The new ad for the 2017 Kia Soul Turbo (in case you missed it) opens with a hospital delivery room. A baby hamster named Turbo is making a jailbreak escape set to Ace of Spades by Motorhead. Turbo ends his escape with a Mission Impossible move, jumping off the roof of the hospital to parachute into the panoramic sunroof of a normal Kia Soul, driven by the hip-hop hamsters we’re all familiar with. As Turbo lands inside the car, the Soul goes into warp speed and zooms away. Get it? Turbo, speed, cute car, marketing! Now I’ve had a chance to see if Kia’s boxy crossover could dance as well as it looks.
EXTERIOR: The Kia Soul has come a long way since it first debuted with bugeye headlamps, then viewed as a Scion XB knockoff. This latest generation has sharper body lines to give it a more streamlined look, while still retaining its boxy design that buyers love because it offers head room, interior space, and is easy to get in and out of.
Since this Turbo model is meant to be a sportier version of a base model, the 2017 Kia Soul Turbo offers some styling cues to separate it from the slower, less expensive lineup. A red, go-fast, stripe sits along the side of the car, while a red SOUL badge show this car is hotter than usual. And don’t forget the shiny, dual exhaust tip to give it a ‘hot’ hatchback look. Wider wheels and tires are also clues that this is a Kia Soul that’s had some work done from the factory. This model shown was sporting a color that Kia calls Wild Orange, and looks like a saturated copper – a visual standout regardless of time of day…or night.
INTERIOR: In keeping with the sporty nature of the car, the Kia Soul Turbo offers orange stitching on the leather steering wheel and seats. A funky pattern on the seats helps to add a splash of color to the black interior. Even the gear knob has been fitted with a hint of orange. All the materials in the Soul Turbo feel well-made in terms of quality. The infotainment system on Kias has been my favorite in recent years for one simple reason; buttons! The 7-inch screen has clearly marked buttons on each side which allows the driver to navigate without having to look down or mess with a numb feeling touch screen.
SPECS AND PERFORMANCE: What makes this little box perform is a 1.6 liter, turbo charged four cylinder engine cranking out 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. If you switch the traction control off you can get the Soul Turbo to lay down rubber, briefly. What controls this hot little engine is a 7-speed, duel clutch automatic transmission. You get three driver modes with the Soul Turbo: ECO, NORMAL, and SPORT; switching between them while driving allows you to feel the Soul twitch to adjust itself into each mode.
Sport mode makes the steering heavier and stiffens itself while stretching out each gear to keep you at maximum power longer. Eco mode is the opposite, changing gears more quickly, keeping the RPM low to make it more economical. Normal, as you’d guess, is a compromise between both ends of the spectrum. Even though it lacks the correct shape (and low center of gravity) for aggressive driving, the Kia Soul Turbo is capable of handling a turn. However, don’t get carried away because it can and will understeer if you decide to play chicken with the laws of physics. A big yellow sticker on the sun visor, warning you against abrupt high speed maneuvers is a constant reminder that you are not in a low-center of gravity sporty hatchback, even if it does sound and feel like one.
You can’t have a sporty version of an economy car without having some drawbacks. For instance, the design of the Kia Soul Turbo means that it is not very aerodynamic, so on the highway you do hear a lot of wind noise coming from the front side windows. The sporty 18-inch wheels and wide tires mean the ride quality isn’t as plush as you would hope or imagine. (I wouldn’t hold a glass of water while driving over rough road in the Kia Soul Turbo, unless you want wet pants.) Standard equipment on the 2017 Kia Soul Turbo? You don’t get much. No ventilated seats, no rear collision warning, no blind spot detectors, and no panoramic sunroof. Those are all options.
The EPA estimates that the Soul Turbo can achieve 26 mpg in the city and 31 on highway. During my week with the Soul Turbo (which included a 300 mile trip), I averaged 25 mpg. Which is not great, but this is a sporty vehicle that offers a lot of space for its size. One of the biggest selling points for the Kia Soul Turbo is price. The model shown had a retail price of $23,620, not bad considering you are getting a 200 hp turbo charged engine, 7-speeds, and cargo space in the back.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Remember the techno hit The Hamster Dance from nearly 20 years ago? The Kia Soul Turbo is the embodiment of that song. You can try to hate it, but your foot will always tap along. This boxy little car with just over 200 horsepower can be exactly what you want if you need a machine that delivers space and thrills. Just don’t try to drift it, or you’ll quickly find how easily the Soul Turbo can imitate a rock skipped over a pond, sideways.
The ride may be a little too uncomfortable for buyers who want comfort over speed, but the Kia Soul is offered in a wide variety of options to fit individual needs. If you want a hip looking crossover with enough muscle to leave tire marks and make people do a double-take when you pass them in the fast lane, the 2017 Kia Soul Turbo is worth a test drive. Ham it up.