Updated: Thursday, February 8, 2018, 12:22 PM
2018 Kia Soul! Turbo: Beefed-up box.
Price: The turbo starts at $22,900. But it jumps quickly if you want stuff (for instance, $6,000 worth of packaging if you’d like ventilated seats).
Marketer’s pitch: “Totally transformed.”
Conventional wisdom: Funny slogan for a car that’s in year number five since its redesign. (And the same slogan Kia used when I wrote a review of the 2015 model.)
Reality: The engine is a game-changer — in more ways than one.
A new member of the family? A pumpkin-orange Soul! (the upper trim levels are + or ! ). It makes punctuating this column challenging+.
The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat was instantly drawn by the color, and I reminded her how lovely her blue 2015 version remains — and how much is still owed on it.
What’s new: The Soul! trim level received a 201-horsepower turbocharged engine and a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission for the 2017 model year. (The 140-horsepower 1.6-liter and 160-horsepower 2.0 fours remain on lesser models.)
Only minor changes come for 2018, and the Soul has not gotten a major update since the 2014 model year.
Up to speed: A week in the pretty much identical 2017 model showed the turbo is a sprightly thing, adding a modest 40 horsepower. But this increased total horsepower by 25 percent, and the feel of the car is altered.
Zero-to-60 for the 1.6-liter turbo comes in at 7.6 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
On the road: Well, not entirely altered. The bouncy Soulful ride remains. It felt fine until I got on a concrete limited-access highway, and then the seams just gave me a sore chest and pounding headache.
Handling might be a notch better than before, but the little box still tips a bit on the sharpest curves, and windy days remain spent in the Steering Corrections Department.
Shifty: We have another gear added to the transmission. The 7-speed dual-clutch transmission handles moving the power to the road mostly unnoticeably.
But shifting remains simple and fun. The gearshift has good feel and is easy to move.
Play some tunes: The radio interface has not updated since 2014, but why mess with success?
CarPlay has been added. It can be tricky to get back to tunes from the radio, but at least the navigation doesn’t default to my iPhone’s map once I engage CarPlay.
Sound is fairly impressive, an A-. And the cool corner and center speakers add a Soulful touch to the dash.
Driver’s Seat: The patterned, not-leather seats drew the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat’s praise as well. Leather does tend to be stiffer down here in the lower-budget ranges, but these seats were only heated, not cooled (an option with leather).
Friends and stuff: The Soul remains one of the few tiny cars where giant Sturgis Kid 4.0 will ride in the back without complaint. Passengers sit up high, so legroom, foot room, and headroom are astounding.
A total of 61 cubic feet behind the front row offers a lot more space than even most small crossovers.
Night shift: The light group upgrade really adds a touch of class after the sun sets on the Soul. Headlights provide plenty of road illumination.
A bit of hesitation: One morning while pulling onto the country road from our neighborhood, the front wheels spun on some wet leaves. I recovered the spin, but for a long couple of seconds, the Soul had nothing — no power or movement, and a car was bearing down on me.
Though that was with a cold engine, I also found the Soul to stutter in stop-and-go traffic. Sport mode helped this a bit. Two tests you should perform and problems to research further — before signing on the dotted line. (I’d bet on a problem with the turbo or dual clutch — the Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat reports it’s never happened in her unit in 36,000 miles, and our Soul features neither.)
Fuel economy: The car has averaged 28 mpg, which is sippy for a Soul. I’ve been in two other test models and two that we owned and rarely saw any of them climb to 27, and our own stays at 25 or 26. In fact, EPA numbers are a point higher for the turbo than for the 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter engines that carry over from previous years.
Still, all these numbers are dismal for such a tiny car.
Where it’s built: Hwasung, South Korea.
How it’s built: Consumer Reports rates the Soul’s reliability as 4 out of 5 since 2014.
In the end: I’m not an early adopter, so I’d want to see the turbo perform in the wild, especially in light of that grand hesitation moment I experienced. Otherwise, this is a fun little car that’s not that little and goes more quickly now while getting better fuel economy.
Read full story: Kia Soul enjoys a turbo boost for 2018