For years now, the Kia Soul has occupied an unusual place in the market. Not quite hatchback, but not quite crossover SUV, the Soul — as well-known for its entourage of Hamsters as much as its quirky, off-beat styling — has found a legion of fans looking for some extra spunk for their commute.
In its base trim, the Soul was never really anything to write home about. It performed about on par with other cars in its price class, but with the addition of the turbo, the argument for the Soul suddenly carried more weight. Over the years, Kia has evolved the Soul almost perfectly — though it was odd and peculiar initially, it never really had an awkward adolescence. Now, it has matured into a genuinely great compact without sacrificing its character. With the new Exclaim trim line, Kia has given another 40 reasons to pick the Soul.
“We wanted to provide loyal Soul lovers and new buyers a sportier option,” said Orth Hedrick, vice president of product planning for Kia, North America. “The 2017 Soul Exclaim with its turbocharged engine gives the car’s fans another wonderful choice from an already wonderful line-up.”
New is the turbocharged 1.6 liter four, which produces a stout 201 horsepower (40 more than the naturally aspirated 2.0 liter model). Though you may not think to cross-shop them, this puts the Soul in direct competition with heavy weights such as the Volkswagen GTI, the forthcoming Honda Civic Si (though the jury’s still out on that one), the Mini Cooper S, and even the Ford Focus ST — although its 252 horsepower put it in a different league, the Kia Soul is now at least playing the same sport.
The penalty for this new flock of friends? One more mile per gallon on average, according to Kia. That’s the truth — the Soul, in Exclaim trim, gets 40 more horsepower and better fuel economy. This is made possible by the Soul Exclaim’s, uh, sole choice of transmission: Kia’s seven-speed automatic. While we’re sad to see that you can’t row your own gears, it’s reassuring that Kia hasn’t relegated its compacts to a life of being chained to the CVT just yet.
If you’re not ready to pay top-dollar for the Exclaim, there is still the base Kia Soul with a manual or automatic six-speed transmission, and the Soul Plus with the six-speed automatic. But for our money, the Exclaim is the one to get; you’re already looking for some added funk for your lifestyle, why not go all-out?
The Exclaim package — in addition to the better engine and transmission — also features a meaty leather-wrapped steering wheel, push-button start with a smart key, Kia’s UVO3 infotainment system with integrated Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, a 315-watt Harman Kardon audio system with eight speakers, (including a center channel and subwoofer), and optional navigation with an 8-inch touchscreen display.
All Souls receive a lightly refreshed exterior for 2017, which includes revised headlights and fog lights, along with front and rear fascias to “lend a more aggressive appearance.” New options for the 2017 model year are convenience systems such as rear cross traffic alert and blind spot detection, Kia says.
The Kia Soul may never truly compete with the Ivy League class of hot-hatches, and despite its power gain, Kia hasn’t done a dedicated overhaul to improve handling or its sporty characteristics. However, it’s necessary that an off-beat car be fun; as much as we’d love to see a dedicated performance Soul, we’re confident and happy that Kia is at least headed in that general direction.