Since its introduction, the Kia Soul has been popular with drivers because of the space it offers, the ease in which it can be driven, and the relatively low price it is offered at. Once upon a time, there was a battle of cheap boxy cars aimed at The Youth Market in the mid-2000s. The Kia Soul went to war against the Nissan Cube, and for a while, the winner wasn’t certain. They were, at their core, very cheap cars dressed up with multicolored mood lighting, with tame drivetrains, and a faint sense of “the kids will think this is cool” pointless gimmickry. While people flocked to their local Kia Soul dealer, dealers of the Nissan Cube weren’t so lucky.
In the end, the Nissan Cube fell away from the American market after lasting one generation worldwide and three total in Japan. The Soul managed to outlast the Cube by virtue of it being slightly nicer than the absolute cheapest model Kia offers, the Rio. With the Soul, you get something distinctive looking, with loads of space, and an uncomplicated driving experience. This is why the 2021 Kia Soul is a great car for commuters because that’s all it was meant to do – commute.
The Soul has been around for thirteen years, and it has remained visually consistent for all that time. The roof slopes back to the D pillar and ends in vertical tail lights on the large hatchback. The front end is bulbous and rounded, with a neolithic brow overhanging the thin headlights that look slightly aggressive. The front-end headlight treatment is the biggest styling change, as the lights on the previous models were fairly large and made use of regular bulbs. The new thinner ones use more advanced LEDs.
Depending on the paint chosen, you might find a reddish accent strip running along the bottom edge of the doors that adds a bit of style to the smoothed over squareness seen on the rest of the body. On the off-roading inspired X-Line trim, one can find slightly higher plastic body cladding, exclusive wheels, and faux roof rails. It should be noted that while the X Line borrows the rugged styling of off-roaders, the drivetrain is exactly the same as every other Soul, save for the sporty Turbo model. Attempting to take your new Soul over rough terrain and expecting it to perform like a subcompact rock crawler is asking for disappointment. It is merely a styling choice.
In the base model LX trim, drivers can expect a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine generating 147 horsepower. This engine will be used in every other Soul offered except for the Turbo model. The LX is the only model that offers a manual transmission option. While some automakers like to claim that a car having a manual transmission makes it somehow more “sporty,” that’s very often not the case. Having a stick shift in a base model economy car like the Soul just allows you to shift gears from one to the other slowly, up through the rev range, as needed. While it is a more involved driving experience than an automatic, a stick shift does not make an exciting car. (Looking at you, Corolla Hatchback).
What will probably end up being the most popular in Soul lineup if the last two generations are anything to go by will be the next trim up from the base, known as the S. It features what Kia calls its “Intelligent Variable Transmission” that, like the 2.0-liter seen in the base LX, will be carried forward to every other in the lineup except for the Turbo. Performance is exactly what you’d expect from a four-cylinder hooked up to a CVT. The Car Connection had this to say about the regular drivetrain combination for the Soul lineup in its April 7th, 2020 review: “It’s hardly fast, but it’s competent around town and relatively fuel-efficient at 30 mpg combined, according to the EPA.”
For those of you that need more power, the 2021 Kia Soul offers a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 201 horsepower hooked up to a dual-clutch seven-speed automatic transmission. The seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is like having two manual transmissions shifting together using two clutches. While one clutch and sub-transmission is engaged at the wheels, the other sub-transmission is waiting to be shifted. It makes for effortless power delivery when driving quickly, allowing you to keep the turbocharger generating pressure for longer and putting more power into the wheels as a result.
While the basics of the interior have changed little from the outgoing generation, in that things like the vents and shifter remain in the same place, the style has been thoroughly revamped. The steering wheel remains unchanged, but the gauges are easy to read in the deep-set cluster, with a screen embedded in between them.
The touchscreen offered in all other models except the LX and sport appearance package level GT is a standard 7-inch unit. Otherwise, you can get a massive 10.25-inch display that cannot be had in other cars of its class for any price. The door panels feature a ring of color that circles the space for the armrests and the spots where the door handles feature a textured surface of small squares on their side. When the mood lighting is turned on, the selected color fills the footwells and glows on these unique panels, making the color spread out like wings arching forward from the door handles.
The HVAC controls are situated below the touchscreen, with knobs to control temperature and fan speed with buttons between them. The passenger side of the dashboard is a bare expanse of plastic save for the vent in the corner. If there was any old-fashioned styling trend Kia could do to bring back in this regard, it is affixing a small badge to this area to denote the trim level. Such a thing wouldn’t be expensive and would tend a touch of class to a thoroughly modern and kitschy design.
2021 Kia Soul: Cheap and Cheerful
The Kia Soul has long been the fun, funky-looking car you buy if you don’t want to spend a fortune but do want something distinctive and practical. The new Soul fits that bill just right with a body style that fits in with the style of its forebears yet is updated to the point that you know this is a new one. The thin LED headlights and myriad of trim levels, like the thrifty S, the sporty-looking GT, and the ruggedly off-road inspired X Line models, give you plenty of modern flare.
Driving dynamics are unsurprising but pleasant, with a competent pairing of a CVT for most models and a four-cylinder making adequate power. The Turbo model offers drivers the option of having a more powerful turbocharged engine and a performance-oriented seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The interior style is a combination of modern chic and economic practicality. All in all, the 2021 Kia Soul offers style, driving ease with good fuel economy, and an interior that speaks volumes above what you actually paid to acquire it. So, take a trip to your nearest Kia dealer and have a look at what commuting in a 2021 Kia Soul would be like; you might just make your drive more enjoyable.