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2016 Kia Soul EV
New Car Test Drive

Introduction

The Kia Soul is a small and fashionable hatchback that’s known, among other things, for its efficient use of space and money, its comfort, and its smooth ride. Sometimes it feels more like a small boxy wagon than a five-door. It doesn’t try to be swoopy on the outside, while it displays a touch of sophistication on the inside, as the connectivity and infotainment systems hold their own against those in more expensive cars. In a nutshell, the Soul finds its own niche, which isn’t easy to do in that class.

The 2016 Soul is the third year of the second generation. There are no major changes for 2016.

The base engine is a 1.6-liter four cylinder making 130 horsepower and 118-pound-feet of torque, and it doesn’t feel like enough power with the optional automatic transmission, while the standard 6-speed manual pulls it better.

The Soul Plus and Exclaim models come with a 2.0-liter, direct-injection four-cylinder that makes 164 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque, with only the 6-speed automatic available. It’s sprightly enough, although it’s geared fairly tall to get good gas mileage, so the auto transmission downshifts a lot on the highway, especially long uphill climbs, where it sometimes goes hunting, up, down, up, down.

We recommend the 2.0-liter engine. The base 1.6-liter is EPA rated at 24/30/26 mpg City/Highway/Combined, while the more powerful 2.0-liter engine does better, with 24/31/27 mpg, thanks to its direct fuel injection.

There’s also an all-electric Soul, with three models: Soul EV-e, EV, and EV+, available in California, Oregon, Georgia, New Jersey, New York, and Maryland. The Kia Soul EV has been well-received, and we think it’s one of the best EVs around, with its room and trim levels.

The Soul EV uses an air-cooled lithium-ion battery pack to run a 109-hp electric motor (81 kilowatts) that powers the front wheels. Its rating of 27 kilowatt-hours beats the bestselling Nissan Leaf’s 24 kwh, and gives the Soul EV a range of 105 miles versus 84 for the Leaf. You’ll shorten the all-electric mileage with quick starts, but if you want them they’re there, along with highway passing capability.

The Soul EV includes a CHAdeMO DC fast charge port with plug lock, a 6.6-kw onboard charger for 240-volt Level 2 charging (versus 3.3-kw chargers fitted to other electric cars). Kia says a full charge from a flat battery takes 24 hours from a 120-volt wall outlet, or less than 5 hours from a 240-volt outlet. Kia offers a few options for home charging. The flat battery can be charged to 80 percent in 33 minutes using that 50 kw CHAdeMO thing, which isn’t as awkward as its name. Soul EV comes at a high price, however. We think spending the same amount of money and getting two base Souls, one for yourself and another for your college kid, makes more sense.

Crash-wise, NHTSA gives the Soul five stars in every category except rollover resistance, with four stars; nothing can change the fact that it’s tall and short. The IIHS makes it a Top Safety Pick. It comes standard with front airbags, seat-mounted side bags, and full-length side curtain bags. Four-wheel disc brakes are standard, while many competitors use drum brakes in rear.

New for 2016 is an inexpensive Convenience Package, including a rearview camera, touchscreen audio, and satellite radio; there’s also a new Designer Collection package that brings a two-tone paint job. Alloy wheels become standard on all models, in 2016.

Model Lineup

Kia Soul ($15,800) comes standard with the 1.6-liter engine and 6-speed manual transmission or 6-speed automatic ($17,300).

Kia Soul Plus ($19,300) comes with the 2.0-liter engine and 6-speed automatic. Soul Exclaim ($21,200) gets upgraded features. Available equipment includes navigation, heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, cooled/ventilated front seats, and a panoramic sunroof.

Soul EV ($31,950) is an all-electric vehicle.

Walkaround

The canted roofline seems to float over the tinted windows, which makes it look less boxy than it is, despite the bluntness of the nose and LED bugeye headlamps. The hood actually looks higher than it is. LED taillamps make a tall statement at the rear.

The blunt nose of the Soul looks even blunter on the EV, because the grille is replaced by a panel with a small door for the charging port.

Interior

The interior of the comfortable Soul features soft-touch materials, ambient lighting, extended front seat cushions with dual-density foam, sporty gauges, controls on the chunky steering wheel, elevated speakers on the dash, and controls on the centerstack that are canted toward the driver: climate, audio, and infotainment controls. A low instrument panel gives the sense of a high driving position.

There’s good headroom and legroom in the rear, but don’t expect to fit three adults back there, because it’s not simply wide enough in any car this size. However two adults will find it easy to climb in and out of the back seat, as well as the front. Kia has done an excellent job of finding space and utility in the small package with stylish exterior.

The rear hatch opens wide, and the seats fold forward with ease. In the Plus and Exclaim, there’s a fold-down center armrest.

The interior noise is a bit high, not reaching the superior level of comfort of the seats. You can hear the engine under acceleration, as if the firewall needs more sound insulation.

The Soul EV is another case, as it ought to be, for that price. It features all these things: leather seats, heated front seats and heated leather-wrapped steering wheel, smart key with keyless ignition, front and rear Park Assist, heat-pump heating and air-conditioning, 3.5-inch OLED instrument cluster, illuminated AUX/USB port, driver-only ventilation, 8.0-inch capacitive touchscreen with rearview camera, and UVO infotainment system with special EV functions; it will search for charging stations, remotely check the state of charge and other vehicle status data, and precondition the interior temperature while the car remains plugged in. A Sun & Fun Package includes the panoramic sunroof, LED interior lighting, and speaker lights that pulse to the beat coming from the six-speaker audio system.

Driving Impressions

The Soul is easy to drive in every way. It features three driving modes, in a system called Flex-Steer, although we can’t say we felt much difference between Comfort, Normal, and Sport. Its handling is about average. It corners well for a tall car, and the ride is smooth and comfortable while being taut and secure. There’s a solid sense of center at the steering wheel, and good weight in the turns, off-center.

In some respects the Soul feels almost athletic, although it’s hardly a performance prince; if you want that, you might look toward the Nissan Juke, not to mention other more expensive cars like some models of Volkswagen, the Hyundai Veloster, and others, even a tricked-out Kia Rio. The Soul is more of a commuter car than a backroads bomber.

Even if you don’t demand much in the way of acceleration, you might find the 1.6-liter too soft. Or you might not, if you stick to the manual transmission and don’t mind working it, but do mind spending money.

The 2.0-liter engine, with 164 horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque, brings decent acceleration, good enough to be perky around town and marginal out on the highway. The automatic transmission responds quickly under impatient acceleration. In fact it’s too busy between fifth and sixth gear out on the highway, an annoyance, although there’s a manual gate that enables the driver to lock it in gear until the engine hits redline.

The ride isn’t prone to lean or head-toss, as you might imagine from a car with such a short wheelbase and tall roof. The chassis was significantly stiffened with this generation, enabling the engineers to work with the suspension, namely creating more travel. They brought out their twin-path dampers, which give better control and feel when the Soul is driven hard into corners. These shocks also deliver better isolation over bumps.

Naturally the Soul EV is smoother and quieter, since it has no engine. But it’s also quick, and we found the range estimates accurate. Kia says it should get 92 highway miles or 120 city miles, and we consistently got more than 100 miles in combined test drives in warm weather. Every mile counts when it comes to range anxiety.

Summary

We have recommended the 2.0-liter engine with the automatic transmission, but the 1.6-liter with the 6-speed manual, at less than $16k, is a ton of value. Everything is there except abundant power, including looks that sometimes turn heads, an interior that’s upscale for the price, comfortable ride, decent handling, and last but not least, excellent room in the rear for both passengers and cargo. And if you want cool, go for the six red throbbing speakers.

Driving impressions by The Car Connection staff. Sam Moses contributed to this report.


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