2015 Kia Soul Review

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The Car Connection
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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
May 12, 2015

The 2015 Kia Soul is a recognizable five-door boxy wagon that fits into urban environments and carries occupants with comfort and style.

The Kia Soul is a clever hatchback that plays up style while it delivers a healthy dose of functionality and safety. It continues for 2015 with only a handful of changes, after last year receiving its first complete redesign since its original introduction. The redesign was evolutionary, building on the Soul's unique place in the market. Kia also managed to address some of the boxy car's flaws in the process. Ride, handling, and comfort have been improved, there are more standard and available features, and the space-efficient design saw enhancements.

The Soul defies categorization to some degree. It's a small hatchback, but it doesn't share the same swept-back profile that most small five-doors do. Instead, the Soul has a boxy profile and embraces its different look while capitalizing on it by providing more space for people and cargo. The design has a blunt front end, with a roof that appears to float over a blacked-out greenhouse. The rear end is dominated by tall taillamps, while the front end uses bug-eye headlights. The Soul's interior has a somewhat funky design, with grown-up soft-touch materials. Ambient lighting from LEDs throughout the cabin provide mood lighting, if that's your thing.

Kia used high-strength steel to create a stronger structure for the latest Soul. Its suspension was also reworked for 2014, and it provides a smooth, comfortable ride, but it's taut enough to lend a feeling of security. The electric power steering system provides limited feedback, but offers three levels of weight—comfort, normal, and sport—that don't add much to the driving experience.

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Two engines are available in the 2015 Soul. We’d probably recommend against the base 1.6-liter four and its 130-horsepower, 118-pound-feet output unless you’re getting the six-speed manual transmission. Soul Plus and Soul Exclaim hatchbacks are fitted with a 2.0-liter, direct-injection four-cylinder that produces 164 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, paired only with a six-speed automatic (optional on the base). The Soul isn't a downright sporty car in any of its combinations; but with the larger engine you’ll find the Soul quick enough—although tall gearing leads to frequent downshifts on the highway, and the transmission tends to hunt on long grades.

The Soul's interior is relatively comfortable, with dual-density foam and somewhat extended seat cushions helping in front. It features a complement of steering-wheel controls, and the center-console controls canted slightly toward the driver. It’s very easy to get in and out, in front or in back. The only caution is that the Soul has the width of a small car, so even though there’s plenty of headroom and legroom, fitting three adults across in back is a no-go. The rear hatch opening is wide, and seats fold forward easily. Although Kia has made attempts to reduce interior noise, engine sound is still present, a reminder of the Soul's status as an economy car.

The NHTSA rates the Soul as five stars, giving it five stars in each category save for rollover resistance, where it scores four stars. The IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick. All models include a total of six airbags, with dual front airbags, seat-mounted side bags, and full-length side curtain bags. Also worth noting that even the base Soul includes superior four-wheel disc brakes, while many other inexpensive small sedans include just drum brakes in back.

There are three different trim levels: base Soul, Soul Plus (+), and Soul Exclaim (!). Prices start at just $15,495 for a reasonably well-equipped base model with a six-speed manual gearbox and the 1.6-liter engine. But if you’re willing to add a four-figure sum to that modest bottom line, you can load up a Soul to include things that are unusual in a mainstream model--like a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and cooled/ventilated front seats. What’s more, connectivity and infotainment—and the optional navigation system—are fully up to snuff with the systems available in much more expensive, premium vehicles.

The UVO eServices infotainment system uses an excellent new eight-inch capacitive screen and, with navigation, and based on a quick first introduction in a pre-production Soul, it looks like one of the better systems on the market, even casting upward to luxury brands. Based on an Android linux operating system, it doesn’t suffer from the lagginess that plagues some such systems, and with plenty of apps planned for the future (Pandora and others are just the start) plus potentially easy upgrades through the SD card slot.

9

2015 Kia Soul

Styling

The 2015 Kia Soul remains a design icon -- and last year's redesign introduced a better interior without messing with the distinct profile.

Kia points to the 2012 Track’ster concept as the point of inspiration for the latest Soul; it helped set the proportions for the 2014 Soul, and provided a new direction for some of its details and design cues. In front, the Soul closely apes the look of the Track’ster—especially in the shape of its lower air intake—and with the ‘grille’ and headlamps tucked upward somewhat, the overall visual effect is that the hood is considerably higher, even if it’s not. In back, there's a ‘floating’ body-color panel, and strategic blackout areas to draw attention to bulbous, high-contrast tall taillamps.

Inside, the Soul gets a more finished look than its predecessor, with a chunky steering wheel, a gauge cluster that’s sportier, and a dash that looks and feels more premium, with soft-touch materials from elbow level on up throughout most of the dash area. Speakers are elevated atop side vents on the dash, and center-stack climate, audio, and infotainment controls are all canted slightly toward the driver. In all, it doesn’t just bring this model in line with other Kia interiors, but it makes this interior more convincingly upscale in look and feel.

One thing that hasn’t changed much since the first generation is the Soul’s roofline and fundamental proportions. Kia notes that the wheelbase and overall width are both up by nearly an inch—and the new model is built on an all-new platform—yet from the side profile, it still has the same abrupt windshield pillar and somewhat canted-back look to the roofline.

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7

2015 Kia Soul

Performance

You won't find a sporty driving experience here, although the 2015 Kia Soul is perky enough for most needs with the 2.0-liter engine.

The 2015 Kia Soul is competent, even verging on athletic when compared to the others in its oddly shaped class. But if you're looking for a sports car, this five-door hatch probably won't satisfy. It's more comfortable making trips to the store and stocking up at membership clubs than it is tackling windy back roads.

That said, it's likely the 1.6-liter in-line four-cylinder engine that’s standard on the 2015 Soul (making 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque) might not be quite enough if you regularly find yourself tackling hills or making expressway trips with a full load. One thing the 1.6-liter has going for it is a standard six-speed manual gearbox; a six-speed automatic is an option on the smaller engine, while the 2.0-liter four is only offered with the automatic.

Models with the 2.0, which makes 164 hp and 151 lb-ft, have performance that most drivers will find perfectly adequate. They move reasonably quickly around town, and the transmission is quick to respond with downshifts when needed, out of corners, or when accelerating from traffic snarls. Unfortunately, this downshift eagerness gets a bit out of hand on the highway, where a very tall sixth gear has the transmission bouncing back and forth between fifth and sixth with very slight tips into the accelerator, or on very slight uphills. 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). A manual gate, however, lets you lock in a particular gear, only forcing an upshift near redline (not for full throttle).

The 2014 Soul refresh brought with it a new, much stiffer structure than before, which allowed engineers to add more suspension travel overall while more closely tuning handling and ride characteristics. But what makes the biggest difference is that it’s using new 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.

Steering is improved in the latest Soul; hardware changes bring better steering feel, a better sense of center, and better weighting off-center. The 2015 Soul also includes a system called Flex-Steer, which allows the driver to select one of three different weight settings—Comfort, Normal, and Sport. Differences aren't very easily discernible, and the added or reduced weight does nothing to improve feel, which is what is generally lacking from electric power steering setups.

All three trim levels of the Soul include four-wheel disc brakes—a noteworthy upgrade versus the rear drums you get in many other econo-sedans in the Soul’s price range.

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9

2015 Kia Soul

Comfort & Quality

In the parking footprint of a subcompact car, the crams a lot of space and versatility -- without ever feeling big or bloated.

The 2015 Kia Soul is a perfect example of smartly packaged utility in a stylish, city-friendly wrapper.

A low-set instrument panel gives the sense of a lofty driving position, which is a boon to shorter drivers. But taller drivers may not be able to lower the seat as much as they'd like, and the available panoramic sunroof should be avoided by the tall, since it reduces headroom. The front seats in the 2015 Soul employ dual-density foam construction, which helps tremendously for the big and tall.

In back, there’s plenty of headroom and legroom for all but the tallest adults—even our 6’-6” tester would be comfortable enough for several hours back there. The Soul’s sides don’t appreciably narrow up to the roof, which also adds to the impression of spaciousness.

There’s only one caution about seating here: The Soul is still a subcompact car in terms of width, so if you’re going to try to fit three adults across in the back seat—no matter how skinny they are—you might strike out. Luckily, in Plus and Exclaim versions, there’s a fold-down center armrest that could serve as a useful dividing line for at-odds siblings. And across the lineup, getting in and out is easy, whether you’re talking about the front seats or the back ones.

Our main criticism that keeps the Soul from being rated a perfect 10 here is that, even though Kia focused energy on reducing cabin noise, it seems to have missed the firewall, which separates the occupants from the noisy engine. Sound-reducing measures include extra sealing below and for the doors, but there isn't enough keeping the four-cylinder's racket from penetrating. This is one place that reminds us of the Soul's economy-car status.

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9

2015 Kia Soul

Safety

Safety ratings for the 2015 Kia Soul are much better than before, thanks to an all-new body structure.

The Soul's 2014 redesign brought with it improved safety scores that carry over to the mostly unchanged 2015 model.

The Soul earned top five-star overall federal safety ratings from the NHTSA, with five stars in all categories save for rollover resistance, where it scored four stars. The 2015 Soul earns the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) top 'good' ratings in all tests, including the new small-overlap test. That's enough to earn a Top Safety Pick award, though without automatic braking and forward-collision alerts, the Soul isn't eligible for the IIHS' Top Safety Pick+ honor.

All models include a total of six airbags, with dual front airbags, seat-mounted side bags, and full-length side curtain bags. It's also worth noting that even the base Soul includes superior four-wheel disc brakes, while many other inexpensive small cars include just drum brakes in back. Anti-lock braking, Brake Assist, and electronic stability control are all included, as is Hill-start Assist.

Outward visibility is still a mixed bag—great out in front and to the side, with a rather high driving position, but somewhat difficult for lane changes due to the thick rear pillar. A rear camera system is included with the top Exclaim model; it is included on the Soul Plus provided you get the $500 UVO eServices Package, and can now be optioned on base-model Souls once you select the $2000 automatic transmission and the UVO eServices Package.

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9

2015 Kia Soul

Features

The 2015 Soul is quite the deal at the base level; but you'll find a heated steering wheel, cooled front seats, and HID headlamps in upper models.

The 2015 Kia Soul is offered in three different trim levels: base Soul, Soul Plus (+), and Soul Exclaim (!). (Kia uses these punctuation marks to denote the names of the higher trims, but we find it easier to write them out in plain English.) Prices start at just $15,900 for a reasonably well-equipped base model with a six-speed manual gearbox and the 1.6-liter engine. Those who want all of the gadgets and niceties can quickly move up the trim ladder and add options to max out at $27,000. That's a lot for an economy car, but the Soul does offer a lot of items that aren't generally found in this segment, like heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and heated and ventilated front chairs. The boxy Kia also offers an infotainment and telematics system that rivals those of even some premium brands.

For that $15,900, the base Soul includes power locks, windows, and mirrors; heated side mirrors; a tilt/telescopic steering wheel; Bluetooth hands-free connectivity; and a six-speaker sound system with USB and auxiliary inputs as well as SiriusXM satellite radio with a three-month introductory subscription.

The Soul Plus starts at $19,400 and includes 17-inch alloy wheels, turn-signal indicators integrated into the side mirrors, automatic headlamps, and some minor cosmetic upgrades, plus a rear-seat center armrest, and a floor-console storage box with integrated armrest in front. It can be optioned with the UVO eServices infotainment setup, and there's another package that adds an eight-inch center touchscreen for the UVO-connected sound system and a bundled rearview camera system. The latest UVO system is based on an Android Linux operating system instead of the Microsoft backend of previous versions. It's refreshingly quick, without the lagginess that even some pricier systems exhibit.

Step up to the Soul Exclaim and you get 18-inch alloys, fog lamps, projector headlamps, and LED running lamps front and back. Inside, there’s special glossy piano black trim, as well as a cooled glovebox, a ten-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. UVO eServices and the rearview camera are standard here, but you still have to pony up for navigation on the eight-inch screen. 

Options on both the Plus and Exclaim include upgraded Infinity audio, speaker-mounted LED mood lighting that can be set to pulse with your music, navigation, and a panoramic sunroof.

Altogether, the 2015 Soul Exclaim adds up to less than $27k with the whole shebang—literally, as you add something called The Whole Shebang Package ($2,500) to add the leather seats, ventilated front seats, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, push-button start, HID low-beam headlamps, and Supervision gauge cluster with integral TFT color display. To get that, you first need the $2,500 Sun and Sound Package, including navigation, Infinity audio, speaker lights, auto climate control, and the panoramic roof.

Changes for 2015 include expanded availability of the UVO eServices telematics and infotainment suite; it can now be optioned on base Soul models provided they also include the six-speed automatic, an additional $2,000 option. Buyers opting for the Soul Exclaim can now choose an Umber Color Package, which adds umber (it's like a peanut-butter brown) leather seats and door trim as well as gloss black wheel-pocket detailing; the Umber pack can be optioned on Soul Exclaims painted in either Cloud White or Fathom Blue. Selected with The Whole Shebang Package, the Umber pack brings the maximum price of an Exclaim to exactly $27,000.

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7

2015 Kia Soul

Fuel Economy

Around town, the 2015 Kia Soul is as fuel-efficient as a small sedan; but you pay a price for the boxy body on the highway.

The 2015 Soul is rated by the EPA at 24 mpg in the city and 30 highway with the 1.6-liter engine—and that holds whether you opt for the manual gearbox or automatic transmission. Soul Plus and Exclaim models equipped with the 2.0-liter engine and automatic get 23 mpg city, 31 highway. And if you opt for the Soul Eco model, you'll get the best mileage of the lineup, at 24 mpg city, 31 highway.

All Soul models include an Eco Mode button that dulls throttle response somewhat and changes shift points.

The Eco model includes a feature called Idle Stop and Go (ISG) plus low-rolling-resistance tires. The system could conceivably save up to six percent in particularly dense stop-and-go driving, by smartly shutting the engine off. Unfortunately, that kind of improvement doesn’t show on the window-sticker EPA rating.

On an early drive, we saw nearly 25 mpg over several hours and about 140 miles, with driving conditions mostly split between urban-freeway, commute conditions and rural, twisty, hilly two-laners.

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August 8, 2016
2015 Kia Soul 5-Door Wagon Automatic !

Driving @ 65

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I have had many cars this car is by far is the most fun great mpg and plenty of room I think this is going to be the New senior ride
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March 31, 2016
2015 Kia Soul 5-Door Wagon Automatic !

The perfect first car.

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I'm 42 yrs old and this is my first car that I have ever owned. I have looked at other cars before I thought about even getting my licence. In the past opportunity wasn't there. The local paper had a 2015 Kia... + More »
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February 13, 2016
2015 Kia Soul 5-Door Wagon Automatic +

Excellent car. Like an SUV. Great gas mileage. Comfortable ride.

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Excellent car. Lots of room. Great visibility. Comfortable. Easy to drive. Handles well. Great gas mileage.
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October 18, 2015
2015 Kia Soul 5-Door Wagon Automatic +

Love my car

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Love my car but it has been at the dealer for four days. Went in to get tire replaced and they found an oil leak and can't find location. Anybody had this problem
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September 29, 2015
2015 Kia Soul 5-Door Wagon Automatic +

Traded my '14 Camaro for the '15 Soul!. I'm very happy with my choice.

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Love the style, comfort, fuel economy, ease of getting in and out, cargo space. Am really liking this vehicle.
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September 23, 2015
2015 Kia Soul 5-Door Wagon Automatic +

For those who like bang for your buck this is just what you are looking for.

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I recently traded my 2012 Soul for a 2015 EX model. I did not buy it for a sporty vehicle but for the space and for the size and features living in rural ontario. I am 56 not 19 which this vehicle is supposed... + More »
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June 2, 2015
2015 Kia Soul 5-Door Wagon Automatic !

great car !

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this is my second Kia Soul the first one was the 2011 plus this one is a 2015 exclaim. it has every available option and it is extremely good to get in and out of looks small on the outside but lots of room on... + More »
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April 14, 2015
For 2015 Kia Soul

My Kia Soul is comfortable, reliable, stylish and classy looking but I am a little disappointed in the fuel economy.

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The Kia Soul just keeps getting better every year.
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Performance 7
Comfort & Quality 9
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