Just looking at the sheer amount of new condominiums popping up in most of Toronto’s urban cores, it becomes pretty evident that the trendy downtown lifestyle is extremely popular right now. As such, the automotive industry is forced to accommodate, because the latest increase in sales is within the subcompact crossover market. With the prevalence of new models like the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V (reviewed here), the pioneers of this segment are often forgotten. We were sent a 2016 Kia Soul SE Sport to determine just how relevant this hip little runabout has remained.
Since its debut in 2008, the Soul is actually on its second generation. After surveying a couple of other car guys, it was obvious to me that few people knew that Kia’s cheeky little box was redesigned for the 2014 model year. The lines of the current model remain true to the original Soul’s in-your-face styling, with flared fenders and a very prominent two-box shape. If anything, it’s almost reminiscent of the dearly-departed Scion xB (reviewed here). Personally I like the way the Soul looks – our SE Sport was painted in a stylish Inferno Red with unique 18” wheels on this trim level, and finished with a black decklid spoiler that matched the Onyx Black roof. Overall, the look works well.
Inside the Soul, the funkiness continues. The ergonomics are quite good, with excellent sightlines all around, and the materials inside reflect an upscale image that the Soul’s typical owner. The steering wheel is equally strange (in a good way!) and offers all of the usual controls one would require. Space all around is plentiful; the two six-footers I encountered during my test were plenty satisfied with the amount of headroom, much thanks to the tall roofline. Rear seat passengers will find headroom decent, but a potential shortage of legroom if there is a taller person sitting in the front seat. This is normal within this segment, but it must be noted that the Soul is amongst the roomiest of its rivals.
Kia has priced the Soul at $17,195 for the manual-transmission LX, all the way up to the SX Luxury at $27,495. The two new trim levels this year are the as-tested SE Sport, and the SE Urban. Kia does not offer any individual options or much customization (outside of dealer-installed accessories), and the trim levels are set in a way to ensure rock-bottom pricing and quick turnaround time for delivery. Our SE Sport stickered at $25,995 and was equipped with a variety of features including intelligent key, heated leather seats, rear-view camera, UVO infotainment with Sirius and Bluetooth connectivity, automatic climate control, and 18” wheels. The SE sub-trims are part of the loaded SX line.
The base trims of the Soul offer a naturally aspirated 1.6L engine good for about 130 horsepower, but higher levels get the 2.0L inline four-cylinder, direct injected. This is a non-turbocharged version of the engine offered in the Optima (reviewed here), and works quite well. Output is 164 horsepower at 6,200RPM and 151 lb-ft of torque at 4,000RPM. This motor is only offered with a six-speed automatic transmission with an available manual mode – three-pedal Souls are only available with the 1.6L option.
The Soul isn’t exactly a bona fide racecar, but it has plenty of get up and go. Highway merges are perfectly adequate, and there’s reasonable power when required to pass slower vehicles. Thanks to the lack of a turbocharger though, power delivery is linear and there’s no lag at all – this transmission does well at predicting the driver’s next move. Urban drivers won’t find anything to complain about; the Soul makes effortlessness out of driving in rush hour. Despite being the more powerful option though, the Soul doesn’t feel particularly peppier than any of its rivals. It’s not slow, but it’s not quick by any means.
Ride quality is okay too, thanks to a decent suspension setup. Out on the open road, the Soul provides a comfortable experience without too much darting around or much need for steering overcorrection. In the city, the 18” wheels on this particular trim level made the ride too firm for my liking, thrashing passengers and cargo around a considerable amount. The thing is, the vast majority of the Soul’s target demographic will be urbanites or outdoorsy folks. The former will want a smaller set of wheels for ride quality, and the latter will likely not care to splurge on this more expensive set because it will just get beat up by the elements on campsites and the like.
When compared to its rivals, the Kia Soul’s largest weakness is in the fact that it only comes equipped with front-wheel-drive. Nearly every single competitor including the Mini Clubman (reviewed here) and Nissan Juke offers all-wheel-drive, with the exception being the Fiat 500L. Canadian buyers have expressed that they need all-wheel-drive, and the Soul’s challenge is that very competent alternatives with all-wheel-drive can be had for the same dollar. One thing the Kia offers that nobody else in this segment does is an all-electric model, reviewed here.
The Soul with the 2.0L engine is rated for 9.8L/100km in the city and 7.5L/100km on the highway, using regular 87-octane fuel. This is right in line with most alternatives, with the exception of the SKYACTIV-powered Mazda CX-3, rated at much less on the highway. After two combined cycles, our test average came out to a decent 8.1L/100km, which I found very acceptable for the type of commuting that my week consisted of. The 54L tank is a decent size and renders the Soul road-trip ready, more than adequate for a weekend trip to the cottage.
Despite its challenges, the 2016 Kia Soul SE Sport offers a considerable amount of trendiness and value for its dollar. In more than half a decade, the vehicle has experienced decent sales across Canada, and also a solid aftermarket support for customization and modification. One thing I would like to see is a more evolutionary redesign for the next generation model, due sometime around 2018. Until then, a huge number of Canadians will be able to enjoy a reliable, roomy, and easy-to-drive subcompact from a brand whose image revolves around their chic design philosophies.