A boxy match: Kia Soul again changes the game with the competition

Beneath the hood of the top-of-the-line 2017 Kia Soul, which is appropriately called the Exclaim (!), is a new turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. Metro News Service photo

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Beneath the hood of the top-of-the-line 2017 Kia Soul, which is appropriately called the Exclaim (!), is a new turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. Metro News Service photo

Thinking outside the box has been the nouveau unconventional way of innovation during the 21st century. Kia has flipped the script with its Soul and is thinking inside the box. Former Wheels editors Jimmy Dinsmore and Dave Mikesell each recently drove versions of the 2017 Soul compact hatchback and did some searching about what it all means.

DAVE: We have to start up front with what is under the hood of the top-of-the-line Soul, which in this case is appropriately called the Exclaim (!). This trim gets a new turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine. Bursting with 201 horsepower, the turbo is a 20-percent improvement over the next most powerful engine in the lineup (there are three in all). Paired with a 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission, this version might not be the most responsive around town but brings a bit of open-road zip that far exceeds what some could consider a pedestrian profile. And that's where the box comes in. Jimmy, what about those looks?

JIMMY: The Soul is one of those cars on the road today that everyone recognizes. That's a good thing in my book, and I'm sure it's what Kia wanted when they first launched it. A lot of that is still thanks to the giant dancing hamsters that are still in the commercials today. Does the Soul need a refresh? Yes, I think so, but all in all, in today's gelatinous world of small crossovers and sedans, the Soul is a styling standout.

DAVE: There are three trims. In addition to the Exclaim (!) are the Base and Plus (+) models, all with front-wheel drive. Pricing, pre-destination charges, starts at $16,100 and comes with a 130-hp 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine and 6-speed manual transmission. The midpoint Plus (+) starts at $19,800 and comes with a 161-hp, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission, 5-inch touchscreen, rearview camera, better cloth seating surfaces and 17-inch wheels. The Exclaim (!), at $22,800, has the new engine, leather upholstery, 18-inch wheels and keyless ignition. This is the trim that begins to separate it from its more economical stablemates.

JIMMY: I'm all about value. The interior is surprisingly nice and does carry over enough quirks from the outside to the inside. It may not be to everyone's liking, but the interior styling is consistent with the exterior. My tester had leatherette seats with piping to match the exterior color. On the non-leather seating surface was a checkerboard-like pattern. The seats are supportive and have a nice angle. The dashboard doesn't have many soft touch points, but is clean and well organized. The minimalistic approach to the interior design seems apropos for a car of this price range.

DAVE: For a car that is well short of 14 feet in length, there is a surprising amount of passenger and cargo space. The upright stance certainly plays a part in this so two adults can ride reasonably comfortably in the back seat, and there is 24 cubic feet of cargo space in the rear. When you fold the rear seats – although there is a not a completely flat floor – cargo space increases to 61 cubic feet. Big things can come in a little box.

JIMMY: The Soul is one of those cars that people either love or hate. The quirky styling and over-the-top advertising campaign makes it well known. It's a car with a trim that's an exclamation point. That says it all right there. But looking past all of that, you find a compact hatchback with a lot of merit. You get a lot of personality for a small price tag.


2017 KIA SOUL TURBO EXCLAIM (!)

Price/As-tested price………………………………………… $23,650/$26,770

Mileage…………………………………… 26 mpg/city; 31 mpg/hwy

Engine……………………………………… 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder

Horsepower…………………………… 201 hp/195 lbs.-ft.

Transmission…………………………… 7-speed automatic

Drive wheels……………. Front-wheel drive

Final assembly point……………. Gwangju, South Korea

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