The 2021 Kia Soul puts the “fun” in funky and functional with its distinctly boxy design and remarkably roomy cabin. The subcompact SUV has corporate competition from the new Kia Seltos and the Hyundai Kona, but the Soul is significantly cheaper. Kia offers buyers the choice between two gas-powered four-cylinders, one of which is a powerful 201-hp turbocharged engine. Alternatively, you can wait for the forthcoming electric model (reviewed separately). While Kia markets the Soul as an SUV, the vehicle’s lack of all-wheel drive and limited ground clearance make it seem like more of a large hatchback. Still, it possesses entertaining driving manners that complement its eccentric nature. The 2021 Soul isn’t especially fuel efficient, and the base model doesn’t offer any driver-assistance features. But it’s hard to beat this ute’s affordability and personality, which earned it an Editors’ Choice award.
What’s New for 2021?
For 2021, Kia made only a few changes to the Soul lineup. Every model now comes with Rear Occupant Alert, which notifies the driver via various methods (such as beeping and sending a message to his/her smartphone) that someone is in the back seat. The mid-level X-Line and GT-Line receive new shock valves that reportedly improve their ride. The EX and top-of-the-line Turbo (formerly GT-Line Turbo) gain a key fob with built-in remote start.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
There are two engines available on the Soul, starting with the base 147-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, which can be had with either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). At our test track, a Soul X-Line with the CVT needed 8.0 seconds to reach 60 mph, but it doesn’t feel underpowered in normal driving. In fact, the base engine feels peppy around town, and the CVT willingly selects lower gear ratios for extra passing power. The top-spec Turbo model comes with a 201-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder and a seven-speed automatic transmission, which snapped off a quick 6.4-second 60-mph time at our test track.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
Depending on the configuration, the Soul carries an EPA fuel-economy rating as high as 35 mpg for highway driving and as low as 25 mpg in the city—not bad for a seemingly nonaerodynamic box on wheels. The Soul’s key rivals—the Nissan Kicks and the Hyundai Venue—offer similar highway fuel-economy ratings but both offer significant improvements in the city department, carrying ratings of 31 and 30 mpg, respectively. We put two different Souls through our 200-mile highway fuel-economy test and, surprisingly, it was the turbocharged model that did the best, with a 33-mpg result. An X-Line model powered by the nonturbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder managed 30 mpg.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The Soul’s upright body provides a spacious interior with plenty of room for people and cargo. Kia’s designers have incorporated enough youthful cheekiness inside to match the Soul’s fashion-forward exterior, including textured door-panel inserts and colorful trim pieces. Additional goodies on offer include ambient lighting, a smartphone charging pad, a head-up display, push-button ignition with keyless entry, and heating for the seats and steering wheel. Kia also allows owners a certain amount of customization, with two-tone paint options and a plethora of interior color schemes. In the cargo area, the tall-roofed ute provides enough space for seven carry-on suitcases; with the rear seats folded—it should be noted that they don’t fold completely flat—we were able to fit 20 cases. The Venue, with its smaller hold and tighter rear seat space, managed to fit just four cases behind the rear seat and a mere 17 with the seats down.
Infotainment and Connectivity
Touchscreen infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability is standard and comes with either a 7.0- or 10.3-inch display with Kia’s latest UVO interface. To get the larger display requires upgrading to the EX or above; doing so also adds SiriusXM satellite radio, in-dash navigation, and real-time traffic monitoring.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The 2021 Soul earned a four-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but it wasn’t named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Kia doesn’t offer any standard driver-assistance technology, but a host of equipment becomes standard starting on the S model. Key safety features include:
- Available forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking
- Available lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist
- Available adaptive cruise control