The extra kick provided by the turbocharged engine is wholly welcomed.
Automakers occasionally make a model that develops a unique following. These models are usually a bit out-there in design and overall philosophy. Despite these cars’ quirks, people proudly latch on and consider themselves part of a ‘different’ group that doesn’t really fit the mold. Such is the case with the Kia Soul; a car that some people learn to love, because it’s a bit different. This year, Kia has tried to inject some more ‘umph’ into an already established favourite. We had a chance to take the first Canadian media drive in the 2017 Kia Soul Turbo.
Fans of this car will be happy to know that core of the Soul’s image (the quirky exterior) has remained unchanged; it continues to looks like a toaster that was accidentally designed in a wind-tunnel. Despite its boxy appearance, the Soul (reviewed here) will slowly grow on you. Visually, it is fairly well balanced, and with the SX Premium Tech package come sporty red accent lines on the bumper and side skirts, and 18” alloy wheels. The news of the day here is not the exterior or interior design, which remains largely unchanged over the last few years.
The big change is under the hood, where Kia has dropped in a 1.6L turbocharged fourcylinder, making 201 horsepower and 195 lb/ft of torque at 4500RPM. This results in a Soul that’s pretty zippy. While it’s not the fastest thing around, the Soul Turbo has enough pep to wake you up a bit. With minimal turbo lag and a pleasing four cylinder exhaust note, the Soul is bordering on ‘fun’ to zip through the gears. Speaking of gears, this is where things get interesting. The turbo engine is mated to the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which we found a bit confusing.
The Soul has three drive settings, “Normal”, “Eco”, and “Sport”. Eco, as far as we could tell, isn’t very useful for daily driving. When you are just rolling along with normal throttle inputs, the Soul refuses to downshift half of the time, causing you to either not make it up the hill, or it causes you to put your foot down in frustration resulting in an aggressive downshift. Furthermore, in Eco mode, the steering is very, very light.
Thankfully, “Sport” mode is a bit of an improvement. This is where you see a bit of personality from the Soul. If you toggle through and select Sport with the wheel-mounted controls, a few things happen. The dual-clutch transmission is remapped to allow you to run out the gears a little more and will downshift easier, the steering gets a bit heavier, and the center-mounted LCD screen gets orange accents. A boost and torque gauge appear while the digital speed readout gets all slanty and speedy looking. The whole process is rather endearing. It’s clear that Kia is trying for a hot hatch personality.
The transmission in Sport is much more satisfying; upshifts are quick and it is willing to put you in the right gear for the job without hesitation. The steering has a bit of weight, but is still devoid of any real road feel. Using the manual mode in Sport will allow you to shift at redline, and will blip the throttle nicely for downshifts, holding revs in the lower gear so you have instant access to torque. Most confusingly, Kia didn’t deem it necessary to include paddles on the steering wheel. These days, it seems like DCTs and paddle shifters should go hand in hand.
The dual-clutch transmission does have unique characteristics if you are used to a normal torque-convertor automatic. You can feel the clutch engage and disengage in slow driving, and when you let off the throttle, you will feel a slight lurch as the engine slows down the wheels. This isn’t particularly bothersome, as we are always happy to make a small trade for the snappy, satisfying upshifts that a DCT provides even if they aren’t quite on par with the likes of, say, the Volkswagen GTI (reviewed here). The keen will note that this is the same powertrain combination offered in Kia’s own Forte5, along with the Hyundai Veloster Turbo.
Unlike other “sport” model economy cars such as the Hyundai Elantra Sport (reviewed here), the Kia Soul Turbo retains the torsion beam rear suspension of its lower cost trim levels. While ride quality in the Soul is decent, in fast sweepers on rougher ground there is a slight feeling of harshness coming from the rear; it doesn’t feel as planted as comparable vehicles. Since the center of gravity is quite high, there is still a fair amount of body roll in corners. However, with a 235-section tire on each of the 18″ alloys, you are unlikely to run out of grip.
The interior of the Soul is largely unchanged from last year. The Tech trim on our tester adds a panoramic sunroof, LED interior lights, an eight-speaker Harman-Kardon sound system, an 8” multimedia interface, and several other goodies. The interior comes together nicely, and it is clear that Kia wants the character to extend to the cabin as well. LED lights around the speakers will flash along with music or stay on a slow ambient setting, and the overall design crosses funky and functionality quite well. Connectivity now includes Apple CarPlay as well, which is particularly appealing to millennials.
Fuel economy was decent. We averaged 9.6L/100km with a lot of city driving. We spent more time in “Sport” than in “Eco” however, so better numbers are possible if you have the patience for the way the transmission shifts in its most economical setting. On another practical note, the Soul is particularly spacious, allowing drivers over six feet tall to fit easily in the driver seat and similar-sized passengers fit in the rear seats in a pinch. The rear seats fold flat as well, making for a functional daily commuter should the need to haul stuff arise.
Overall, we believe the Soul enthusiast will be satisfied with the latest rendition, as the extra kick the provided by the turbocharged engine is welcomed. There are a few quirks with the transmission that we are sure many people will be fine living with, however in order for Kia to lure buyers into the Soul Turbo, and away from other sporty hatches like the Focus ST (reviewed here), they will need to iron out a few details. With a bit of suspension, steering, and transmission tweaking, the 2017 Kia Soul Turbo may soon be ready to take on even more players.
2017 Kia Soul Turbo Gallery