The 2021 Kia Soul is very much an evolution of a car that debuted more than a decade ago as an answer to tall, boxy hatchbacks like the Scion xB and Nissan Cube. The basic concept really hasn't changed much despite the Soul now being in its third generation (it was redesigned last year) and undergoing numerous improvements to its refinement and feature content. And yet, while the Scions and Cubes of the world have died out, an entirely new segment of vehicles has arisen in recent years that pretty much follow the Soul's playbook. Except they aren't considered tall, boxy hatchbacks, they're subcompact SUVs.
And if you ask us, the Kia Soul is one of your best choices in the segment it arguably created. It even won an Autoblog comparison test that also featured the Hyundai Kona, Jeep Renegade and Honda HR-V. There are other competitors to be sure, which is one reason why we can't definitely crown the Soul the best pick (that it does not offer all-wheel drive would be another). Nevertheless, the Soul's combination of value, space, driving dynamics and distinctive character make it stand out in an increasingly large crowd. The Soul Turbo model also boasts best-in-class power along with a low price considering all the equipment you get. Indeed, that price might be the most compelling element of all: Although the Soul may be the same in basic concept as those subcompact SUVs, it's considerably cheaper.
What's new for 2021?
The X-Line and GT-Line get revised shock valves to improve the ride, while the turbocharged engine is now only available on the new, aptly named Soul Turbo model (it was previously an option on the GT-Line). It should also be noted that one member of the family we expected to see at some point last year will never actually make it to the United States: the Soul Electric. Turns out, it will not be sold here, and instead Kia's electric choices will be the Niro EV and upcoming EV6.
What are the Kia Soul interior and in-car technology like?
It's a shame that Kia didn't make the interior as fun and characterful as the exterior. It certainly funks things up a bit with triangular patterns in the doors, a squircle-shaped center infotainment pod and tweeters nestled into triangular air vents, but apart from the GT-Line and Turbo (see below), it's all rendered in various shades of black or dark grey, effectively hiding them in a colorless, drab interior. Come on Kia, you can do better.
On the other hand, characterful interiors can also be ergonomically challenging (see Mini), and like other Kias, the Soul impresses with simple and easily reached controls — including the standard 7-inch touchscreen. The Turbo gets the 10.25-inch display shown below, which is basically the same interface with the enhanced functionality afforded by its widescreen layout. With either, you thankfully don't need to be a member of this car's Millennial (or younger) audience to figure the thing out. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, along with a single USB port (and an extra two arrive along with wireless smartphone charging in the EX and Turbo trim levels).
How big is the Kia Soul?
The 2021 Kia Soul has similar dimensions to subcompact crossovers like the Honda HR-V, Nissan Kicks, Jeep Renegade, and its mechanically related cousin, the Hyundai Kona. Its tall height and body shape lend it more passenger and cargo room than most, however. Rear seat legroom eclipses most competitors by a considerable margin, making it far more likely to carry four full-sized adults aboard. A pair of 5-foot-10-inch people should be able to sit comfortably back to back.
Cargo volume behind the raised back seat is among the class best with 24.2 cubic-feet available when you lower its dual-level floor panel to its lower position. Raising provides a flat load floor when you lower the back seat, which by the way, results in one of the biggest maximum capacities in the segment.
What are the Kia Soul fuel economy and performance specs?
Most 2021 Soul trim levels come standard with the same 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque — a modest number but typical for the subcompact crossover segment. A six-speed manual is standard on the base LX, while a continuously variable automatic transmission (Kia calls it an IVT) is optional on that trim and standard on all others. Front-wheel-drive is mandatory — the Kia Soul is not available with all-wheel drive.
Fuel economy is 27 mpg city, 33 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined for the base engine with the CVT. Sticking with the manual reduces fuel economy by 3 mpg combined. Slightly better fuel economy can be achieved with the Eco dynamics model that gets 29/35/31.
The aptly named Soul Turbo is the only trim level that offers the 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. That's a whopping amount for this segment, besting even its 175-hp Hyundai Kona cousin. This engine is paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual. Fuel economy is 27 mpg city, 32 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined.
What's the Kia Soul like to drive?
Acceleration with the standard engine is on-par for the segment, which is to say sluggish with plenty of noise. Throttle response is snappy, though, and the sounds it does emit is pleasantly growly. We also like its CVT, which is something we don't often say. It spends most of its time simulating the responses and behavior of a traditional automatic, simulating gears to create a more natural, familiar driving experience while still benefiting from a CVT's efficiency and performance benefits. All that said, we wouldn't mind if Kia offered the 1.6-liter turbo engine on something other than the range-topping Turbo.
Despite being an upright, inexpensive car, the Soul's cabin didn't boom with road or wind noise when we took it on a four-hour road trip. Conversations were easily had, and the meh base stereo had no problem being heard. The handling is also pleasingly responsive, with adept handling enabled by its ably tuned suspension and steering. Actually, it's awfully similar to the Hyundai Kona, which is a very good thing. The GT-Line ride is a little stiff, though, and the handling's not terribly improved. We'd say you could probably skip it, but then, it's the only way to get that powerful turbo engine.
What other Kia Soul reviews can I read?
We review the X-Line trim that applies more rugged styling cues to create more of an SUV-like appearance. It's a look that worse, but we do wish Kia backed it up with at least a modest ground clearance improvement and available all-wheel drive.
The Soul takes the prize in this full comparison test of subcompact crossovers.
Our first drive impressions of the 2020 Soul, including the X-Line and GT-Line 1.6T trim levels. We discuss its interior and what it's like to drive.
How much is the 2021 Kia Soul price and what features are available?
Pricing for the 2021 Soul starts at $18,765, including a $1,175 destination charge (it is built in Gwangju, South Korea). That's for a base LX with the manual transmission, but opting for the CVT increases the price to $20,265.
Standard equipment on the LX includes 16-inch steel wheels, automatic headlights, rear privacy glass, a height-adjustable driver seat, cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split folding back seat, a seven-inch touchscreen, a USB port, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a six-speaker sound system. Keyless entry is an option.
Upgrading the Soul S trim ($21,865) adds 16-inch alloy wheels, a variety of active safety features (see Safety section below), upgraded exterior trim and cloth upholstery, and a front center armrest with storage.
The Soul X-Line ($22,965) adds special styling, unique 18-inch wheels and roof rails to create a more rugged appearance. It also adds fog lights and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. It loses some of the S trim's active safety features.
The Soul EX ($24,525) gains those safety systems back and reverts to the Soul's regular look. It has 17-inch wheels plus upgraded headlights, LED running/accent lights, heated mirrors, proximity entry and push-button start, a cargo cover, heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, wireless smartphone charging, two extra USB ports, and a 10.25-inch touchscreen bundled with integrated navigation, and HD and satellite radios.
The GT-Line ($21,790) basically adds racier styling, a sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch wheels, fog lights, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel to the Soul S.
The Soul Turbo ($27,650) adds the turbocharged engine (no kidding), but then basically adds the EX's comfort and convenience equipment to the GT-Line plus LED headlights and fog lights, a sunroof, a head-up display, simulated leather upholstery, a heated sport steering wheel, adaptive cruise control, a 10.25-inch touchscreen and a Harman/Kardon sound system with a subwoofer and music-responsive speaker lights. Basically, if you want extra equipment, you have to also get the more powerful engine and sport-tuned suspension.
What are the Kia Soul safety ratings and driver assistance features?
Besides the usual airbags and stability systems, all but the base Soul LX come standard with a comprehensive amount of accident avoidance tech starting. These include forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warning, and driver inattention warning. The Turbo adds pedestrian detection for the forward collision warning system and adaptive cruise control.
In government crash tests, the Soul received four out of five stars for overall and front crash protection. It got five stars for side protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named it a Top Safety Pick for its best-possible crash test scores and for its collision avoidance tech. The Turbo trim's LED headlights got the best-possible "Good" rating, but all others received the worst-possible "Poor." One more reason to get the Turbo, then.
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