Performance is probably the one area in which the 2016 Kia Soul doesn't over-deliver. It's competent and easy-driving, even verging on athletic in some respects, but this five-door hatch won't satisfy if you're looking for a sporty five-door hatch (start with the always-odd Nissan Juke if that's the case).
Which goes to say that the 2016 Kia Soul is far more in its element making trips to the store and stocking up at membership clubs than it is tackling windy back roads.
But even if your expectations are low you'll likely find the standard 1.6-liter inline-4. It makes 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque, and might not be quite enough if you regularly find yourself tackling hills or making expressway trips with a full load.
Do keep in mind, though, that the 1.6-liter is offered with a 6-speed manual gearbox; a 6-speed automatic is an option on the smaller engine, while the 2.0-liter inline-4 is only offered with the automatic.
Models with the 2.0-liter engine, which makes 164 hp and 151 lb-ft, offer perfectly adequate performance, with enough perkiness to move quite quickly around town and just (barely) enough power for highway trips. The automatic transmission is quick to respond with downshifts when needed, out of corners, or when accelerating from traffic snarls.
The downshift behavior from the transmission is a little over-eager on the highway, where it too easily lets the engine race and bounces between the very tall sixth gear and fifth. This type of ‘hunting’ behavior is relatively rare today, and most automakers have tuned it out with transmission programming (having it just hold the lower gear for an extended time). It's a nuisance you'll get used to, though, as there's a manual gate allowing you to lock in a particular gear (and only forcing an upshift near redline).
Four-wheel disc brakes are included in all three trim levels of the Soul; that's a noteworthy upgrade versus the rear drums in other budget car picks.
In terms of ride and handling, the Soul's ride isn't nearly as busy and lean-prone as you might guess from tall, short-wheelbase model. A much stiffer structure came with the last redesign, in 2014, and it allowed engineers to add more suspension travel overall while more closely reeling in pitching motions. What makes the biggest difference is the twin-path dampers—essentially allowing better body control and a more reassuring feel when you push it hard into corners, while also offering better isolation from the smaller bumps when you’re pointed straight ahead.
The Soul includes a system called Flex-Steer, which allows the driver to select one of three different weightings—Comfort, Normal, and Sport. Differences aren't very easily discernible, and the added or reduced weight doesn't seem to do anything to improve actual road feel. Although there is a good sense of center, and better weighting off-center than in many other comfort-focused small cars.