2017 Kia Soul Turbo first drive review

The Soul hatchback has been very, very good to Kia.

Where some car companies believe in their most expensive products to exemplify their respective brand identities, Kia has turned to the chance popularity of its compact hatchback to embody the image of a brand in transition.

The way Kia explains it, the Soul was a gamble—at a moment when small, boxy hatchbacks/crossovers were first in demand—that has paid dividends for the way people look at the brand. Several hundred thousand units and well into its second generation, Kia is letting the almost-premium Soul speak for itself.

Lest the Soul become tired midway through its life cycle, Kia has implanted a 201-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-4 into its poky hatch, reinvigorating it in a meaningful way. A 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission routes all the power to the front wheels.

2017 Kia Soul Turbo

2017 Kia Soul Turbo

If that combination sounds familiar, that’s because it’s also offered in the recently tested 2017 Hyundai Elantra Sport, as well as other Hyundai and Kia products. Yes, the turbocharged Soul sports a distinct, lower grille housing that you’ll immediately recognize, as well as revised headlamps, more USB ports inside, and subtle cosmetic alterations, but this powertrain is the most significant upgrade.

The good news is that the addition of the 1.6-liter turbo enhances everything we already enjoy about driving the Soul, and addresses two of our sticking points: a “hunting” automatic transmission, and “lackluster” fuel economy. The 7-speed dual-clutch transmission is refined and shifts quickly and smoothly, with minimal lurch from a standstill. Only the steepest uphill slopes of San Francisco enabled the Soul’s tendency to roll back a bit without serious pressure on the gas pedal.

And this more powerful Soul is actually less thirsty than its siblings, returning 26 mpg city and 31 highway. Considering the Soul’s upright, wind tunnel-challenged shape, that’s an impressive—and repeatable, as we found out over 100 miles of highway driving—return.

Our only remaining gripe? Engine noise at and above 4,000 rpm is still harsh and unrefined, sounding something between a vacuum cleaner and a hair dryer. The VTEC effect, this is not. Some polish, however, is all that separates the Soul’s new powertrain from overwhelmingly winning us over.

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