AUTO REVIEW: For 2018 Kia wants to keep the Soul on top of its segment

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Now several years into its second generation, Kia’s Soul adds features and power to broaden its appeal to those who like the tiny crossover vehicles for their size rather than their price.

The Kia remains quite popular and certainly surprised Kia when they originally introduced it. They expected it to be somewhat of a niche car, and they presumed to go up against the Nissan Cube when had been recently introduced.

But thanks to its distinctive looks — and perhaps because it wasn’t quite as edgy as its equally boxy Nissan competitor — it became a runaway hit in a segment that keeps growing in sales. Perhaps it would only be fair to commend Kia’s truly great marketing. Creating heat and light about an entry level car using hamsters, well, who’da’thunk.

The Kia I tested cost a bit more than $27,000 because it was the top-of-the-line Exclaim. For that there was nothing missing: navigation, leather, plenty of safety features and as good a connectivity system as exists.


The Exclaim gets you Kia’s turbocharged version of their 1.6-liter inline-four-cylinder engine. This results in the engine creating 201 hp. and 195 lb.-ft. of peak torque. Interestingly, at 26-mpg city and 31-mpg highway it is the most fuel efficient of all Souls.

This power flows to the 18-in. front wheels through a shiftable, seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic. This is the only tranny available. It was plenty lively — especially if you put it into manual shift. It is also a smooth shifter which will please those who buy this car but don’t wish to hot-rod around town.

In normal driving, it slipped into as high a gear as quickly and smoothly as it could. It did this moving up through its seventh gear if you were on the highway. In town, it tended to top out in sixth gear, which was a reasonable compromise between efficiency and performance.

The wheels are attractive and add a bit of edge to the hamster-soft image of the Soul. They are shod with all-season 45-profile tires. The suspension is the same as the other Souls, but Kia says the springs and dampers are tuned differently. The front brake rotors are bigger at 12.0-in. although the rear clampers remain the same size.

With these features the performance of the Soul is a bit livelier and when you drive it you can feel that this is no base model of an econobox. Granted this is a segment that is driven by price, but among those who are value-orient there are buyers who want features without a heavy price. Kia is pretty sure that no matter what category or price a car is, there are customers who really want their purchase loaded.

By offering a more powerful and loaded model, Kia can appeal to the “us and them” aspect of any group of potential customers.

So, the Exclaim is graced with specific trim and features. These include the exclusive 18-in. wheels, red-accented body trim, a chrome grille surround, the Soul tailgate badge and, for the first time on Soul, dual chrome twin-tip exhausts.

Inside there’s a standard leather-wrapped, sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel, pushbutton start with a smart key and Kia’s connectivity system called UVO. The infotainment system also comes with integrated Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Sound is driven by a 315-watt Harman Kardon premium eight-speaker audio system, navigation and you can get an eight-inch touchscreen. You can also opt for rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot detection.

The 2018 Soul comes in three trim levels. They start with the Base, with either a manual or automatic six-speed transmission at $16,100 or $17,700 with the automatic transmission. Next is the Soul Plus with the six-speed automatic at $20,300 and the top model Exclaim which could hit the street at $22,800. Trim Levels/Pricing3 — MSRP: (excludes $895 destination)

Chances are that won’t happen, as I said my Exclaim test car was priced at a bit more than $27,000.; and the Exclaim turbo with the new seven-speed DCT. The Base model with a manual gearbox starts life The Plus starts

Although Kia is emphasizing the turbo power, that isn’t because it’s now a rocket. Customers have said for years that they would like a bit more power, and now they can get it.

This isn’t a competitor of the hot hatchbacks. Instead it’s a crossover competing with the Mazda CX-3, Chevrolet Trax, Fiat 500X and Honda HR-V, to mention a few of the mini crossover utes. And, oh yes, it is the segments top seller.

Kia hopes adding a turbo will help to spin up sales even further.

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