No puffed-up muscle-head like me would ever admit to liking a lowly little Kia Soul.
You know the Soul, the subcompact crossover that kind of looks like something a California beach dude scribbled on a napkin between bouts of hanging 10.
At one point, I even wondered if Soul drivers all had red noses and giant yellow shoes, emerging from their little boxes juggling balls or bowling pins.
So don’t tell my hot-rod buddies, but I actually enjoyed spending a week with the 2017 Soul Turbo recently.
And yes, I realize I may have to surrender my “Drive Fast, Take Chances” T-shirt or one of my Kenne Bell Superchargers shirts emblazoned with a somewhat ruder message.
But, hey, with the new-for-2017 Soul Turbo, you finally get verve with its odd nerve.
What’s not to like about that?
In fact, my little crossover arrived in a shade of orange that set off alarms in nearby BMWs and likely jostled a few lattes.
It fit. Still a basic two-box design, the unconventional Soul flashes square lines rounded on their edges – its yin and yang, I suppose.
Oversized headlamps and a small tiger-nose grille – Kia’s signature style element – were topped by a short, mostly flat hood.
Likewise, a flat top with a slight curve in it slid abruptly into a hatchback flanked by enormous vertical tail lamps.
Meanwhile, the Soul’s sides also looked flat until I got closer. They had a slight roll in them, wearing faint character lines high and low that tied the vehicle’s slightly flared fenders together.
Moreover, Turbo models get good-looking 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped with reasonably wide 225/45 tires.
The real fun, though, starts under the Soul’s comically short hood.
This year, the front-wheel-drive crossover borrows the 1.6-liter turbo four and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that we first saw in the Hyundai Veloster a few years ago.
Though it only spits out 201 horsepower, that’s a whopping 40 more than the Soul’s regular 2-liter four-banger can muster. In addition, the engine packs 195 lb.-ft. of torque at a really low 1,500 rpm.
In truth, I’ve liked some Souls in the past, mainly for their utility and quirky, unapologetic styling. But they were slower than the “customer-service” phone-line at the local Social Insecurity office.
That changes now – and pretty substantially.
Like many turbo engines, the 1.6 felt a bit mushy at tip-in, but started getting lively above 2,000 rpm.
Smooth and refined sounding, the engine required a hard shove on the throttle to get really western. But prod it a bit and the Soul responds with a 0-to-60 run of 6.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver – an astounding two seconds faster than the regular Soul and the fastest sprinter in the subcompact segment.
I’m telling you: I got Soul. Well, most of the time. I found the vehicle’s dual-clutch transmission a bit baffling. Most of the time, the seven-speed box shifted fine. But for some reason, it would surge faintly at speeds of 35 or less. I have no theories as to why, but it could be mildly irritating.
At least the Soul Turbo retains all the solidity that lesser versions of the little crossover have offered for years. As a result, the ride felt firm, but surprisingly long-legged and compliant, soaking up the area’s Third World streets with relative ease.
While the Soul leaned some in moderately fast corners, it handled curves with a fair amount of vigor and never lost its grin or composure.
Unfortunately, Kia and brother-company Hyundai continue to struggle with road-feel in their steering boxes, and the Soul was no different. You have to get used to quick and numb – a frustrating condition in steering units as well as dates.
But, hey, the Soul Turbo was never intended to be a GTI-slaying hot-hatch, and provides considerable fun and function for $23,620 (the window-sticker on mine.)
It also returned fuel economy of 26 miles per gallon in town and 31 on the highway — as well as 24 cubic feet of cargo space in back.
Granted, you don’t get much luxury at this level, but it’s functional with a bit of flair. The black interior in mine, for example, was mostly a bin of plastic, but it sported lots of interesting shapes. A deep, flat dashboard rolled around a prominent center-stack in piano-black that featured a seven-inch display screen.
Besides typical infotainment, the Soul sported Android Auto and Apple Carplay, as well as a USB/auxiliary input jack – none of which moved a single needle on my gauges, but that’s me. Thankfully, real buttons and knobs on the center-stack controlled the sound and climate systems.
Meanwhile, the black-leather seats with cloth centers provided decent support and the back seat featured good leg and excellent headroom.
I realize this strange little box might seem a bit of a leap. But in terms of overall value, the likable Turbo Soul could be the best buy in the subcompact segment – whether you’re hauling, friends, kids or clowns.
It’s also a vehicle in which you can play Southern Culture on the Skids as loudly as you like and everyone in traffic around you just shrugs.