Car Reviews First Drives

2017 Kia Soul Turbo First Drive Review: Now With Extra Vigor

Turbo Power Adds a Dose of Energy

Turbo Power Adds a Dose of Energy

If there is one vehicle that helped kick-start Kia’s design revolution, it’s the Soul. Boxy and charming, the Soul has outlasted its major competitors thanks to its infusion of value and character. Now in its second generation, the Soul continues to be Kia’s best-seller and its most recognizable vehicle mainly due to its quirky, hamster-packed commercials. For 2017, Kia has given the Soul a refresh, a new turbocharged engine to spice things up, and a few more touches to add character.

Kia invited a group of journalists to sample the turbocharged version of the quirky Soul in Northern California. Our route took us from San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge and into the scenic Pacific Coast Highwa toward Calistoga in Napa County, where we got to try out the most powerful Soul on winding roads and the open highway. Key styling cues that distinguish the Soul Turbo from more pedestrian variants include a red Soul badge, red accent lines on the side and up front, and bright dual exhaust tips. Otherwise the car’s design has remained largely the same, and it’s still recognizable as the hip and cool boxcar that it is.

Inside the Soul’s cabin, everything still looks familiar and feels well-built with high-quality materials and soft-touch surfaces. The infotainment system has been updated with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration as standard on all cars equipped with the 7.0-inch touchscreen. A larger 8.0-inch unit is available as part of an optional package that also includes two additional USB ports and navigation. Kia’s infotainment system continues to be one of the best because it’s easy to use and logical. The integration of Android Auto and Apple CarPlay allows you to run either together with the native interface.

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Features unique to the Soul Turbo’s interior include a flat-bottom steering wheel, orange stitching on the seat, dash, shift gate, and steering wheel, and leather/cloth upholstery with a funky starlike pattern. The Soul Turbo isn’t available with ventilated seats, forward collision warning, or lane departure warning. The midlevel Plus model is available with these features.

The Soul finally receives a much-needed power infusion thanks to the 1.6-liter turbo-four, which has 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. It’s the same unit found in the Forte5 and Forte Koup SX, plus a number of Hyundai and Kia vehicles. Paired with a quick-shifting seven-speed twin-clutch automatic gearbox, the little turbocharged engine allows the Soul to accelerate quickly and effortlessly because of its generous low- and midrange torque. It makes passing maneuvers, climbing steep grades, and going up on ramps a breeze. All that extra power and torque doesn’t come at the cost of fuel economy. The Soul Turbo is also the most fuel-efficient member of the Soul lineup with 26/31 mpg (9.1/7.6 L/100km) city/highway.

On the winding roads of Northern California, the Soul Turbo’s extra power made a noticeable improvement to the Soul’s driving experience. The addition torque on tap means you can press lightly on the accelerator pedal and use all of that twist to your advantage. There’s also a drive-mode selector like in other Soul models. In the turbocharged variant, there’s only Normal and Sport modes. The Sport mode tightens up the steering a little, improves throttle response, and causes the transmission to hold gears longer, which enables you to stay in the engine’s powerband more often.

The suspension remains a MacPherson strut layout up front and a torsion beam in the rear on all variants. This doesn’t mean it’s sloppy on the road. Despite its tall, boxy shape, the Soul feels stable when the road gets twisty. The car’s 235/45R18 tires also help it stick to the road and give a little more stability. Ride quality doesn’t suffer due to the wide tires, and the car easily absorbs rough patches.

Because the Soul has front-wheel drive, it does understeer if you go into a corner too hot. Body roll is expected from a car shaped like the Soul, but it’s well-controlled. On the highway, there’s a lot of wind noise entering the cabin because the Soul isn’t very aerodynamic, and the wide tires can sometimes get noisy on rough roads. Steering is light and not very communicative in Normal mode, but it gets a little heavier if you switch to Sport mode.

Even though its looks didn’t change much, all of the tweaks under the hood have given the Soul a bit more of a fun factor. The 1.6-liter turbo-four gives it plenty of torque on tap, and the dual-clutch transmission shifts quickly and efficiently. Sadly, the lack of paddle shifters hints that this is still not a full-fledged hot hatch. Sure, it handles respectably, but it’s not going to match cars such as the Golf GTI. Think of the Soul Turbo as a tall lukewarm hatch that’s straddling the line between a commuter-friendly economy car and a full-blown sport compact. It’s not quite as fun as a true hot hatch, but it’s still entertaining enough to drive when the road gets twisty.