- Captivating style
- Competent base engine
- Good value in most trims
- Mostly good interior tech...
- ...but lacking some safety tech, too
- Hamstrung optional engine
- So-so safety ratings
- EV is delayed
The 2021 Kia Soul hatchback has style and substance in the same package; few cars can boast the same.
It’s not a Rorschach test, but what you see in a 2021 Kia Soul says a lot.
For some, it’s a stylish small car that looks different from just about everything else on the road. For others, it’s a practical hatchback with a roomy interior for up to five adults. For others still, it’s an affordable car that gets reasonable fuel economy.
OK, no one is wrong. Everyone wins. The 2021 Soul gets a 6.2 TCC Rating thanks to its good looks and value, but no thanks to a spotty safety scorecard. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Starting from about $19,000, the 2021 Soul follows last year’s routine: LX, X-Line, S, EX, and GT-Line trims.
Every Soul gets funky good looks that walk carefully the line between kitsch and cute. Inside, the Soul is practical and spacious with just enough cues to distract from the built-to-a-budget materials.
Under the hoods of most Souls is a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 147 horsepower teamed to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). It’s hardly fast, but it’s competent around town and relatively fuel efficient at 30 mpg combined, according to the EPA.
A 201-hp 1.6-liter turbo-4 is available on top trims but a wayward 7-speed dual-clutch automatic paired with it has a mind of its own, and that mind is indecisive.
The Soul is a performer of a different kind and it’s better at fitting five comfortably with room in the back for gear. We wouldn’t grumble in the back seats if a Soul showed up as our next ride-share because there’s enough room for adults—sober or otherwise. The front seats are fine, and the cargo space is finer: 24 cubic feet that expands to 62.1 cubes with the rear seats folded forward.
The bad news: The Soul’s so-so safety scorecard and lack of automatic emergency braking on every model doesn’t make friends with our safety scale.
The better news: The Soul offers good value in the middle of its lineup, where automatic emergency braking, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatibility, and durable cloth upholstery costs about $21,500. A 10.3-inch touchscreen is available on top models, but those can tempt $30,000, and we see better value in other places.
All-wheel drive isn’t available on any Soul. If that’s a must-have we suggest looking at the Kia Seltos across the showroom.
2021 Kia Soul
The Soul has more swerve than cars that cost twice as much.
The 2021 Kia Soul’s outré style is its calling card. It’s a box with a buzzcut and a few clever lines that help it conceal its budget-car roots.
It’s a look that we like and it earns an 8 here, thanks to exterior looks that are better than good—they’re great.
Its nose is distantly related to the rest of the Kia lineup, and that’s also a good thing. The Soul is available with one of three headlight configurations and our favorite is GT-Line’s thinner treatment and red accents.
Different trims get slightly different bodies: the X-Line gets chunky cladding, the GT-Lines look sportier.
Inside, the Soul gets better with more money thrown at it, but every trim level has a unique flair that belies the budget mission for Kia’s hatchback. It feels more expensive than it is, and that’s another good thing.
2021 Kia Soul
A solid base engine keeps the Soul in a sweet spot for performance.
The 2021 Soul’s personality doesn’t get in the way of its performance. Despite its low price and economy-first focus, the Soul is relatively fun to drive.
It’s a 5 here, which is a high score among a low-cost class that can’t always afford to spell F-U-N.
Like last year, the Soul is powered by one of two engines—an all-electric version is coming, but we cover it separately.
The base engine is a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 147 hp and 132 pound-feet of torque and drives the front wheels via a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), or less commonly, a 6-speed manual transmission. It’s the better of the two engines available in a Soul, and it’s cheaper.
Off the line, the Soul has good acceleration for around-town speeds, although the engine can feel a little out of ideas up mountain passes. A sport button makes the steering heavier and lets the engine rev out more, but the Soul is best at calmer driving.
An optional 201-hp 1.6-liter turbo-4 is available and paired to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic. It’s a considerable increase in overall power and torque at 195 lb-ft, but it comes with a caveat: the automatic transmission isn’t adept at slower speeds. It’s clunky in stop-and-go traffic and hesitates at lower-speed shifts. We don’t recommend it.
The Soul’s ride is calm and collected, and it’s smoother than we expected for a car with a price below $20,000. The Soul also steers well, although the wheel could be a little heavier than some buyers expect.
2021 Kia Soul
Comfort & Quality
Spread out in the 2021 Soul, it’s bigger inside than it appears.
The 2021 Kia Soul rivals Marie Kondo for efficiency with space.
Five adults will fit in the small hatchback—no, really—with room in the back for gear.
It gets a 6 here but don’t be fooled by that: many competitors do worse. The Soul gets points above average for its people and cargo hauling chops, but loses a point for budget materials in some places.
The front seats are roomy and comfortable, with good padding for long hauls. Most will be equipped with manual adjusters that move in six directions, although top trims get power seats. Most body types won’t have a problem fitting into the Soul’s front seats, except perhaps the entire swim team—broad shoulders may be a little pinched.
The rear seats are a modern marvel. They offer plenty of leg room for 6-footers to sit behind other 6-footers and three abreast is possible, too.
Behind the second row, the Soul offers 24.2 cubic feet of cargo room that expands to 62.1 cubic feet with the seats folded. The load floor height may be a little taller than expected, but a flexible shelf and wide opening are helpful.
The Soul’s interior materials are fitting for a car that starts for less than $20,000. Premium cloth feels better, and GT-Lines can get a synthetic leather upholstery and interior accents that look better, but those versions cost more than $25,000.
2021 Kia Soul
The 2021 Soul has mixed reports from safety officials.
A mixed safety scorecard keeps the Soul from our good graces here.
The IIHS called the small hatchback a Top Safety Pick, but federal testers don’t agree.
The 2021 Soul gets a 4 on our safety scale with some math involved. It gets a point above average for the IIHS’ award, but loses two due to a four-star overall rating by federal testers and automatic emergency braking that’s not standard equipment on all models.
The NHTSA gave the Soul a four-star overall rating, including four stars for front- and rollover-crash protection.
However, the IIHS gave the Soul top “Good” scores on all its crash tests, including front small overlap crash protection on the driver and passenger sides, which simulates hitting a tree or light pole.
The IIHS also gave the Soul’s automatic emergency braking system a “Superior” rating at avoiding forward crashes with cars and pedestrians.
Those systems aren’t included on every car, however. Only S, EX, and GT-Line trims get the lifesaving tech, which we hope Kia changes soon.
Outward vision in the Soul is mostly OK, although its fat rear roof pillars are a challenge to see around. Blind-spot monitors are standard or optional on most trims of the Soul and we suggest them.
2021 Kia Soul
A good touchscreen and better warranty help the 2021 Soul stand out as a relative value among new cars.
Couponers, penny-pinchers, and tightwads rejoice: the 2021 Kia Soul hatchback is a steal.
Starting from about $19,000, the Soul is affordable and mostly well equipped. Base models skip some of the good stuff, but every hatchback gets a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility and at least one USB charge port.
We give the 2021 Soul points above average for that touchscreen, Kia’s 5-year/60,000-mile warranty, and its value in mid-level trims. It’s an 8.
Like last year, the Soul is offered in LX, X-Line, S, EX, and GT-Line trims.
Base 2021 Soul LX hatchbacks offer power features but lack automatic emergency braking and other active safety features, keyless ignition and some other basics. We’d skip those.
Instead, we’d head instead to the Soul S that adds active safety features, 17-inch wheels, upgraded cloth upholstery, and fog lights for about $21,500.
Top GT-Line 1.6T models sub in a 10.3-inch touchscreen, synthetic leather upholstery, a more powerful engine, 18-inch wheels, a wireless smartphone charger, two USB ports, keyless ignition, active safety features, light-up speakers, and a head-up display. That’s a lot of features, but it also comes with a $28,000 price tag and its value starts to fall down relative to competitors.
2021 Kia Soul
Most Souls won’t spend a lot of time looking for gas stations.
Without hybrid batteries, the 2021 Kia Soul is reasonably fuel efficient for a small hatchback. A Soul EV is in the cards sometime, but its arrival is TBD for now.
The EPA says most Soul hatchbacks will manage 28 mpg city, 33 highway, 30 combined. That’s a 6 on our scale.
Base versions rate slightly higher at 29/35/31 mpg due to their wheels.
Turbo-4 models don’t have a huge penalty for more power: 27/32/29 mpg.
The Soul is relatively efficient compared to other small hatchbacks. The Mazda 3 hatch rates up to 30 mpg and the Toyota Corolla hatchback manages up to 35 mpg combined, according to the EPA.