Crossover & Midsize

The 2021 Kia Soul Handicaps Itself With Its Drivetrain Options

Kids these days will seldom experience the joys of driving a car with a manual transmission. Even though it’s been phased out for the majority of new vehicles, some sports cars still retain this feature. Plenty of automakers agree that it’s more cost-effective to only produce automatic transmissions since they’re preferred by most drivers. Despite its dwindling popularity, the stick shift isn’t completely dead yet. The Kia Soul still has one for its standard model, but it’s horribly mismatched with its base engine, according to MotorTrend.

The Kia Soul LX

The standard Kia Soul is a pretty good value for a small SUV, retailing for around $17,490. It comes with a four-cylinder engine that makes up to 147 hp. This is the one paired with the six-speed manual transmission plus front-wheel drive.

The base engine works decently for daily driving tasks, so it’s a good pick for a commuter car. However, U.S. News reports that its acceleration leaves something to be desired. This is a shame considering it’s the only engine that can be paired with the six-speed manual. It may liven up your daily errands, but driving stick just isn’t as fun with a weak engine.

Other transmission options

Drivers of the standard Kia Soul can also upgrade to a CVT for $1,500. However, this transmission can’t be paired with the more powerful engine available in higher trims. It’s a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder capable of 201 hp.

Critics had positive things to say about the CVT, noting that it’s hard to tell it apart from a traditional automatic. During Car and Driver’s test drive, the Kia Soul’s CVT had better performance compared to the ones in similar cars. It also makes the engine quieter thanks to its simulated gearshifts.  

Pairing the CVT with the base four-cylinder helps it go slightly faster than it did in previous years. The upgraded engine has a singular transmission option, a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Using the shift paddles on the steering wheel, drivers can select the gears themselves. 

Like the CVT, it’s a smooth operator, but it won’t bring drivers as much engagement as a traditional manual transmission. No matter which powertrain you choose, expect a firm drive and some noticeable exterior noise. Still, Edmunds points out that the car feels stable over hard bumps in the road.

The Kia Soul EV’s powertrain

RELATED: Over 3,000 Kia Soul EVs Are Being Recalled Because of a Rolling Hazard

For its return in 2021, the Kia Soul will also be available as an EV. It’s powered by a 64.0-kWh motor capable of 201 hp and a single-speed direct-drive transmission. Drivers can ride for up to 243 miles on a single charge, slightly more than the latest Kia Niro.

In C/D’s review, testers found the Kia Soul EV to be remarkably quick off the starting line. It was able to reach 0-60 mph in just seven seconds, a full second faster than the gas-operated Kia Soul. The electric motor and single-speed transmission also work excellently in tandem, especially when it’s time to pass other cars.

What else can we expect for 2021?

The regular 2021 Kia Soul is available now. It comes with a few new features like enhanced shocks for certain trims and a standard rear-seat reminder. It also retains its affordable price tag and surprisingly spacious backseat.

However, the six-speed manual is still only reserved for the base four-cylinder engine. While we wish the stick was present for the 201-hp turbo, the Kia Soul’s seven-speed dual-clutch is a fine substitute.