2017 Kia Soul Review by Cliff Leppke Kia Soul Exclaim: Hamster-Cage Chic If there were an automotive equivalent to Bruno Mars performing “Uptown Funk!,” it’s the Kia Soul!, as in Exclaim. This self-aggrandizing machine proclaims kiss me; I’m beautiful. It certainly is plucky. If Mattel built it in Wisconsin, you’d get a set of Hot Wheels (spiffy 18-inch alloys clad with 235-mm-wide tires) rolling under the Wisconsin Gas building complete with the weather beacon on its top. Exclaim, indeed. It’s cute; not menacing. Looks aren’t everything. Therefore, Kia installed a direct-injection turbocharged 1.6-liter 201-hp engine under this Soul’s hood. That upgrade sets the Exclaim apart from lesser Souls. The Base model squeaks by with 130 horses, while the + (Plus) model stirs with 161. The new mill, however, churns like a Cuisinart. That’s great for gazpacho; lousy for a car. Unpolished behavior plagues many Hyundai/Kia turbos. In addition, low-pitch thrumming intrudes at low engine rpm (2,000 rpm at 60 mph). While muffled, the constant rumble ruins an otherwise quiet cabin. Select sport mode, and the engine’s mate, a dual-clutch automated manual seven-speed transmission, blocks top gear. This lets the engine rev higher before shifting reducing thrumming. Kia’s tranny has two personalities: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As Dr. Jekyll, it’s sly shifting, much like a conventional ‘slushbox’ automatic. Occasionally, you’ll feel distinct shifts--typical dual-clutch gearbox. As Mr. Hyde, it has gear-sorting stumbles—extant at 40 mph. At that velocity, the Soul surges and then pauses evoking the sensation of a boat docked outside of a Lake Michigan breakwater or the repetitious gear-number refrain from the Beach Boy’s “Little Honda.” While this machine’s shifter offers manual transmission economy without clutch-pedal tyranny, Kia’s setup needs refinement. Its illuminated mode indicators, however, at the console lever and instrument cluster are exemplary. There’s an uptown attitude in inside this front-drive crossover-like ride: lots of optional or standard amenities, including heated seats (front and rear), rear-view camera, pushbutton start and heated leather-wrapped steering wheel. Large circles grace the interior with cylindrical speaker grilles at each dashboard side. Some interior plastic bits are nicely finished evoking a mid-priced luxury car. Houndstooth’s-tooth check seat fabric with leather trim is whimsical. Round front-door speaker grilles have mood-ring lighting. Circular steering wheel switches let you toggle through menus. Under the dashboard, the driver’s right foot gets toasty. A nearby heater pipe with plastic guard bakes your toes or soles, summer or winter. Kia’s Dagmar-like fog lamps would make a 1959 Cadillac blush. And round-rear red reflectors add curves to its box-like form. The hood’s grille is an embellishment without vents—it’s a fake face. Behind the split folding rear seat, which offers generous legroom, there’s a tidy cargo bay. Dull finish around the rear window is unflattering. Under the cargo floor, there’s a tire sealant kit (AKA mobility kit). Nonetheless, the underfloor stowage indent might accept a Mini-Me spare. Kia claims there’s an optional fifth rubber-clad wheel and toolkit. When converting to max cargo room, you’ll find that you cannot place the cargo cover under the rear floor. Steering effort varies depending on drive mode. Kia recommends sport for highway driving due to the higher steering effort. Don’t confuse that advice with the transmission’s sport-mode configuration. The latter, blocks your access to seventh gear, which ups fuel economy and reduces engine wear. Engaging the cruise control summons seventh when needed or you can row the shift lever into seventh via its manual you-pick slot. An intuitive driver-canted eight-inch infotainment touchscreen has thoughtful dedicated buttons astride it--similar to a vintage console radio. Each button is separated by a bar. Climate control settings, such as temperature, appear on this touchscreen, not at the temperature tweaking dial. Kias UVO eServices, navigation and phone interface are intuitive to use. Large sun visors cover side windows. Handling is safe but uninspired. It’s not frisky. Directing the Nexxen tires through corners induces squealing. Twirling the flat-bottom steering wheel isn’t much fun; it’s numb. Traction control, stability management and hill assist reduce motoring drama. Don’t expect a boulevard ride; it jiggles on most secondary roads. Firm front thrones offer some isolation from a suspension that accentuates pavement flaws. MSRP: $27,620, includes panoramic sunroof ($1,000), technology package ($3,000) and floor mats ($120) I observed a respectable 29 mpg overall. The EPA numbers: 26 city, 31 highway, 28 mpg combined. You don’t need Bruno Mars behind the wheel to discover a salient fact: This Soul is Kia’s flashy hot car. About the only box that gets more attention is a Pierce fire truck built in Appleton Wisconsin.