When the Kia Soul landed almost a decade ago, it defied convention and classification. It took over an odd middle ground between hatchbacks and crossover SUVs that never really existed at the time. Fast forward to today and the subcompact crossover class not only exists, but it’s growing in popularity with vehicle companies scrambling to fill the void.
Luckily for Kia, the Soul has been filling that gap for a while and benefits enormously from refinements and tweaks over the years. One thing that is left constant, however, is its value proposition. You get a lot of standard features for the money and options are reasonably great, too. Then there’s the 10-year/100,000-mile warranty that eclipses anything else in the industry.
The 2019 Kia Soul also secludes itself from other tiny crossovers with its offered engine choices that make them more fun to drive. We deduct some points for the resulting unimpressive fuel economy and the unavailability of all-wheel drive, but in our view, the positives well outweighs the negatives.
What is new
For 2019, the base-model Kia Soul gets a 5-inch touchscreen, a rearview camera and voice recognition as standard equipment.
We recommend checking out the Soul Plus (+) trim that has an agreeable middle ground between the base and the top-of-the-line Exclaim (!) models. It benefits from convenience and tech features that are either options on the base trim or not available at all. The 2.0-liter engine does a much better job of getting the Soul moving.
trim levels & features
The 2018 Kia Soul is offered in three trim levels: base, Plus (+) and Exclaim (!). Each lands with a different engine. An automatic transmission is standard on the Plus and the Exclaim and optional on the base Soul, which lands with a six-speed manual.
The base trim lands standard with a 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine (130 horsepower, 118 pound-feet of torque), 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, rear privacy glass, a rearview camera, air conditioning, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, 60/40-split folding rear seats, Bluetooth, a 5-inch touchscreen, a USB port, and a six-speaker sound system with a media player interface, an auxiliary audio jack and satellite radio.
The Base Convenience package (automatic transmission only) adds automatic climate control and the Uvo tech interface that includes a 7-inch touchscreen, voice recognition, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The Soul Plus has the Convenience package content and adds a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (161 hp, 150 lb-ft), a six-speed automatic transmission, 17-inch wheels, foglights, heated mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control, selectable drive modes, a front center armrest and bin, a rear center armrest, and a cargo cover.
The Soul Exclaim includes a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder (201 hp, 195 lb-ft), a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, 18-inch wheels, upgraded exterior trim (gloss black and red accents), upgraded gauges and interior trim, a mix of cloth and leather seat upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and keyless ignition.
The Plus is offered with a number of optional packages. The Audio package includes an 8-inch touchscreen, navigation, the Exclaim trim’s upgraded interior materials and leather-wrapped steering wheel, keyless ignition and entry, two USB ports, LED speaker lights, and a Harman Kardon premium sound system. The Designer Collection package adds 18-inch wheels, the leather-wrapped steering wheel and a two-tone roof treatment.
The Plus is also offered with the Primo package, which requires the Audio package, and adds a panoramic sunroof, xenon headlights, the Exclaim trim’s upgraded gauges, heated and ventilated eight-way power-adjustable front seats (with driver lumbar adjustment), heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, leather upholstery, and a suite of driver assistance systems that includes adaptive cruise control, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, lane departure warning, and a forward collision warning system with automatic emergency braking.
The Soul Exclaim is offered with a Technology package that includes everything it doesn’t already have from the Plus’ Primo package. The exceptions are the panoramic sunroof, which can be included separately, and leather upholstery, which isn’t available at all.
Each car typically comes in multiple versions, although trim levels share many aspects. The ratings in this review are based on our evaluation of a Kia Soul Exclaim (!) (turbo 1.6L inline-4 | 7-speed dual-clutch automatic | FWD).
Overall4.5 / 5.0
4.5 / 5.0
4.0 / 5.0
4.5 / 5.0
4.0 / 5.0
4.5 / 5.0
Most drivers won’t require the added power from the Kia Soul Exclaim’s turbo engine, but there’s no doubt any driver will appreciate it. We were surprised by how entertaining and capable this boxy little vehicle is on a twisting road, which translates to a more confident ride for less than sporty drivers.
The Plus trim’s standard engine has more verve than most competitors, and the Exclaim’s turbo engine really can’t be matched. Right off the line, there’s a little hesitation, but power builds steadily to highway speeds. Sport mode sharpens response.
The brake pedal is appropriately firm and very easy to modulate. With more aggressive braking, the car remains poised and controllable. The brakes remain strong even after repeated use.
The steering effort feels great at all speeds. It lightens up at parking-lot speeds and gets heavier as speeds increase. There’s a good on-center feel to keep you tracking straight on the highway for effortless road trips.
The Kia Soul is surprisingly agile and, dare we say, even fun on a winding road. It takes a little getting used to, but you can drive it much harder than you’d think.
The turbocharged Exclaim has a dual-clutch automatic transmission that can be annoyingly hesitant in traffic. Otherwise, and with other trims, the Soul is very easy to drive with confidence whether you’re commuting, maneuvering into a tight spot or blasting along some fun roads.
The Soul Exclaim drives a little stiffer than other small crossovers (blame the big wheels), but it’s far from being a deal-breaker. Even on long drives, you’re unlikely to feel fatigued.
Despite having only basic adjustments, the front seats are comfortable after several hours on the road. The rear seats are a little firm and flat by comparison.
The Soul’s suspension is the same irrespective of trim level. The ride quality is stiffer than that of subcompact SUVs, but even on really rough roads, it’s never objectionable. Wheel size does make a difference, so test-drive different trims.
noise & vibration
Wind and road noise is still present, but it’s not so loud that it becomes intrusive. Under more aggressive acceleration, the engine can be a little loud, but it sounds pretty good for a four-cylinder.
The single-zone automatic climate control is easy to use, and once set, it rarely requires to be adjusted.
The interior is better than most. Not withstanding the abundance of black plastic inside, the panels are nicely grained and feel substantial. Any spots that you regularly touch or rest your elbows on are padded.
ease of use
The primary controls, as well as buttons and knobs for secondary systems, are well-labeled and easy to operate.
getting in/getting out
The tall doors and slightly taller ride height make getting in and out of the Kia Soul a breeze, even in tight spots.
You sit taller in the Soul than in a sedan, but not quite as high as in a typical compact SUV. It’s an excellent compromise that gives you a great view of the road.
Generally, the Soul has more room than subcompact SUV competitors. Its cabin feels big and spacious, even if you ignore its relatively small footprint. The rear seats are especially roomy, with plenty of head- and legroom for taller passengers. The panoramic sunroof enhances the sense of space.
The rear roof pillars are pretty thick, but overall outward visibility is excellent. There’s no guesswork when backing into a spot, and you won’t have to rely too much on the rearview camera.
Materials and construction are slightly better than expected for a car at this price. Even better materials and nicer seat upholstery can be found in the top Exclaim trim and with the Plus Primo package.
The Soul’s boxy shape allows it to make the most of all the available space. Cargo capacity is better than in most subcompact SUV competitors, though space aft of the back seat is still only so-so. Interior storage could also be better.
Bins, pockets and cupholders are enough but not particularly generous or clever in design. Other cars offer more and larger storage areas, as well as thoughtful solutions for phones and personal items.
There’s up to 19 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats if items are piled to the top. That’s average for the segment, but space increases to 61 cubic feet with the seats folded (they don’t fold flat). That’s better than most hatchbacks and subcompact SUVs and even beats some compact SUVs.
Kia exceeds expectations when it has to do with technology. A lot of features are built into the touchscreen (including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), which is easy to reach and operate. Response time is immediate, and the optional audio system gives a solid punch.
audio & navigation
The optional Harman Kardon audio system sounds great and is equally easy to operate. Similarly, the navigation system benefits from sharp screen resolution and easy-to-read graphics. The mix of physical and onscreen buttons makes switching between systems quick and simple.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are added with the Uvo3 touchscreen interface, which is optional on the base trim and standard on all others. One USB port is standard, and two are optional.
Also lane departure and blind-spot warning systems, which are only offered on Plus and Exclaim, are put together with adaptive cruise control and a forward collision warning with a good automatic emergency braking system.