The meteoric rise of the subcompact and compact crossover has sounded the death knell for tall, boxy wagons. The 2016 Kia Soul is now the sole carrier of the squared torch passed on by the departed Scion xB and Nissan Cube. It’s a funky car that is hard to categorize, possessing qualities of a tall hatchback and compact crossover, but it has styling and a personality that few cars in those segments can match.
As befitting a car of its dimensions, the 2016 Kia Soul is immensely practical. The interior is spacious, with plenty of headroom for front row occupants, and even rear seat passengers will find ample legroom. The cargo area is rather modest in size, but folding the rear seats reveals the true benefit of the boxy shape by tripling the amount of carrying capacity. Also generous is the sheer volume of options available on the Soul. The Soul can get pricey as features such as premium leather and ventilated front seats are added, but these aren’t even available on most cars in this class.
The boxy design of the 2016 Kia Soul affords more usable cargo space than some hatchbacks and small crossovers.
The Soul does have some downsides, though. While undeniably practical, the Soul’s boxy shape creates invasive wind noise at speed that’s hard to ignore. There’s also the possibility of a rather harsh ride in Souls equipped with the 18-inch wheels that come bundled with some of the more desirable option packages. Fuel economy is unexceptional, coming in somewhere between subcompact and compact crossovers. Small hatchbacks are typically even more fuel efficient.
Some of those hatchbacks are also more fun to drive, such as the 2016 Ford Focus and 2016 Mazda 3. And it’s probably worth your time to check out a few of the latest subcompact crossovers, particularly if you want all-wheel drive; the 2016 Honda HR-V
and 2016 Jeep Renegade are desirable picks. For those considering the Soul in its more expensive forms, the 2016 Volkswagen SportWagen offers a higher-quality interior and more cargo room. But overall we’re still glad to see the Soul carrying the fun-and-funky wagon torch. It’s a solid choice for a budget-friendly runabout that does most things well.
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Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2016 Kia Soul is a five passenger wagon available in three trim levels: base, + and ! (the latter two trims are also known as Plus and Exclaim).
The base model’s standard equipment includes 16-inch alloy wheels, rear privacy glass, full power accessories, driver-selectable steering settings, air-conditioning, a height-adjustable driver seat, cloth upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, 60/40-split folding rear seatbacks, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity and a six-speaker sound system with satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and a USB port. A Convenience package is available for models equipped with the automatic transmission, and it includes automatic headlights, a rearview camera and a 4.3-inch touchscreen. Cruise control and keyless entry are optional.
The Soul+ adds a more powerful engine, 17-inch wheels, foglights, a gloss black grille, keyless entry, cruise control, a 12-volt power outlet in the cargo area, a cargo cover, upgraded cloth upholstery, a fold-down rear-seat armrest, a front seat center armrest with storage, and all the features from the Convenience package.
Upgrading to the Soul+ opens the door to several options packages. The Audio package adds automatic climate control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, simulated leather cabin trim, upgraded interior accents, an 8-inch touchscreen display, a navigation system, HD radio and a premium eight-speaker Infinity audio system. Kia’s Uvo eServices infotainment service is also included.
Two packages independent of each other build upon the Audio package. The Signature 2.0 Special Edition includes 18-inch wheels, two-tone exterior paint, LED daytime running lights and taillights, xenon headlights and leather upholstery. The Primo package adds a panoramic sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, leather upholstery, an eight-way power driver seat (with power lumbar support), heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear outboard seats, LED interior lighting and a heated steering wheel.
Two more packages are available but cannot be ordered with any other options. The new Designer Collection package adds unique 18-inch wheels, two-tone exterior paint and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. The Eco package adds fuel-saving features like an automatic stop-start system and low-rolling-resistance 16-inch tires.
The 2016 Kia Soul’s 8-inch touchscreen is available on the + and ! trim levels.
The range-topping Soul! adds body-colored fascia accents and bumpers, power-folding side mirrors with integrated LED turn signal indicators, an eight-way power driver seat with two-way power lumbar support, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, leather upholstery and chrome interior accents.
The Soul!’s optional Premium package includes xenon headlights, LED taillights, a lane-departure warning system, forward collision warning and the features from the Soul+’s Audio and Primo packages. The Umber package adds special leather upholstery.
Powertrains and Performance
The front-wheel-drive 2016 Kia Soul is offered with two different engines. The base Soul gets a 1.6-liter four-cylinder with 130 horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard (including a hill-start assist function) and a six-speed automatic is optional. The EPA’s estimated fuel economy for the base Soul comes in at 26 mpg combined (24 city/30 highway) with either transmission.
Soul+ and ! models have a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that puts out 164 hp and 151 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic is the only available transmission. Fuel economy with the 2.0-liter engine is an EPA-estimated 27 mpg combined (24/31). On our Edmunds driving evaluation route, a Soul! returned 27.9 mpg, which is much lower than other compact cars we’ve tested and actually on par with compact SUVs.
In Edmunds performance testing, a Soul! went from zero to 60 mph in 8.7 seconds, which is average for a small wagon or hatchback with an upgraded engine.
Standard safety equipment for all 2016 Kia Soul models includes four-wheel antilock disc brakes, hill-start assist, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. A rearview camera is standard on the Soul+ and ! and included on the base trim with the optional Convenience package. For the Soul!, lane departure warning and forward collision warning are optional. The available Uvo service provides emergency and roadside assistance, stolen vehicle tracking, geo-fencing and speed tracking (allowing parents to set limits for teen drivers) and other smartphone-enabled features accessible via the Uvo app.
In Edmunds brake testing, the Soul came to a stop from 60 mph in 110 feet. While this is a very short distance for the segment, it’s noteworthy that our Soul! test car had large, 18-inch tires. Kia Souls with smaller tires may not perform the same.
In government crash tests, the Soul received a top five-star rating overall, with five stars for total frontal impact safety and total side-impact crash safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has also awarded the Soul top marks, giving it a “Good” score in the moderate-overlap and small-overlap frontal-offset impact tests as well as a “Good” score for the side-impact, roof-strength and seat/head restraint (whiplash protection) tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
With its modern look and expressive styling details, the 2016 Kia Soul’s cabin offers a nice balance between form and function. Interior materials are of a higher quality than you might expect from a car in this price range.
Gauges and controls are logically located and intuitive to use, and using the Uvo interface to control your smartphone is a snap. In addition to upgrading the sound quality, the optional Infinity audio system includes illuminated trim rings for the speakers that flash to the beat of your music. It’s a little gimmicky, but we have a feeling some Soul buyers will find it kind of fun.
One of the benefits of the Soul’s boxy design is an abundance of head- and legroom, even in the backseat. Behind the rear seatbacks you’ll find 19 cubic feet of cargo room, which grows to 61 cubic feet with both sections of the 60/40-split rear seatbacks folded down. This is greater than compact hatchbacks and on par with some SUVs.
With respectable power on tap from the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, the 2016 Kia Soul is enjoyable around town and feels satisfyingly quick when merging onto a highway. The engine gets a bit raspy-sounding during hard acceleration, but the automatic transmission shifts smartly and does a good job of holding gears on uphill grades to help the car maintain a consistent speed. We’ve yet to drive the 1.6-liter base Soul, but we think most buyers will be happier with the gutsier 2.0-liter, especially since it’s slightly more fuel-efficient.
The 2016 Kia Soul is a fun car to drive but suffers from an overly firm ride quality.
Although the Soul doesn’t feel especially sporty, it handles better than you might expect. The steering has a reassuring weightiness to its effort level at highway speeds, and it feels precise when you’re driving around turns. Unfortunately, the Soul! model loses some of its appeal on long highway trips. Particularly with the available 18-inch wheels, the ride quality can be rough, even on relatively smooth pavement. In addition, the Soul’s boxy shape results in excessive wind noise at highway speeds.