2017 Kia Soul: Wacky debut SUV finds maturity

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When it joined the car-in-a-box lineup in 2010, the Kia Soul was a novelty. Its unique styling garnered a lot of attention, not all of it good. But the 2017 Kia Soul is now a mature sport utility vehicle, a less expensive option against top-selling new rivals from Ford and Mazda. Its former new breed counterparts, the Honda Element, Nissan Cube and Scion Xb, are defunct.

The 2017 Kia Soul has a new more powerful top-line trim.
The 2017 Kia Soul has a new more powerful top-line trim.

The Weekly Driver Test Drive

Now in the fourth year of its second generation, the 2017 Kia Soul is in a segment of its own — if it can be classified. Is it a wagon, sport utility vehicle or crossover?

Regardless, the Soul is available in base, + (plus) and ! (Exclaim) trims. (Kia uses symbols rather than words.) The latter was my weekly driver. The ! trim features a new 1.6-liter turbocharged engine with 201 horsepower and a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. The two other trims have six-speed manual transmissions with a six-speed automatic as an option.

Long gone is the Soul’s wacky debut body style, which joined the Nissan Cube and Scion Xb among the most drastic exteriors in the industry. Instead, the Soul now has a more rounded design featuring a variety of wild exterior paint colors. My test vehicle’s exterior color was “Wild Orange” with red trim.

Driving the 2017 Kia Soul, like it was when I last drove the vehicle 2014, is a combination of fun, practicality and versatility. It won’t win acceleration contests, but the turbo-charger helps, although it’s not without shortcomings. There’s a noticeable lag in the system, even in sport mode.

Steering is nimble and maneuvering around town, through parking lots and in highway situations, is accomplished without blind spots. The Kia Soul’s fun-to-drive attitude is refreshing.

Seats are well-bolstered and patterned with leather trim with cloth inserts. There’s a lot of black plastic that looks rather sophisticated. All console functions are intuitive. The eight-speaker, 315-watt Harmon Kardon sound system is high quality, including two vertical speakers installed as columns on each side of the dash. Another keen small touch: A bottom flat steering wheel.

Standard equipment is extensive: navigation, heated steering wheel, heated seats, blind-spot warning as well as blind-spot warning and cross-path detection. The rear cargo area isn’t the biggest, but it’s easily accessible, all usable. The cargo cover retracts in two stages.

There’s plenty of room for front and rear-seat passengers, but front seat occupants have a more comfortable experience. Rear occupants in my drives with friends noted, “feeling every bump.” Tall occupants will be particularly pleased since there’s a lot of head room.

Likes:

Designers did a great job with passenger and cargo space distribution.
Long list of standard features.
Best warranty in the industry.

Dislikes:

Better acceleration next year?
Rough ride for rear seat passengers.
Turbo-charger lag.

Facts & Figures: 2017 Kia Soul

Acceleration: 0-60 mph, unavailable.
Airbags: (6)
Fuel economy: 26 mpg (city), 31 mpg (highway), 27 mpg (combined), 4-cylinder, six-speed automatic transmission.
Horsepower: 201.
Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price: $22,650.00.
Manufacturer’s Website: www.kia.com.
Price As Tested: $22,770.00.
Warranty: Bumper to bumper, 5 years/60,000 miles; Powertrain, 10 years/100,000 miles; Corrosion, 5 years/1000,000 miles; Roadside Assistance, 5 years/60,000 miles.

What Others Say:

“The Exclaim’s turbo power earns its “!” designation. The design might be polarizing, but Soul shapes up as a decent deal.” — The New York Times.

“For 2017, Kia has made just a few very small efficiency, style and feature changes to the Soul that make the charming little box just a little bit better and a tad more appealing than it already was.” — CNET.com.

“Courtesy of its new engine, the Soul Turbo takes a compact utility vehicle with a premium interior and exterior, and injects a decent chunk of fun.” — SlashGear.com.

The Weekly Driver’s Final Words:

“It’s easy to like the Kia Soul! It has personality. It’s fun to drive, and it’s offered a reasonable price in all trims.”

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