2017 Kia Soul: A Party-Rocking Yet Practical Compact Crossover

A lot has changed in the world since the Soul’s toe-tapping launch, but seven years later, the 2017 Kia Soul has stood the test of time, still whimsically reminding us that too much serious stuff is a drag, and that a good party can last for years.

To understand the soul of this free-spirited Kia, you have to loosen your necktie a bit, and maybe don a pair of those big, white-framed glasses that were all the rage in 2010. The Soul is a fun car, labeled as a crossover by Kia’s marketing guys. Some might call it a tall glass of wagon, or maybe an SUV – but for the cool kids. Whatever it is, this compact SUV-ish hipster-mobile rolls to its own rhythm and it’s too busy bopping to the groove to care what anyone thinks about it.

The 2017 Kia Soul comes in three trims: base, + (Plus), and ! (Exclaim). None of which offer all-wheel drive as an option – but as long as this crossover doesn’t need to cross over any extended unpaved terrain, it’s all good. Three 109 horsepower electric-powered variants (EV) are also available for urban commuters with a bigger budget and access to easy charging. The Soul is strictly front-wheel drive, because oversteer is uncool when you’re cruising with your tunes.

An Immersive Driving Experience

This is a driver’s car, but not for the reasons you might think. The Soul isn’t particularly fast. Its electronic steering is light, but the chassis is wobbly and can take a bit longer than hoped to squeak to a stop. Engine noise is well-controlled during acceleration, seemingly distant, as though the galloping clamor of the four-banger’s ponies is a stampede happening elsewhere, perhaps in another car.

Almost none of the performance characteristics or the sense-tingling, pulse-quickening experiences we usually associate with a driver’s car are present here, but the Soul is still a driver’s car; a completely immersive experience.

Once inside the cabin, it all becomes clear. The Soul’s interior holds secrets and tells tales as a mix of shadow and light play on swooping ovals, clusters of circles, and chiseled bevels beneath a ceiling that feels tall enough to hang a disco ball from.

Expansive glass spanning the panoramic sunroof creates a private yet spacious cocoon of sunny-day hipness and brings the night stars within an arm’s reach. When the tunes start bumping the show begins as rings of light encircle the speakers, pulsing from red to yellow to green to blue in time with the music’s beat.

Suddenly, everything wrong in the world is right again. This feeling is what makes a driver’s car.

The lightshow speakers can also be set to a mood setting, not tied to the music. However, the lightshow is only available with the Infinity sound system, a pricey upgrade from the base Harman Kardon sound unit.

Styling elements, inside and out, can seem disconnected. Still, somehow it all works. But the Soul’s styling is divisive, creating both fans and critics.

The hood’s face looks like, well, a face – if you squint –  complete with a bowtie-shaped mouth which serves no mechanical purpose. This, like much of the design of the 2017 Kia Soul, is a matter of taste. Some will find the bright-eyed crossover hypnotically charming, while others might find its styling unappealing. Styling cues are more subdued in darker color options. No matter which side of the debate you find yourself on in regard to the Kia Soul’s styling, the lines of the vehicle are unmistakable. There’s nothing else quite like this little upstart.

Pricing & Performance

Base MSRP: $16,100

+ (Plus) MSRP: $19,800

! (Exclaim) MSRP: $22,800

EV-e (Canada only) MSRP: $32,250

EV MSRP: $33,950

EV+ MSRP: $35,950

A six-speed manual transmission is available only with the Base trim. A six-speed auto, a generally smooth shifting unit with the exception of sometimes clunky 1st to 2nd shifts, is available with the Base and is the only option on the Plus. A seven-speed dual clutch tranny is standard for the Exclaim. Paddle shifters aren’t available on any trim.

Base Souls come with a 130 horsepower four-cylinder engine. This same powerplant gets upgraded to a turbo in the Exclaim, putting out 201 horsepower – a boost largely noticed in highway acceleration due to higher RPM at speed. Zero to sixty time for the turbo is 7.6 seconds. The Plus trim level gets its own two-liter inline four-cylinder, cranking out 161 horsepower.

Fuel economy is closely comparable for all engine variants, with a slight advantage for the turbocharged 1.6 liter Exclaim.

Base (manual): 24 city / 30 highway / 27 combined

Base (auto): 25 city / 30 highway / 27 combined

Plus (auto): 25 city / 30 highway / 27 combined

Exclaim (auto) 26 city / 31 highway / 28 combined

Kia Soul EV models, strictly electric, have a reported range of 93 miles before you’ll need to charge the battery.