpg in combined driving, perhaps measured with the car’s Active Eco driving mode engaged. Without using that setting, the test car averaged 25.3 mpg on the test loop.
A simple car at heart, the Soul makes the best of basic underpinnings, such as a torsion-beam rear suspension. Kia’s employment of 3-mode FlexSteer electric steering on the Soul, a robust 4-wheel-disc braking system, and the test car’s 18-in. aluminum wheels delivers a more engaging and refined driving experience than might be expected.
Of the three steering choices, Normal feels the most natural, with Comfort too light and Sport too heavy. No matter which mode is selected, the steering occasionally feels momentarily disconnected.
As might be expected, the 18-in. wheels and 235/45 tires supply impressive grip. Nimble handling combined with the Soul’s tidy size and clear outward sightlines make the car fun to drive around town. At higher speeds, the ride is occasionally choppy, but the Soul can take a corner with enthusiasm.
Road noise is an issue on coarse pavement textures, and wind noise is a constant companion at speeds over 60 mph.
Many people buy the Kia Soul because they need an affordable and practical car, and they want to drive something with style and personality. They get this, and so much more, in the 2016 Soul. This car is not perfect, but its flaws are easily forgiven thanks to the long list of surprise-and-delight characteristics that are baked into each example of this Kia.
Kia Motors America supplied the vehicle used for this 2017 Kia Sportage review.