- Practical, flexible interior
- Grown-up cabin appointments
- Great infotainment systems
- Smooth, isolated ride
- Smart urban style
- Hunting automatic transmission
- Too much engine noise
- Lackluster highway mileage
The affordable, practical 2016 Kia Soul has a boxy style that fits right into urban environments, yet fits a lot inside.
The 2016 Kia Soul remains one of the most space-efficient, fashionable vehicles on the market for city-dwellers who don't have a lot of parking space to work with—and simultaneously need to watch the price tag and mind their fuel budget.
The Soul continues to defy classification, and that's mostly a good thing. It's a small hatchback, but it doesn't share the same swept-back profile that most small five-doors do; and it could be mistaken for a utility vehicle at times, but it's low, lean, and small car-based.
Its boxy profile is like no other, and its capitalizing on that silhouette 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 taillights, while the front end uses bug-eye headlights. Inside, the Soul thankfully doesn't get too overt with the styling; it feels sophisticated to the right amount, with grown-up soft-touch materials, as well as a few extras like ambient lighting.
We recommend against the base 1.6-liter inline-4 and its 130-horsepower, 118-pound-feet output unless you’re getting the 6-speed manual transmission. Soul Plus and Soul Exclaim hatchbacks are fitted with a 2.0-liter, direct-injection 4-cylinder that produces 164 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, paired only with a 6-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.
There's also an all-electric version; we cover that, the 2016 Kia Soul EV, on a separate page.
Thanks to a much-improved structure that was introduced with the current generation, two years ago, the Soul now provides a smooth, comfortable ride, yet it's taut enough to lend a feeling of security. The electric power steering system provides limited feedback, and offers three levels of weight—comfort, normal, and sport—that are more gimmicky than useful. Yet, this is an easy-driving vehicle in every respect.
The interior of the 2016 Soul is quite comfortable, and dual-density foam and somewhat extended seat cushions help in front. It's very easy to get into or out of, front or back, and there's a complement of steering-wheel controls, plus center-console controls canted slightly toward the driver. Back-seat space is impressive, but keep in mind that the Soul has the width of a small car. Even though there’s plenty of head room and leg room, fitting three adults across in back is a no-go. The rear hatch opening is wide, and seats fold forward easily. The engine noise you hear inside the cabin is the only reminder that this model is built on economy-car roots.
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. You can opt for front collision warning and lane-departure warning systems this year on top Exclaim models, but they don't include automatic braking.
There are three different trim levels: base Soul, Soul Plus (+), and Soul Exclaim (!). All models now for 2016 include alloy wheels, and at a four-figure premium you can add things like a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and cooled/ventilated front seats. Connectivity and infotainment hardware—and the optional navigation system—are fully up to snuff with the systems available in much more expensive, premium vehicles.
For 2016, Kia has added an inexpensive Convenience Package that allows a rearview camera, touchscreen audio, and satellite radio on base models; there's also a new Designer Collection package that brings a two-tone exterior.
The Soul is rated by the EPA at 24 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined with the 1.6-liter engine—and that holds whether you opt for the manual gearbox or automatic. Upgrade to the Soul Plus and Exclaim models equipped with the 2.0-liter engine, and you actually get slightly better mileage—24/31/27 mpg.
2016 Kia Soul
The Kia Soul makes good in all ways—with a sensible interior and a stylish, unmistakeable exterior and profile.
Kia has taken the right path with its Soul—respecting the distinctive profile and design that it simply got right from the start, and letting it evolve to a second-generation model that's perhaps somewhat sportier and more inspired in its details.
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.
The latest Soul builds on the look of the 2012 Track’ster concept as the point of inspiration for the latest Soul; it helped set the proportions for this current Soul—although in truth they aren't that much different than the first-generation model.
Looking at some of the details, the Soul gets a distinctive lower air intake from that concept design, and with the grille and headlamps tucked upward somewhat, it has a visual effect of making the hoodline seem higher than it is. In back, there's a floating body-color panel, and strategic blackout areas, altogether serving to draw attention to the extreme upright design, and the bulbous, high-contrast taillights.
The look of the 2016 Soul, inside, is a bit more finished than in its previous iteration—and overall, it feels like an inexpensive small car peppered with some surprisingly premium bits. The chunky steering wheel, sporty gauge cluster, and soft-touch materials from elbow level on up add to that impression. Center-stack climate, audio, and infotainment controls are all canted slightly toward the driver, and speakers are elevated atop side vents on the dash.
2016 Kia Soul
The 2016 Kia Soul isn't sporty, but with the 2.0-liter engine it's sporty enough for most needs.
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.
2016 Kia Soul
Comfort & Quality
The 2016 Soul manages an astounding level of space and versatiliry, all in the parking footprint of a subcompact car.
Who knew you could package this much space and utility—enough for four adults, or five in a pinch—into such a small footprint? The 2016 Kia Soul is a surprising grand slam in packaging, allowing so much space efficiency, all within a stylish exterior.
In front, shorter drivers are going to be set up well, as the low-set instrument panel gives the sense of a lofty driving position. Taller drivers probably won't be able to lower the seat as much as they'd like, or get enough thigh support—and the available panoramic sunroof should be avoided by the tall—but the seats themselves are firmer and more supportive than in the past, which should help longer-range comfort.
Moving to the back seat, there's plenty of head room and leg room for all but the tallest adults—even our 6-foot-6-inch tester would be comfortable enough for several hours back there. Yes, the cabin is subcompact-car-narrow, and you'll be challenged to fit three across comfortably, but the Soul’s sides don’t appreciably narrow up to the roof.
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.
There's one thing that serves as a reminder of the Soul's economy-car origins, and that's engine noise. While the current models are so much better-isolated from road and wind noise than before, they seem to have missed the firewall; you'll hear the engine's coarse note throughout the cabin when accelerating, climbing highway grades, and maybe even in between.
2016 Kia Soul
A stronger body structure and reasonably good set of safety gear makes the Soul one of the better small-vehicle picks for the safety-conscious.
The 2016 Kia Soul remains surprisingly good in safety, relative to other small cars. Although it's lacking modern accident-avoidance technology, it offers far better protection than the first-generation Soul that was sold through the 2013 model year.
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 for the rear wheels. Anti-lock braking, brake assist, hill-start assist, and electronic stability control are all included.
Outward visibility is still a mixed bag—great out in front and to the side, with a rather high driving position, but 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 if you get the UVO eServices Package, and can now be optioned on base-model Souls once you select the automatic transmission and the UVO eServices Package.
The Soul earned top five-star overall federal safety ratings from the NHTSA, with five stars in all categories except for rollover resistance, where it scored four stars. The 2016 Soul earns the IIHS top "Good" ratings in all tests, including the new small-overlap test. The combination of ratings is good enough for a Top Safety Pick, but not good enough for Top Safety Pick+, due to lack of automatic emergency braking. For 2016 as part of the Premium Package on the top Exclaim model you get forward collision warning and lane-departure warning systems.
2016 Kia Soul
A heated steering wheel, cooled front seats, and HID headlamps are offered, but the base model is a great value.
The 2016 Kia Soul remains 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.) While the Soul has inched up in price to around the $16,500 mark for 2016, for one with the 1.6-liter engine and 6-speed manual gearbox, even the base model now includes alloy wheels.
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 for 2016 also includes HID headlamps. Finally, there's a new $500 Designer Collection Package that brings two-tone exterior paint, 18-inch black-spoke alloy wheels, and leather-trimmed shift knob and steering wheel.
It's still possible to drive the price of the Soul into the upper 20s, but you'll have to work at it. Even then the value isn't bad, as you can add a number of items that are almost unheard-of in this segment—things like heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and heated and ventilated front chairs. You'll also find infotainment systems that give those in some premium brands a serious challenge on features and usefulness.
At the base level, the 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.
Next up is the Soul Plus, and it adds 17-inch alloys, turn-signal indicators integrated into the side mirrors, automatic headlamps, and a number of minor cosmetic upgrades, plus a rear-seat center armrest, and a floor-console storage box with integrated armrest in front.
You can option the Plus with a UVO eServices infotainment setup, and there's another package that adds an 8.0-inch center touchscreen for the UVO-connected sound system and a bundled rearview camera system.
We like the latest UVO system, which is based on an Android Linux operating system instead of the Microsoft backend of previous versions. It's refreshingly quick, with intuitive menus as well for the most part.
At the top of the lineup, with the Soul Exclaim, you get 18-inch alloys, fog lamps, projector headlamps, and LED running lamps. Glossy piano black trim, a cooled glove box, a 10-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob are part of the interior upgrades. The UVO eServices suite and the rearview camera are standard here, but you still have to pay extra for navigation on the 8.0-inch screen.
Other options on both the Plus and Exclaim models include upgraded a panoramic sunroof, Infinity audio, and speaker-mounted LED mood lighting that can be set to pulse with your music. The premium infotainment system can now also be optioned on the base model.
There's a Whole Shebang Package that doesn't waste itemizing; here you get the leather seats, ventilated front seats, heated front and rear seats, heated steering wheel, keyless ignition, HID low-beam headlamps, and Supervision gauge cluster with integral high-definition color display. But it's quite the upgrade, as you first need the Sun and Sound Package, including navigation, Infinity audio, speaker lights, auto climate control, and the panoramic roof. In all, it's a $5,000 upgrade.
2016 Kia Soul
You pay a price in mpg for the boxy body on the highway, yet around town the Soul is as fuel-efficient as any other small hatchback or sedan.
The 2016 Kia Soul manages to match other small hatchbacks and sedans in city driving, but on the highway it's not nearly as fuel-efficient—the consequence of its tall, boxy body.
The Soul is rated by the EPA at 24 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined with the 1.6-liter engine—and that holds whether you opt for the manual or automatic transmission. Upgrade to the Soul Plus and Exclaim models equipped with the 2.0-liter engine, and you actually get slightly better mileage—24/31/27 mpg.
We've pretty much matched those figures in real-world driving, as we saw nearly 25 mpg over several hours and about 140 miles, with driving conditions mostly split between urban-freeway, commute conditions and twisty, hilly two-laners.
All Soul models also include an Eco Mode button that dulls throttle response somewhat and changes shift point for the automatic transmission.