2017 Kia Soul Turbo first drive and review – it’s invigoratingly hamstertastic

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In an age of homogenized design, the Soul is unmistakably a Kia and, internally, it’s known as the company’s most affordable “halo car”. It’s the heart and soul of the company – no pun intended – and in its eight years of production it has smoked the competition, leaving many in the dust and others out of production altogether. Yup, this car is that good – and per the company, the Soul has multi-generational reach across buying demographics.

Photo by Vincent Nguyen: Soul Turbo

To be frank, it’s an odd looking car – no, not to the extent of Honda Element-odd, but still funky to look at – and that’s a good thing. According to Kia, consumers love it, adding up to 150,000 Soul-addicted drivers on the road last year alone. It’s a fun car that gets you from point A to point B while showing off a lot of attitude in the process. I must confess, when I first saw the Soul my thinking was more along the lines of “what the hell is this thing?” than instant appreciation, and it was only on a later press drive that I finally got what all the fuss was about. Now, new for 2017, the Soul Turbo is a welcome addition to the Kia family.

Did I mention that the Soul’s a fun and well-rounded car? Well, it’s now all that and zippier to boot. The next model year’s top tier trim now features a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, mated Kia’s similarly new a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT).

Whether I was driving around the city in downtown San Francisco, cruising on the highway, or carving through roads clinging to the side of a mountain, the new DCT delivered faster and smoother shifts. My biggest complaint is the lack of paddle-shifters for easy manual control, though I was in the minority bemoaning their absence. To be honest, though, you don’t really need them: the 7-speed is perky yet smooth with little kick from standstill, while the turbocharger delivered mid-range pickup when required. Our adventurous driving through San Francisco to the back country of northern California’s hilly roads demonstrated that the Turbo’s more than sufficiently-equipped to satisfy my thirst for performance – and for the most part, I had to keep reminding myself that this is after all intended as a “cuddly-CUV”.

Photo by Kia: Soul Turbo

The new engine is hands-down the biggest highlight of the 2017 Soul, though to be fair it’s about damn time Kia put it to use. After all, it’s already powering the likes of Hyundai’s Elantra Sport and Veloster Turbo, not to mention Kia’s own Forte Koup as well as the Forte5 SX.For those really insistent on controlling the shift points, thankfully Kia didn’t leave you in the cold. A quick tap of the shifter to the left allows for manual gear shifting, though honestly it didn’t feel as quick as letting the DCT do all the work.

Photo by Kia: Soul Turbo

Also new are the user-selectable drive modes. Sport mode stiffens up the steering and you’ll definitely feel it on twisty roads which adds another driving dimension to the Soul. I’m delighted that a few small changes such as holding the shift-points longer and tuning the throttle mapping all add up to a noticeably improved driving dynamic. Kia left the chassis and rear rotors untouched, while boosting the front brake rotors to 12-inches, compensating for the extra horsepower. Normal and Eco modes, meanwhile, are best for everyday driving.At one point during our drive, going up a rather steep hill, I switched to manual, kicked the gear down to third, revved up the engine, and passed a slower-moving car with ease. You can certainly feel the additional 40 horsepower and 45 more lb.-ft of torque kicking in compared to the 2.0-liter normally aspirated engine. As for fuel economy, Kia claims that, despite being more powerful, the Turbo engine is still better than the 2.0-liter with its 161 horsepower, that you’ll still find in the Soul Plus. 26 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on highways goes a long way with buyers in this segment, not to mention offering a considerable improvement over the Kia Sportage all-wheel drive which only gets an average of 23 mpg city and highway combined.

Packaging

The base Soul with a manual transmission starts at $16,840 or $18,400 for the automatic. The Soul is priced at $20,500 while the Turbo comes in at $23,500. As tested, our Turbo model topped out at $27,500 with the additional cost of $3,000 for the tech package and $1,000 for the panoramic moon roof. It’s only offered with front wheel drive. Pointing out the obvious here, the Soul Turbo is nearly twice the price of its base model sibling: its bigger-brother Optima 4-door sedan can be had for a few grand less with the same powertrain. Of course, they’re very different cars.

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Helping make you feel you’re really getting something for that premium, the Turbo comes with additional exterior features such as new 18-inch wheels, red body trim, chrome around the grille, and chromed tips to the dual-exhaust. The headlights, fog lamps, and front and rear fascia are all redesigned for 2017. The 18-inch rims with standard all-season tires are also new for the Turbo – and I very much like them versus the regular old Soul.This is also the first Soul to get both a flat-bottomed steering wheel and Harmon Kardon sound system. The latter is a welcome addition because it sounds great inside what’s still a surprisingly spacious cabin. I’m still blown away at how much usable stowage there’s available – in all, 61 cubic feet when the seats are folded down. At 6’2” inches tall, I didn’t have any issues sitting in the rear seat with acceptable headroom. If you plan on karting the family around, be sure to tick the pano-moon roof option: your kids will thank you for it.

Photo by Vincent Nguyen: Soul Turbo

Other interior premium touches include orange contrast stitching on the steering wheel and seats. Seated dead center in the rear seat facing forward, I can’t help but feel like Kia’s interior designers have done a fine job balancing out the design.

Photo by Vincent Nguyen: Soul Turbo

Even with all that, there’s really one main takeaway here. Courtesy of its new engine, the Soul Turbo takes a compact utility vehicle with a premium interior and exterior, and injects a decent chunk of fun. If you’re looking for a more performance-oriented CUV, the Mazda CX-3 might sway you, but its mixture of perky practicality helps the 2017 Soul Turbo stand out in a rising segment.

(slashgear.com, https://goo.gl/YKmhLq)

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