Some years ago, product planners at Nissan, Honda, and Kia each decided to cut stylists out of the design process for a new car line and hand everything over to engineers. Those engineers, looking for the most practical and efficient shape to haul maximum cargo â€“ fleshy or otherwise â€“ each decided to use a cube for inspiration. Nissan didnâ€™t stray far even for a name.
Each of those boxes was marketed toward the youth of the day â€“ when they came out, I was part of that target demographic. Problem was, the kids didnâ€™t have money to spend on a new car. Thatâ€™s why many Elements, Cubes, and Souls tend to be driven by older, somewhat more affluent folks who appreciate the practicality, and can also afford it.
Well, Iâ€™m now approaching that second demographic. My forties are within sight. Is the 2017 Kia Soul right for me? In other words, is an old soul right for a new Soul?
Letâ€™s get the big complaint out of the way: I am not impressed with the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission in this top-spec Soul, and itâ€™s the only transmission offered with the turbocharged engine. Off the line, the DCT will lag before engaging a gear at times, at which point the ratio catches with a jerk. It doesnâ€™t happen every time, and there doesnâ€™t seem to be a way to predict it, but when there is a half-second or so delay from throttle application to forward movement, driving can be infuriating.
Beyond the recalcitrant transmission, I enjoyed driving the Soul. While itâ€™s obviously a taller, heavier vehicle than a proper hot hatch, itâ€™s still a short-wheelbase compact that’s tossable in the corners. When driving spiritedly, the car never felt top-heavy. 201 horsepower combined with 195 lb-ft of just-off-idle torque helps pull the hatch out of the corner with verve. The steering is direct, but somewhat numb to road imperfections.
That short wheelbase does hinder the Soulâ€™s ride a bit â€“ combined with the eighteen-inch wheels, the drive on expansion-jointed roads gets choppy and noisy. I wonder if the 17 inch wheels (with appropriately taller sidewalls) from lesser Souls might fit on the !.
As an aside, I rather dislike the use of punctuation for the trim level â€“ and neither does my word processing software. Every instance whene I list “!” causes lights and flashes and minor explosions within my PC and brain alike. Even calling the trim â€œExclaimâ€� wonâ€™t work â€“ it makes me conflate the Hyundai Excel with the Plymouth Acclaim, two cars I donâ€™t recall fondly. Without looking it up online, consumers donâ€™t know that the ! is the Turbo model, while the + model is the midrange box. Itâ€™s not like there are badges on the tailgate listing the trim.
Kia, please reconsider the punctuation, or else start using some seriously funky punctuation like an interrobang or a tilde.
Yeah, I called the Soul an unstyled box. While there is obviously more to it than that, itâ€™s hard to do much with slab sides. The fenders do have a bit of flare to them, while the 18-inch 10-spoke alloy wheels fitted to this Turbo add some visual interest. You canâ€™t forget the red stripe that distinguishes the ! from more pedestrian Souls, either â€“ a red stripe means fast, donâ€™t you know? The signature tiger nose grille isnâ€™t even a grille on the Soul â€“ itâ€™s just a bit of shiny dark plastic trimmed in chrome, where all air directed to the engine bay comes through the gaps in the big bumper.
Those slab sides do wonders in maximizing the interior space, however. For such a short-wheelbase car, I could stretch side to side comfortably, with three rear-seat occupants sitting silently without complaint for a drive â€“ and without kicking my seatback once, which is an accomplishment for my youngest. The flat floor in the rear helps the center-seat passenger, who would typically splay their legs into the knees of their seatmates.
The front seats were likewise quite comfortable, with a combination of leather and patterned cloth on the surfaces highlighted by red stitching â€“ again, red stitching means fast! The hatch swallowed everything I could toss in the rear, with room to spare.
Kiaâ€™s touchscreen infotainment system is nothing special, and thatâ€™s a good thing. Itâ€™s responsive to inputs, and is easy to read and control while driving either by touch or the steering wheel controls. For me, I rank Kiaâ€™s UVO system up with Chryslerâ€™s Uconnect as the best, easiest-to-use touchscreen interface in all of automobiledom. Sound quality is equally excellent, though the big box does tend to amplify boomy road noise.
The Kia Soul ! is â€“ other than the goofy exclamation point and the balky transmission â€“ a choice that is easy to live with. Iâ€™d like to believe that the dual-clutch could be sorted with better shift programming, at which point Iâ€™d heartily recommend this to anyone needing plenty of interior space in an easy to park package.
[Images:Â Â© 2017 Chris Tonn/The Truth About Cars]