More fun than a trio of hamsters
THE GOOD
  • Plucky engine and handling
  • Luxury car amenities
  • Spacious seating and good visibility
THE BAD
  • Polarizing styling
  • No available AWD
2021 Kia Soul GT-Line Limited Review

In these strange times, we here at autoTRADER.ca would welcome a cheerful and cheeky car to brighten our day. The 2021 Kia Soul in top-spec GT-Line Limited fits the bill.

Its urban funkiness is backed up with fine driving dynamics, a high-quality cabin, and comprehensive feature count. A highlight is the killer stereo system that, at night, has the interior ambient lighting doing a multi-colour dance. C’mon, get happy!

Styling: 9.5/10

In the world of cubist compacts, the Kia Soul is the, er, sole survivor, having seen the Nissan Cube, Honda Element, and Scion xB all putter off to boxcar heaven. A week in this third-generation GT-Line brought into focus the polarizing nature of Kia’s compact tall-hatch. It’s a love-it-or-leave-it proposition, although most I encountered embraced the Soul’s funky design; Kia has, after all, sold over a million of these since 2009.

Here in Gravity Grey ($250) with red accents and 18-inch alloys, the GT-Line blends urban chic with – dare we say – a certain elegance, all enhanced by intriguing design cues like the big arc of LED taillights and a scowling grille. It’s different, bold, and altogether mood-enhancing.

Safety: 9/10

The Soul GT-Line gets a laundry list of safety features – blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, forward collision mitigation, and driver attention warning. The GT-Line also comes with a head-up display (HUD) that can show speed and speed limit, audio, turn-by-turn navigation instructions, and the very useful blind-spot info.

Last year’s redesign improved the Soul’s Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash ratings, garnering it a Top Safety Pick+ award. Factor in the LED headlights and great outward visibility, and the little Kia scores well in this category.

Practicality: 8.5/10

Boxy is as boxy does. The Soul’s upright architecture makes the most of its compact dimensions; there’s no sloping roofline to impinge on cargo space. Granted, the hatch area behind the second row is not huge, but it benefits from a large opening and a clever bi-level load floor that expands available capacity from 530 L to 663 L. Fold the 60/40-split rear seat – with ski passthrough – and capacity grows to 1,758 L. The load floor is not completely flat, however.

Up front we find plenty of useful storage: large door pockets with bottle holders, and a storage cubby ahead of the shifter, above which sits a phone-charging tray. Between the front seats is a good-sized storage compartment, too.

User Friendliness: 9/10

With its tall roofline, getting in and out of the Soul is a breeze, and once inside, headroom is generous and outward visibility panoramic. Kia/Hyundai/Genesis is currently writing the book on sensible, user-friendly ergonomics in this time of touchscreen overload. Yes, there is a crisp 10.25-inch touchscreen in the Soul GT-Line, but we also have an array of well-marked function buttons just below the screen, along with volume and tuning knobs. The HVAC controls are similarly sensible: large rotary controllers flanking an array of buttons, and a small digital display. The speedometer and tachometer are large and feature highly visible white-on-black illumination. Factor in quick iPhone pairing and obedient voice recognition and you have a vehicle that seems always happy to please.

Features: 9/10

Kia is well known for delivering a high feature count, and with this top spec GT-Line Limited it follows the playbook. The interior gets leather with red stitching, along with the aforementioned upgrade to a 10.25-inch screen. Included is navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, numerous remote functions, wireless phone charging, proximity key with push-button start, remote start, rain-sensing wipers, and a sunroof. Rear seats are heated and the powered front chairs get both heat and ventilation. The GT-Line rides on 18-inch alloys and gets exclusive sport bumpers and side-sill accents. A highlight is the excellent 10-speaker stereo upgrade that fills the cabin with clear, rich, and expertly balanced sound.

Power: 7.5/10

All 2021 Kia Soul variants are powered by a naturally aspirated Atkinson-cycle 2.0L four-cylinder that makes 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. It is mated to Kia’s own continuously variable transmission (CVT). The numbers don’t look like much, but this engine/transmission combo punches above its weight, delivering eager urges when asked for. It’s a smooth engine, too, avoiding undue thrashiness at high revs, and in most cases the CVT feels like a normal automatic transmission; the simulated gearshifts largely avoid full throttle droning.

Comfort: 8/10

Equipped as it is, the top-tier GT-Line does its best to coddle its occupants. The heated and ventilated front buckets are quite comfortable, and the vehicle’s solid structure and high build quality add to the sense of well-being. Headroom is more than generous, and while the rear seat backs don’t recline, the seats are well contoured and outward visibility is good. For a short-wheelbase, tall hatchback with economy car roots, the Soul GT-Line Limited has a refined and relatively quiet ride. The blighted roads of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) will not upset car or passenger, and on the highway the little cubist Kia lasers along in relative serenity.

Driving Feel: 8.5/10

Not that many years ago, Korean cars stumbled when it came to driving dynamics. Those days are past as evidenced here by the Soul GT-Line’s accurate steering, fine body control, and sense of refined solidity. It has an easy fluidity that makes driving this little hatchback a pleasant experience. Select sport mode and you get enhanced throttle response, sharper steering, and more aggressive simulated shift points. Again, the drivetrain feels stronger than its advertised numbers suggest, so you’re never feeling flat-footed when asking for a bit of giddy-up.

Fuel Economy: 9/10

Official fuel economy numbers for the 2021 Kia Soul are 8.5 L/100 km city, 7.0 highway, and 7.9 combined on regular-grade fuel. My week of bebopping around town along with some leisurely country drives netted a heart-warming 6.7 L/100 km. Granted, I wasn’t thrashing the little toaster, nor was I babying it.

Value: 8.5/10

While you can get into a base model 2021 Kia Soul for $21,995, the $8,000 uptick for this near-luxury GT-Line Limited spec is not much of a stretch for what you’re getting. Indeed, there is a mighty comprehensive list of safety and convenience/luxury features that would have looked good on a top-flight premium sedan only a decade ago. But these perks wouldn’t count for so much if it weren’t for the basic goodness and high-quality build of this little tyke.

The Verdict

You’d have to be a real grump not to let this exceptional hatch/crossover/rolling-tool-shed thingy into your heart. It drives like it looks – fun, perky, and functional. I loaded it up with tools for a reno project. I enjoyed its zippy handling on a fall-colour country drive. The 10-speaker audio never failed to put a grin on my face, nor did its cheeky presence greeting me in my driveway every morning. It’s a quality piece that despite its humble mission never spells “economy”. For some, the lack of available AWD might be a deterrent, and that’s about the only fault I can find with the 2021 Kia Soul GT-Line Limited.

More fun than a trio of hamsters 10/28/2020 6:30:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 2.0L   Model Tested 2021 Kia Soul GT-Line Limited
Engine Cylinders I4   Base Price $29,295
Peak Horsepower 147 hp @ 6,200 rpm   A/C Tax $100
Peak Torque 132 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm   Destination Fee $1,795
Fuel Economy 8.5 / 7.0 / 7.9 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb   Price as Tested $31,440
Cargo Space 530 L / 663 L cargo floor lowered / 1,758 L seats down  
Optional Equipment
$250 – Gravity Gray premium paint, $250