Who would’ve thought when Kia unleashed their uniquely styled small crossover concept at the 2006 Detroit auto show that it would go on to be, at times, the brand’s best-seller? While many of its competitors have fallen by the wayside, the Soul just keeps motoring along, now with more zip.
The hamster cage just got a bit more exciting as Kia introduces a new turbocharged engine to the Soul lineup. The top-trim 2017 Soul Exclaim features a 1.6-liter turbo-4 making 201 horsepower – that’s 40 more than in the Soul Plus. Kia says this new offering is in response to fans who have been asking for a little more giddy-up from their Souls. Despite it being the raciest model, the Soul Exclaim also achieves the best fuel economy – rated at 28mpg in combined driving on regular unleaded. That’s even better than chicken soup, earned by using a new 7-speed Dual Clutch Transmission. In addition to the turbo engine, the Exclaim includes specialized trim and sportier features, including: exclusive 18-inch wheels; red-accented body trim; chrome grille surround, unique tailgate badge; and, for the first time on the Soul, dual chrome twin-tip exhaust. The Exclaim also gets a standard leather-wrapped, D-shaped steering wheel, pushbutton start with smart key and UVO with e-Services with integrated Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. On my tester, there’s also a 315-watt Harman Kardon premium audio system with eight speakers, navigation and an incredibly good 8-inch touchscreen display. Other new options for the 2017 model year include Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Blind Spot Detection, both part of the big $3,000 Technology Package. All Soul models receive redesigned headlights and fog lights, along with front and rear fascias while 2 USB ports in the front and 1 in the rear and an 8-way power passenger seat give it a well-stocked feel. Pricing for the Soul Exclaim starts at $23,500 while mine stickers for $27,620.
Who’s going to complain about more engine, especially when it also delivers better fuel economy? The extra 45 pound-feet of torque gives this Soul a lively demeanor the other 2 available motors don’t offer. Now, if you prioritize smooth operation over performance than this Exclaim might be a turnoff. The dual clutch transmission sometimes feels like a beginner working a stick shift and the sudden burst of turbo power can be a bit abrupt.
Ramming around the city and overtaking on the highway is certainly more fun and confidence-inspiring and 3 selectable drive modes, conveniently accessed via a steering wheel button, allows you to choose between Eco, Normal and Sport. It’s too bad though that Kia didn’t give American market Souls Sport gauges in Imperial as opposed to Metric and any car with a DCT should come with paddle shifters, no? There are larger brakes here to compensate for the additional speed but the rest of the chassis has been left as is, with a strut suspension in the front and a torsion beam in the rear. After the Soul’s redesign 3 years ago the ride quality took a big leap forward in terms of refinement and suppleness and that’s still noticeable here. But sports car-like maneuvers are not in the Soul’s plans. I’d describe the handling as capable but not eager with understeer the name of the game. What’s really awesome though, particularly in an urban-style vehicle like this, is how easy it is to maneuver in tight spots.
Just like its ride, the Soul feels much more mature on the inside as well. The mix of cloth and leather black seats with orange stitching and cabin accents adds some spice and the touchpoints are solid and quality-driven. And if this UVO system isn’t THE best it’s one of. Even my mother could figure this out, plus it’s big, looks great and reacts quickly. The whimsical speaker lights are still here, there are heated seats front and rear and a heated steering wheel, automatic folding mirrors and a big glass roof…quite rich for this price point. Kia delivers big value here in a package that’s more spacious than it looks. For what’s essentially a small wagon, the Soul delivers overachieving space with its rear seats folded.
Though the Wild Orange and red accents clash, the Soul Exclaim is available in 4 other colors and overall the look is still fresh, funky and exciting. Good job, Kia. Now how about bringing the Trail’ster to life?