12 years down the road from its North American debut, the Kia Soul soldiers on as a pleasing (and boxy-cool) alternative to both the compact hatchbacks and crossovers of this world. It’s a pleasing mix of the practical and fun, if not the most well-equipped to appeal to both camps. A few nips and tucks have been done for 2023, but the boxy shape so many know and love remains, and that’s right on.
It comes well-equipped, too, especially in top-spec GT-Line trim seen here. That includes leather seating with heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, D-shaped steering wheel, junction assist (this prevents you from preceding through an intersection if it’s deemed unsafe to do so) and highway drive assist HDA), which will keep you centered in your lane while cruising and away from the car ahead.
Infotainment-wise, look for a 10.25” infotainment display with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (both wired) and on my GT-Line tester, premium Harman/Kardon audio. That’s the only way to get it; as is Kia’s way they don’t tend to offer many option packages so if you want certain things, you have to up the trim. In general, I don’t mind this approach as it makes the buying process simpler but there are those out there that like to pick and choose their features a little more than what’s possible here.
It's not perfect, of course; the seats are a little flat so you really feel like you’re sitting atop the vehicle as opposed to inside it; some of the materials used inside are a little on the cheap side and the rear cargo floor is short, an issue helped by the adjustable cargo floor. At the end of the day, the pros definitely outweigh the cons and that’s what counts.
It does look funky, indeed. Even after all these years – the Kia Soul debuted in North America in 2010 – it still looks like it belongs firmly in the present. The shape has remained relatively the same, but smart stylistic moves like a gradual evolution of the vertical taillamps that have a wraparound effect for 2023 and stylish wheel designs are good, modern takes. 2023 also sees the addition of a new front fascia with LED headlights, new foglights, and new two-tone colour choices. My tester didn’t have the latter, but the Surf Blue paintjob it wears is a great fit. There is still nothing out there quite like it and even though many have abandoned the formula – think Nissan Cube
or Scion xB – the Soul has managed to soldier on through all of it.
Even the interior gets some out-there touches such as the oval-shaped gauge hood and matching infotainment display surround, bright orange inserts on the door panels, red contrast stitching that’s specific to the GT-Line and HVAC/speaker assemblies at each corner of the dash that look unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Simply put: after looking at the Soul’s exterior styling, nobody should be surprised the interior looks quite like this.
As much as I love what they’ve done with the styling for this latest iteration, I am somewhat dismayed they killed the optional turbo powertrain in 2020. It provided a firecracker of a ride to go with the looks, but as Kia simplifies and electrifies, it seems there just wasn’t any more room for it. So, what we’re left with is either the full-EV model
or a single gas motor: a 2.0 L four good for 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque that makes its way to the front wheels via an “intelligent” continuously variable automatic.
By “intelligent”, Kia is saying that the transmission adjusts its attitude depending on how the driver is driving, for smoother operation and better power delivery. Not sure if I felt that during my drive per se
, but what I can say is that this is a CVT that feels just a little more athletic than what’s typical of these types of transmissions. It doesn’t get in the way of the forward progress as much as so many have in the past and while I do bemoan the lack of paddle shifters (many CVT-equipped vehicles have these), it’s not a deal breaker in this case.
Even without the turbo, the Soul has its peppiness and while you can tell the engine is working a little harder to get you there than the turbo did, the Soul will dance if you want it to. That’s especially the case when it comes to the steering, which is very responsive and even has a little bit of weight to it. Activating Sport mode, meanwhile, kicks things up a bit powertrain-wise and I spent quite a bit of my time in this setting.
Unfortunately being such a tall vehicle with such a short wheelbase means the ride is affected. Typically you’d think that meant lots of body roll through turns et cetera, but I’d describe it more as a skittish feeling, with the Soul undergoing these micro-bounces on some surfaces like a stone on water. It’s I feeling I’ve had every time I’ve tested one of these.
The overriding feeling I’ve had whenever I’ve tested one of these, however, is that whether you’re a retiree, a first-time buyer or in need of a second small car, the Soul should be considered. It does so many small car things well and it looks great while doing it. You’d be doing your search a disservice if you didn’t check it out.
2023 Kia Soul GT-Line
five-door compact crossover
front-engine, front-wheel drive
2.0-litre inline-4, 147 hp, 132 lb-ft of torque
FUEL ECONOMY CITY/HIGHWAY/COMBINED:
8.5/7.0/7.9 L/100 KM
550 kg (1,200 lbs.)
WEBSITE: Kia Soul