The Car Connection Kia Soul Overview
The Kia Soul is a compact hatchback that was introduced in the 2009 model year. A part of Kia's compact family of cars (one that includes the Forte sedan, coupe, and hatchback) the Soul has an unorthodox hatchback shape that's won it the affection of buyers who might otherwise be shopping for a small crossover SUV.
With the Soul, Kia found a mainstream hit in a boxy shape. It's a rival for the Jeep Renegade and Nissan Kicks—even the Kia Niro that offers better fuel economy, albeit in a smaller package.
The Soul is the South Korean brand's first and only model sold with an all-electric version in the U.S., albeit in very small quantities. The Kia Soul EV left the lineup in 2019, with no sign of return.
A new Soul was been introduced for the 2020 model year, and it's been rated a Top Safety Pick+ by the IIHS in some trims. For 2021 it carried over, and in 2022 most models gained a 10.3-inch touchscreen and wireless smartphone charging.
MORE: Read our 2022 Kia Soul review
The new Kia Soul
Kia hasn't changed its formula for the third-generation Soul; it's just tweaked the hipster appeal and grown the car's interior some. It's also kicked its weird diacritical-themed trim levels to the curb: No more ! or +, the new 2020 Soul comes in LX, S, X-Line, GT-Line, EX, EX Designer Collection, and Soul EV versions.
The new Soul’s left some of the funk behind, and it's moved into a more angular theme that reminds us of late, unloved Scion. A thin line of headlights caps a front end with a wide deck of air intakes. The Soul's sideview now has some crisp stamps in its sides and fewer rounded corners. The wheel wells still stand out at attention, and the tailgate has a small island of body color, but the roof pillar's landed in Cliche Alley with a black band that makes the roof appear to float. The Soul's cabin forms itself around a touchscreen as large at 10.3 inches and mood lighting that can sync up with the sound system.
The Soul sprouts more interior room to stay on point with its demographic, which has to be approaching 30 now. It's 2.2 inches longer, at 165.2 inches overall, and rides on a wheelbase up 1.2 inches to 102.4 inches. The Soul's gained 5.0 more cubic feet of storage space, for a net of 23.8 cubic feet behind the back seat.
Kia powers the new Soul with either a naturally aspirated 147-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-4, teamed to either a 6-speed manual transmission or a CVT. A turbocharged Soul spits out 201 hp from a 1.6-liter turbo-4 that's a familiar unit from the Hyundai Veloster, down to its 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Among the new safety gear available on the 2020 Soul are automatic high beams, active lane control, and automatic emergency braking. Kia also fits climate control, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, wireless smartphone charging, automatic, a 10-speaker audio system with 640 watts of power, LED headlights, 18-inch wheels, and of course, a contrasting-color roof to the new Soul.
Kia Soul history
First shown in production form at the 2008 Paris auto show, the Kia Soul was designed at the company's U.S. headquarters near Irvine, California.
The Soul went on sale in 2009 with a Web-driven marketing campaign that featured hamsters driving, and borrowed characters from Nickelodeon's lineup of cartoons. But the Soul is a more serious effort than that all seems. The hatchback was pitched directly against the likes of the Toyota Matrix, Nissan Cube, Scion xB, Chevrolet HHR and Chrysler PT Cruiser, as Kia tried to establish a larger foothold among younger drivers looking for a dash of style.
Two engines and two transmissions were available in the 2010 and 2011 model years. A 1.6-liter 4-cylinder with 122 hp was teamed with a 5-speed manual in base models, and was rated at 26 mpg city, 31 highway. More common was a version powered by a 2.0-liter inline-4 with 142 hp, which offered an optional 4-speed automatic; the EPA rated this combination at 24 mpg city, 30 highway.
Kia revamped the Soul's engine offerings for 2012 while also giving it a light once-over inside. A new 1.6-liter 4-cylinder with 135 hp and 121 lb-ft of torque took over as the base engine, while the optional engine became a 2.0-liter inline-4 making 164 hp and 143 lb-ft. A 6-speed manual was standard, with a 6-speed auto as an option on some trims and standard on others. Fuel economy for either transmission was rated at 26 mpg city, 34 highway. The Soul continued to be a confidence-inspiring little runabout, if not wholly exciting on the road.
The 2012-2013 Kia Soul is one of a set of vehicles found to have overstated fuel-economy numbers. Kia initially submitted figures of 27 mpg city, 35 highway, 30 combined (or 26/34 mpg, city/highway, for the larger 2.0-liter engine) according to the EPA, which allows automakers to self-certify fuel economy. On a check of several vehicles, the EPA found the Soul's actual tested fuel economy to be 25/30 mpg with the 1.6-liter engine, or 23/28 mpg with the 2.0-liter engine and automatic transmission or 24/29 mpg with the manual transmission. 2013 Kia Soul Eco models, which earned 29/36 mpg and 27/35 mpg ratings were downgraded to 26/31 mpg and 24/29 mpg, respectively. Owners can register with Kia to receive reimbursement for the gas consumed above and beyond expected levels; more details are found at KiaMPGInfo.com.
On the 2013 Soul, Kia improved gas mileage slightly by offering the an engine stop-start system as part of an Eco Package.
Kia Soul, 2014-2019
A redesigned version of the Soul emerged in 2014, with more power and a much better interior. Engine options included a pair of 4-cylinders, with manual and automatic transmissions on offer. The base engine was a 1.6-liter inline-4 with 130 horsepower and 118-pound-feet. Soul Plus and Soul Exclaim hatchbacks were fitted with a 2.0-liter, inline-4 that produces 164 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, paired only with a 6-speed automatic, which was optional on the base model. In 2017, a turbocharged model was added to the lineup. The 1.6-liter turbo-4, borrowed from the Elantra Sport, made 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque and was paired exclusively with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic.
The styling was modernized without losing the flavor of the original; it was slightly more aggressive looking while maintaining the friendly bulldog look. Crash-test ratings improved as well.
The Soul offered good space for four passengers, although adding a fifth made things a bit cozy. Second-row seats could be folded forward to increase cargo space to more than 61 cubic feet, and there was a small storage bin located below the cargo floor, with an organizer inside that separated the area into different spaces. The seats were comfortable and the interior was relatively flexible for a small hatchback.
A 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty extended to the Soul, which also came with power features, iPod connectivity and Bluetooth standard on most versions. A navigation system and Kia's system for voice controls for infotainment were available. Other available features included cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, and adjustable mood lighting.
Few changes were made to the Soul through the 2016 model year.
In the 2018 model year, Kia added automatic emergency braking to a package offered only on the Soul Plus. For 2019, all Souls came with at least a 5.0-inch touchscreen display.