The Kia Soul was the first "cool" Kia. Uniquely styled, not too expensive, and with enough clever features to make it compelling, the Soul turned into a hit that nobody -- even Kia -- expected. With its second-generation a couple years ago, Kia wisely left the styling alone while giving it a thorough refinement makeover and sales have continued to climb.

At the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show, Kia finally gave the Soul the one thing it has lacked since its debut: power. Among the many revisions the 2017 Kia Soul receives for its new model year -- slightly updated nose and tail, a few tweaks inside like extra USB ports, and available blind spot and cross-traffic alerts -- the biggest news is at the top of the lineup: The 2017 Kia Soul Exclaim now has a 201-horsepower turbocharged 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine, connected to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission.

More power and torque

The 40-hp bump over the mid-range Soul Plus isn't a huge jump, but it also adds a healthy dose of low-end torque (195 lb-ft vs 150 lb-ft) that's available at much lower revs. It all gives the Soul an extra kick in the pants, enough to quell complaints that Kia put hamsters under the hood as well as behind the wheel. There's more to the turbo than just the engine of course. A Sport mode improves transmission response and firms up the steering; there are unique red-colored Soul badges on the exterior and a dual-tip exhaust, and red-stitched seats inside.

It comes together into a fun-driving little package. You'll notice the turbo lag but it's not a deal killer, and the tiny hint of torque steer you get in a straight line is more fun than frustrating. The suspension tweaks that come with the turbocharged engine are just enough to let the Soul take advantage of its bigger wheels and tires, and there's enough encouragement from the chassis that you look forward to tight corners. Grip eventually gives way to predictable understeer, and although the steering has Kia's typical lack of feedback, it's nicely weighted with a satisfyingly quick ratio, which is acceptable for this car's mission. After all, the Soul Turbo isn't a sports car; it's a cool, fun-to-drive five-door hatchback, and we're this close to declaring the Soul Turbo "achievement unlocked."

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2017

No paddles for the shifter

We're hedging because of the 7-speed automatic. It's a dual-clutch automated manual, which should mean snappy up- and downshifts, and around town it's just fine. But if you're used to the DSG on Volkswagen products, you'll be disappointed by the Soul's slow shifts and occasionally peculiar power delivery. You can execute manual shifts with the gear selector, but color us surprised by the lack of steering wheel-mounted paddles in this supposedly enthusiast-oriented car. It matters because the Soul Turbo is otherwise pretty fun, and we wanted its transmission to be up to the task. Of course we'd prefer a proper manual transmission, but we'd settle for better transmission programming, and paddles.

On the other hand, the 2017 Soul Exclaim doesn't cost a lot. You can get into a turbocharged Kia Soul for about $23,500; add in the panoramic sunroof and the technology package (yes on this: navigation, Harmon Kardon audio, speaker lights, 10-way power driver's seat, blind spot detection and a lot more) and you are looking at $27,500, including the $850 destination charge. That compares favorably against other nifty hatchbacks like the new Chevy Cruze and Honda Civic, and even against small SUVs like the Honda HR-V or Chevy Trax. The rest of the lineup is also fairly priced, with the base model and its 130-hp 4-cylinder starting around the $16,800 mark, and the mid-range Soul Plus starting at about $20,500. If you've been waiting for a Kia Soul that's as fun to drive as it is to look at -- and you don't mind the transmission -- your chariot awaits.

Related: See the other cars and concept vehicles unveiled at the 2016 LA Auto Show


 

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