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2017 Kia Soul Turbo: First Drive Review

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ADDITIONAL MODEL INFORMATION

author photo by Jason Fogelson November 2016

Ask any automotive journalist for the ideal improvement to a car, and the answer is almost always "more horsepower!" Kia has heeded the call, giving the 2017 Kia Soul Turbo more muscle along with other features, many of which also benefit the nonturbo trim levels.

The Soul debuted as a 2009 model, joining the Honda Element, the Scion xB and the Nissan Cube in the brief trend of boxy, postmodern compact vehicles that were sort of crossovers, sort of wagons and sort of quirky. Boosted by a memorable, hamster-featuring advertising campaign, the Soul became the new halo vehicle for Kia. Thanks in part to the lovable hamsters, people started to look at Kia in a new light. At the same time, Peter Schreyer took over as head of design for the company and transformed the lineup from top to bottom. The Soul underwent a mechanical and chassis makeover for 2014, along with a mild exterior and interior refresh. Now, for 2017, a new engine has given birth to the Soul Turbo, and we recently had a chance to drive it for a few days.

The New Heart of the Soul

Well, it's not exactly new, but it's new to the Soul. The 1.6-liter gasoline direct-injection turbocharged inline 4-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive can also be spotted in a few other Kia/Hyundai vehicles like the Kia Forte Koup and the Hyundai Elantra Sport. In the Soul Turbo, the engine is tuned to produce 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque with regular unleaded gasoline. It actually runs at a lower compression ratio than the nonturbo 1.6-liter engine that's standard on the base Soul, which should be good for long-term durability.

A new (to the Soul) automatic transmission also comes with the turbo. It's a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), and that's a good thing for performance. DCT units shift more quickly than traditional automatic transmissions or manual transmissions. You can visualize a DCT as two manual transmissions side-by-side. One side has even-numbered gears, and one has the odd-numbered gears. While an odd-numbered gear is engaged, the next even-numbered gear is primed and ready to go. When it comes time to shift, the clutch on one side disengages, and the clutch on the other side engages, executing a very fast gear shift. The Soul's DCT works well with the turbo and even better in Sport mode (selectable via a steering-wheel button) than in Normal.

A few small quibbles: You can't get paddle shifters on the Soul Turbo for manual control of the DCT. There's a +/- function on the gear-shift lever in the center console, but it takes your hands off the wheel. And although the DCT works well enough, we'd still like to have the option of selecting a manual transmission for the most involving driving experience.

Soul Inside and Out

Kia didn't just add a new engine choice for the Soul -- they also spruced up the interior and exterior. On the inside, the Soul Turbo gets a D-shaped leather-wrapped steering wheel, push-button start with Smart Key, a 4.3-inch display in the instrument cluster, two USB charging ports in the center console, automatic air conditioning, leather-trimmed seating, a leatherette-covered meter hood, door center trim inserts and door armrests. On the outside, the Turbo gets black-gloss front and rear bumper "tusks" (a vestige of the original Soul concept drawing of a boar with a backpack), 18-in alloy wheels and larger front disc brakes. Optional HID headlights and LED fog lights are also new features, and two new colors (Mysterious Blue and Russet Brown) have been added to the palette.

Driving the Soul

With 201 hp and weighing in at 3,232 pounds, the Soul Turbo isn't exactly a rocket ship, but it is substantially more fun to drive and feels much quicker than the non-turbo versions of the past. Kia engineers said that they stiffened the suspension for the Soul Turbo without changing its front MacPherson strut and rear torsion-beam arrangement. It sometimes felt a little harsh over sharp bumps, but that's a fair trade-off. Cornering performance is good, with little body roll. Enthusiasts with visions of autocross will want to investigate the possibility of adding stabilizer bars to further improve handling. The electric motor-driven power steering performs well enough, with decent feel and on-center stability. A tight 34.8-foot turning circle makes for easy U-turns and parking-lot maneuvers.

Soul Turbo's cabin is very quiet during cruising and allows just a hint of engine note in during acceleration. Some drivers may want even more growl from their exhaust, a desire that can be fulfilled by the aftermarket.

Soul Sounds

Soul Turbo comes standard with an AM/FM/MP3/satellite-radio audio system with six speakers, a 5.0-in color touchscreen display and UVO eServices. Bluetooth with voice recognition is standard. Navigation with an 8-in color display is optional, and a Harmon Kardon audio system with a center speaker, a subwoofer and an amplifier is also available. The Soul's cool front speakers get mounted above the air-conditioning vents on each side of the dash and can be equipped with speaker lights -- a nice touch. A rearview camera is standard.

Safety for the Soul

The Soul earned the highest rating of Good for crashworthiness from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and a 5-star overall score from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The vehicle comes with six airbags, 4-wheel anti-lock disc brakes, electronic stability control, hill-start assist, vehicle-stability management, tire-pressure monitoring, LATCH connectors and rear-door child-safety locks. The Soul Turbo can be ordered with a blind spot monitoring system and rear cross-traffic alert.

The Price of a Soul

The Soul is offered in three trim levels for 2017, distinguished primarily by powertrain. The Base Soul comes with a 1.6-liter non-turbo engine, a 6-speed manual transmission and a starting price of $15,990. Opt for a 6-speed automatic, and the Base starts at $17,550. The Soul + (Plus) starts at $19,650 with a 2.0-liter non-turbo and a 6-speed automatic, while the Soul ! (Exclaim) starts at $22,650, including the 1.6-liter turbo and a 7-speed DCT. Add $3,000 for the Technology Package on the Exclaim to get Harman Kardon audio and navigation along with other features. An extra $1,000 buys a Panoramic sunroof on all models.

The Soul Wrap

The Soul has been a great ambassador for Kia, and it's nice to see that the spunky little crossover continues to get attention and upgrades from the home office. Soul Turbo is the best-driving edition of the model yet and may attract converts who were on the fence about it before, especially among young enthusiasts.

The Soul's original competitive set has faded away, but new subcompact crossovers and hatchbacks have entered the battle. Kia mentioned the Chevrolet Trax, the FIAT 500X, the Nissan Juke, the Ford Focus, the Chevrolet Cruze, the Honda HR-V and the Mazda CX-3 as vehicles with which the Soul Turbo competes. We'd add the Jeep Renegade, the Volkswagen Golf and the Subaru Crosstrek to that list, too.

It's hard to forget those hamsters, and it's hard to ignore the 2017 Kia Soul Turbo.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle's manufacturer.

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This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2017 Kia Soul Turbo: First Drive Review - Autotrader