2017 Kia SoulEnlarge Photo
The Kia Soul and Honda Fit are both boxy small cars with remarkable interior space. The Soul is a style-first urban warrior whose attraction lies in its practicality and cheeky character. The smaller Fit sits at the top of the economy car segment, with a supremely flexible interior and combined EPA fuel-efficiency rating of 36 mpg.
Even small passenger cars are now giving way to miniature crossover SUVs, but which of these two practical small cars suits you best?
The Soul's 6.8 overall score is higher than the 6.0 awarded to the Fit. Even by our own numbers, we're convinced the race is closer than that—many of our editors still like the Fit over the Soul. Consider the Soul the automotive equivalent of Gonzaga men's basketball—they turn up for the tournaments and manage to surprise us all. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Now in its second generation, the Soul's boxy profile is distinctive and appealing. The design has a blunt front end, with a roof that "floats" over a blacked-out greenhouse. The rear end is dominated by tall tail lamps, with bug-eye headlights up front. Somehow it all works, and the Soul capitalizes on the silhouette by offering a lot of space for people and cargo. It's less funky inside, with grown-up soft-touch materials, as well as some extras like ambient lighting.
The Fit is a more conventional small, tall five-door car with body creases and other design tricks to hide its boxy, almost wagon-like shape. But it somehow comes across as cheerful, almost perky, unlike more sedate small cars that attempt to ape larger models. Its interior is more stylized than that of the new Civic, and mostly composed of gray and black plastics. A large circular molding around the speedometer in the instrument cluster is unusual, and the central display or touchscreen is slightly canted toward the driver.
Soul vs. Fit: performance
The Kia Soul comes with a choice of three engines, but we don't recommend the base 1.6-liter inline-4, with an output of just 130 horsepower, unless you’re getting the 6-speed manual gearbox. A 6-speed automatic is optional. A more powerful 164-hp 2.0-liter, inline-4 comes only with the automatic and a 201-hp turbo-4 comes with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. Unusually, the larger engine gets better EPA fuel efficiency ratings: 1.6-liter turbo-4 models are rated at 26 mpg city, 31 highway, 28 combined, while the 2.0 versions come in at 25/30/27 mpg. The Soul isn't particularly sporty, but it's quick enough with the larger engine—although tall gearing means frequent downshifts on the highway, and the transmission can hunt on long grades.
The Honda Fit has only a single engine, a 130-hp 1.5-liter inline-4 with a 6-speed manual gearbox as standard. Most Fit buyers order the continuously variable transmission (CVT) that does far better on fuel efficiency, at 33/41/36 mpg. That puts the Honda at the head of its class in EPA ratings. It's done a decent job of making the CVT tolerable, and the Fit suppresses most exterior noise fairly well even at speeds well above any U.S. speed limit. Ride is well-controlled, but the body leans on cornering.
2016 Honda Fit 5dr HB CVT EX EngineEnlarge Photo
The Honda Fit has a more refined ride than it did in the past, and it's agile, with responsive steering and handling. Still, the driving experience isn't quite as fun as in earlier generations, or competitors like the Ford Fiesta. That may be just fine for buyers interested in maximum versatility and fuel economy at a reasonable cost.