- Looks sharp
- Good Uvo infotainment
- Turbo-4 power
- Versatile hatchback body
- Still a manual on the order sheet
- Engines can be noisy
- 6-speed automatic hunts through gears
- Mediocre gas mileage
- Top safety tech unavailable with turbo
The 2018 Kia Soul puts style ahead of safety features and turbo power.
The 2018 Kia Soul hatchback has been busy. Last year's big news was a new engine, which returns for this year. Not much else has changed and that's a good thing: it's the same car with the same spunky attitude and powertrains.
Offered in base Kia Soul, Plus and Exclaim models, it’s still among our favorite compact hatchbacks, as much for its versatility as for its style. Still, we think the newly available automatic emergency braking should be offered on more trim levels—and a rearview camera should be made standard.
We give the 2018 Soul a 6.8 out of 10. It’s let down by meager base content and those safety omissions. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Heavy on style, the boxy and compact Soul has real flair. The shape’s been around for a while, but it’s still fresh thanks to a chunky set of body panels and a high roofline. The interior’s more subdued, but for its price, it’s a high-quality environment.
Skip the poky base 1.6-liter inline-4; it’s sluggish and has tiny 16-inch wheels, and you’ll pay lots more to give it a rearview camera. The mid-range 2.0-liter inline-4 has 161 horsepower and a 6-speed automatic, and it’s perky enough despite a transmission that hunts too much at highway speeds. We’re more enthusiastic about the gutsy 1.6-liter turbo-4 and its 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, but it’s not offered with automatic emergency braking. No matter which Soul you buy, the ride is somewhat stiff and steering isn’t full of feedback, but the car still feels composed, not busy or twitchy.
The Soul’s best asset is packaging that grants four adults ample space, especially head room, from a compact footprint. The 63-plus cubic feet of storage behind the front seats maintains up to 24 cubic feet behind the rear seats. Three people will fit across the back seat, tight at the shoulders but well-supplied for leg room.
On the safety front, the Kia Soul earns good crash-test scores, but the continued absence of a standard rearview camera on all models brings its score down here, as does the optional forward-collision warnings and automatic emergency braking available only on a single model.
Other features include standard Bluetooth, satellite radio, and air conditioning, but cruise control also is an option. Kia bundles features like its excellent Uvo infotainment system in packages, and leather and ventilated seats and a sunroof are among the options, but when the Soul spins past the $25,000 mark, the value proposition wanes sharply.
2018 Kia Soul
The 2018 Kia Soul cheerfully implodes the idea that only expensive cars can look good.
Cheap and cheerful is no epithet. The 2018 Kia Soul fits those bills, and it carries off a fair amount of styling panache despite its economy-car roots.
The exterior is great, the interior squarely above average. For such an inexpensive car its score of 8 for styling is especially impressive. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Now in its second generation, the Kia Soul still has the functionally blessed proportions of the original, though the details have matured in this second edition. The windshield pillar still stands at abrupt attention, and the rearward cant of the roofline relieves some of the boxy profile. (It doesn’t resemble the In-N-Out logo as much as it used to, does it?)
Expensive versions of the Soul wear gloss black and red trim, and most models have body-color bumpers, which unify the look. Still, even the base models aren’t shy on style, and that’s rare for cars priced well under $20,000.
The Soul’s cabin is more refined and restrained. It wears some premium bits among the economy-car shapes and textures. The Soul’s gauges have a slightly racy look, the steering wheel’s amiably chunky, and the dash and door panels wear soft-touch trim from elbow height on up. Speakers bulge from the top of the dash, and the center stack of controls leans in toward the driver in a subtle, personal touch.
2018 Kia Soul
A humdrum lineup of engines and transmission gets transformed in the potent Kia Soul Exclaim, but there’s a catch.
The Kia Soul can be rigged with one of three 4-cylinder engines. It shouldn’t take long to see what we recommend, but it comes with a catch.
We give the Soul a 6 for performance, based on its broad drivetrain lineup. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The base Kia Soul comes with a 130-horsepower, 1.6-liter inline-4 with 118 pound-feet of torque. Kia sells it with either a 6-speed automatic or 6-speed manual, but in either case it’s flustered by the Soul’s not-light curb weight. It’s the least impressive of the trio, and unless price is your only consideration, we’d steer clear of it.
To do so, you’ll have to buy a Kia Soul in Plus or Exclaim trim, and those choices are saddled with complications. With the less impressive 2.0-liter inline-4, the Soul makes a healthier 161 hp and 150 lb-ft of torque. It’s coupled only to a 6-speed automatic, which is accommodating enough with quick downshifts in traffic or deep in corners. It can seem too eager when shifting on the highway, where it bounces around between fifth gear and a very tall sixth overdrive gear. The hunting behavior is more common these days in 9-speed automatics, for obvious reasons. The trick to solving the Kia’s behavior is to lock it in manual shift mode, which holds the current gear selected until it hits redline.
Of all the powertrains, we like the turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-4 and its 7-speed dual-clutch automatic the best. With 201 hp and 195 lb-ft, it gives the Soul far more urgency when passing. It’s quick to launch, too, but there’s ample torque steer, which can be mitigated by switching its steering into Sport mode, which loads on lots of weight but doesn’t add much in the way of information.
The problem here, of course, is that the most desirable transmission and engine can’t be paired with the latest safety technology. Kia only bundled automatic emergency braking with the mid-line Soul Plus.
The Soul has a short wheelbase and a tall body, and while the ride can get harsh, it’s not as prone to body lean or as busy as it might be. When it was last redesigned in 2014, Kia engineers designed in more suspension travel and fitted more sophisticated shocks that give the Soul better control over its body motions and better small-bump isolation. If it’s a true hatchback you’re seeking, the VW Golf is a better performer, but the Soul’s ample space and kicky shape don’t give up too much in the way of performance.
2018 Kia Soul
Comfort & Quality
The 2018 Kia Soul makes the most of its small-car footprint.
Packaging is the strength of the Kia Soul. It carves out plenty of usable space from a compact footprint, and can easily carry four adults for long trips.
We give it a 7 for comfort and utility. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Front passengers have good head and leg room. The instrument panel sits low and the front seats are mounted high; the combination cuts somewhat into head room for tall drivers under a sunroof, and the front seats don’t have much in the way of thigh support.
In front and in back, the Soul has firm and supportive seats that make for good long-distance drives. It’s a stretch to ask three adults to sit across the back bench for long periods of time, but for shorter stints it’s an acceptable arrangement. There’s ample leg room, in fact, for very tall passengers, and the Soul has a fold-down center armrest in back that can wall off children or child-like passengers from each other when needed.
By the numbers, the Soul offers up to 61.3 cubic feet of cargo space, when the rear seats are folded down, or a maximum of 24.2 cubic feet with the rear seat in use by people.
The Soul has some noticeable road noise, and in our first road test of the turbocharged Kia Soul we found that the drone was still present. It’s at odds with an interior that’s otherwise sharp in a reasonably high grade of finishes and textures.
2018 Kia Soul
The 2018 Kia Soul does well in crash tests but you'll have to pay extra for much of its safety gear.
Crash-test scores for the 2018 Kia Soul are high and this little box on wheels now features advanced safety tech. We give it a 7 in this category. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The NHTSA says the Soul merits a five-star overall rating, though the calculated rollover score checks in at four stars. The IIHS agrees and says that a Soul fitted with the optional automatic emergency braking and HID headlights earns its Top Safety Pick+ award.
All Souls have four-wheel disc brakes and stability control, but a rearview camera remains an option on the base trim level—and an expensive one, at that. Blind-spot monitors are an option on Plus and Exclaim trims.
Automatic emergency braking is newly available as part of the pricey ($4,500) Primo Lit package optional on the Soul Plus trim level.
2018 Kia Soul
The 2018 Kia Soul has a sterling warranty, but its features are bundled in unusual and expensive ways.
Kia offers some excellent warranty coverage in the Soul, and spiffs it up with special trim levels and powertrains. But it omits some features that show up standard in less expensive cars.
We give it a 6 out of 10 here, with an extra point for that excellent 5-year/60,000-mile basic warranty that expands to 10 years and 100,000 miles for its powertrain. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Kia sells the Soul in three versions: base, Plus, and Exclaim (Kia uses the punctuation marks, but we stick with the written word.)
The base 2018 Kia Soul comes with the 1.6-liter inline-4 and a 6-speed manual. It doesn’t have a center armrest or cruise control or a rearview camera, but does have Bluetooth, air conditioning, satellite radio, and a split-fold rear seat. To add some common touches like the camera and a big touchscreen, you’ll spend thousands over the nominal base price.
We do recommend the rearview camera option on any model as well as the convenience package, which adds Kia’s impressive Uvo infotainment system to the base model; it’s standard on other versions. Uvo is quick, intuitive, and runs on an Android software basis.
The Kia Soul Plus gets a 2.0-liter inline-4 as well as a rearview camera, which displays on a 5.0-inch touchscreen. It has 17-inch wheels and body-color trim. Options include heated front and rear seats, 18-inch wheels, ventilated front seats, and a sunroof. Kia offers forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking only as an option, and only on this trim level. It comes with adaptive cruise control, but it’s still no value, and does nothing to help the Soul’s otherwise strong safety score here.
The Soul Exclaim gets a turbo inline-4, 18-inch wheels, red and black gloss trim, leather seats, and piano-black interior trim, as well as keyless ignition. Oddly enough, it does not offer some of the convenience touches sold as options on the Soul Plus: there’s no chance for cooled front seats and the heated front seats have fewer adjustments. It's also not available with automatic emergency braking.
2018 Kia Soul
The Kia Soul gets very good fuel economy, but it’s a bit below par in its class.
The Kia Soul doesn’t earn the stellar fuel-economy ratings of some other small cars. Its tall wagon body doesn’t cut through the air as cleanly.
We give it a 7 out of 10 for gas mileage. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The standard-issue Soul earns EPA ratings of 25 mpg city, 30 highway, 27 combined when it’s outfitted with a 6-speed automatic. With the available 6-speed manual, it loses 1 mpg in the city.
Soul Plus models equipped with the 2.0-liter inline-4 are rated at 25/30/27 mpg.
A 1.6-liter turbo-4 in the Soul lineup adopts a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic, and it’s the most efficient hatchback under this nameplate without battery power (we rate the Soul EV separately). This version pegs the EPA scale at 26/31/28 mpg.
Other compact SUVs fare better, and so do other hatchbacks. The likes of the Subaru Crosstrek and Nissan Juke score as high as 29 mpg, while the Honda Civic lineup soars into the 30s.