Soul

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2021 Kia Soul Overview

The still-funky 2021 Kia Soul is more grown up and useful than ever before.

7 /10
Overall Score

Crossover SUVs are serious business in the United States, so much so that many automakers’ entire lineups are composed of various sizes of utility vehicles. Beyond the world of enthusiast autos dying a slow, painful death, there’s nothing really wrong with an auto market full of crossovers, as long as they’re executed well and offer good value and features. Nobody does those things better than Kia, and few subcompact SUVs are as surprisingly stout across the board as the Kia Soul.

The Soul is now in its third generation after its initial debut in 2008 and subsequent updates in 2014 and 2020. The details have shifted over time, but the Soul’s basic shape and attitude remain. What's new for 2021? Not a lot. Updates are limited to a standard rear occupant alert and new suspension configurations for the X-Line and GT-Line trims.

Kia offers several Soul trims for the 2021 model year: LX, S, X-Line, GT-Line, EX, and Turbo. Two powertrains and two transmissions are on offer, but the Soul’s usefulness and fun-loving attitude are included no matter which configuration is chosen. The Kia's MSRP ranges from $18,765 to $28,825. Competitors include the Hyundai Kona, Toyota C-HR, Honda HR-V, and Nissan Kicks. Buyers may also shop the Kia Seltos and Mazda CX-30.

Look and Feel

7/ 10

Remember the days when Kia had hamsters driving the Soul with pounding techno music in its commercials? Those days are over, and while the funky crossover isn’t quite as childish in its pursuits these days, it still takes a sense of humor to buy and love a Kia Soul.

The super-boxy exterior styling has been softened over the years and is now closer to a more traditional compact crossover in appearance. The upright look of the original isn’t completely gone, but Kia has given the front end a new, more futuristic look with slimmer headlights and a large open grille in the lower front fascia. The Soul’s rear features large upright taillights flanking a surprisingly small rear window, and some models get dual center-exit exhausts.

Inside, the Soul’s cabin is intuitive and comfortable, with a standard 7-inch touchscreen and an available 10.3-inch touchscreen gracing the well-organized center stack. There are remnants of the vehicle’s hamster-driven past with funky designs on aluminum trim plates and interestingly shaped air vents.

Performance

5/ 10

Two powertrains are on offer for the 2021 Kia Soul. The base engine is a 2.0-liter inline-four that makes 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a six-speed manual transmission by default, which can be upgraded to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). A turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine is available as an upgrade, with 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. It’s paired with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. Front-wheel drive (FWD) is standard and, while the Soul is considered a crossover, all-wheel drive (AWD) is not offered.

While neither of the Soul’s powertrains make it particularly sporty, the optional turbocharged mill provides more power and grunt for almost any driving situation. It pairs nicely with the dual clutch transmission, which cracks off shifts quickly and works to keep the little turbo-four in its ideal power band.

On the road, the Soul manages a surprisingly quiet and refined ride, but can turn up the heat and provide decent handling when asked. The Kia’s suspension system soaks up most of the road’s imperfections and helps the crossover remain planted and confident in the curves. There’s more wind noise than some would like at highway speeds, but it’s far from unbearable.

Fuel economy numbers are fairly solid across the board, though there is some variation between the turbo and naturally aspirated engines. The base Kia Soul with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and manual transmission has EPA-estimated fuel economy of 26/31/27 mpg city/highway/combined. Adding the CVT changes those numbers to 28/33/30 mpg. The turbocharged engine returns fuel economy of 27/32/29 mpg.

Form and Function

7/ 10

Looking at the Soul from outside, it’d be easy to think that it sorely lacks passenger and cargo space, but that’s not the case. The crossover’s tall roof and low floor allow for excellent head room and even better cargo space. Front seat passengers see 39.4 inches of headroom and 41.1 inches of legroom. Back seat passengers get 39.5 inches of headroom and 38.8 inches of legroom. Behind the rear seats, the Soul offers 24.2 cubic feet of cargo space, and with the rear bench folded flat, the Kia manages 62.1 cubic feet of space.

The Soul’s cabin carries plenty of small-item storage areas, including generously sized door pockets and reasonable cupholders. The glove box and center console storage areas are not as large, but serviceable. Kia kept the Soul’s interior interesting with textured metals, fun shapes, and a fun design.

Tech Level

7/ 10

Kia does a good job of equipping its vehicles with generous tech features, and the Soul is no exception. The base model gets a 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Six speakers, USB ports, Bluetooth, two 12-volt outlets, steering wheel-mounted controls, and power windows/door locks are standard. A 10.25-inch touchscreen is available that offers HD radio, voice recognition, and more. Kia also offers a Harman Kardon audio system with center speaker, subwoofer, and amplifier. Higher trims get upscale standard features such as keyless entry, automatic climate controls, remote start, a sunroof, and more.

Like its corporate cousins Hyundai and Genesis, Kia offers a simplistic, no-frills infotainment experience. Some complain about the lack of fanfare, but the system is easy to use and quick to respond. The Uvo interface offers a quick and simple way to interact with the vehicle and most tasks take one or two taps to initiate, which makes the infotainment system much easier to use without becoming too distracting on the road.

Safety

8/ 10

The Kia Soul’s available safety equipment and robust passive safety systems helped it earn a 2021 Top Safety Pick award from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That rating included "Good" scores in all crash test areas, a "Good" or "Poor" score for headlights (depending on trim level), "Superior" ratings for both vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-pedestrian crash prevention systems, and an "Acceptable" rating for LATCH system ease of use.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) awarded the Soul four stars overall. That includes four stars for front crash safety, five stars for side crash safety, and four stars for rollover resistance.

Most driver-assistance features are held back in added-cost options. Features include forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, lane keep assist, automatic emergency braking, lane change assist, driver attention monitoring, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert/rear collision avoidance assist, adaptive cruise control, and a head-up display.

Cost-Effectiveness

8/ 10

Pricing for the Kia Soul starts off reasonable and stays that way all the way to the top of the lineup. The base Kia Soul LX trim starts at $18,765, the S trim at $21, 865, the X-Line and Soul GT-Line at $22,965, the EX at $24,525, and the top Turbo model at $28,825. The base LX trim is available with a $900 Technology Package that adds a long list of advanced safety features and 16-inch alloy wheels.

Beyond that group of safety features, Kia keeps its options, and its vehicle pricing by extension, very simple. Buyers choose the trim that offers the features they want and the price they can afford, and that’s it. Accessories such as wheel locks and other small upgrades are available, but they don’t push the Soul’s price tag by more than $100 each. Further, the Soul undercuts most of its competition and offers the same or better features in many cases. The Nissan Kicks is slightly more expensive, the Honda HR-V is significantly more expensive, and the Toyota C-HR outpaces the Soul from its starting price on.

Kia also offers an astounding warranty. All of its vehicles get a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty and a five-year/60,000-mile limited warranty.

Updated by Chris Teague

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