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For a while now, the Kia Soul has been becoming a stiff competitor in the compact crossover segment. However, 2020's introduction of the third generation brought about a lot of much-needed changes. But the 2021 line-up gets a few alterations too. There is now a rear occupant alert that comes equipped on every trim level, and the X-Line and GT-Line receive re-tuned shock absorbers for their 2.0-L engine. Also, the GT-Line Turbo is now simply known as the Turbo.
The excellent changes that Kia made for 2020 pretty much carry over on the 2021 line-up though. For the modest price you will pay, you get a ton of features, even on the lower trim levels. Also, for being a subcompact SUV, the Soul offers an abundance of interior space. Not only that but the Soul is actually quite full of soul! It is a vehicle that is fun to drive. Among all of the features that get included is standard smartphone app integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
So, what are the downsides to getting the 2021 Kia Soul? The worst is probably the clunky gear shifting of the transmission that comes with the turbo engine. It spends way too much time searching for gears, and you will notice this. Also, some drivers might not like hearing all of the tire and wind noise that get generated when cruising along at highway speeds.
Is the 2021 Kia Soul worth your hard-earned money? To boil it all down to a simple answer: Yes. But there is a 'but' here! The 'but' involves the trim levels. You should know what you are committing to with whichever trim level you choose. Going into the test drive blind is not going to help you ask the right questions, so we're going to spend this review comparing the Soul's six trim levels: the LX, X-Line, S, EX, GT-Line, and Turbo.
By the end of this review, you should have a clearer idea of which 2021 Kia Soul trim level is the right one for you. So be sure to hang in until the very last word.
Compare the 2021 Kia Soul LX vs S - What is the Difference?
Let us begin this trim level comparison by going over the LX and S trim levels. The base LX trim comes in your choice of six interior body paint colors and two interior color options. When the rear seat is left upright, there are 24.2 cubic feet of cargo space. Fold the rear seats down in order to max this number out to 62.1 cubes.
On the outside, the LX and S both get a black radiator grille, mounting points for roof racks, and auto on/off headlights. The LX comes with black power-adjustable side mirrors while the S gets treated to mirrors done in the body's paint color. There are multi-focus reflector headlights on both trim levels, bulb-type positioning lights, bulb-type rear taillights, C pillar garnish with the Soul logo emblazoned on it, solar glass, privacy glass, windshield wipers that are variable intermittent, and a rear wiper/washer. The rear glass is heated and has a timer that can be set, and the fuel filler door is able to be locked. The LX rides atop 16-inch steel wheels with wheel covers while the S is upgraded to 16-inch alloy wheels.
Inside, both of these trims contain a 7-inch LCD infotainment display along with the system. A 6-speaker AM/FM/MP3 sound system comes standard, as does a rear-view camera, smartphone app integration from Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Bluetooth wireless connectivity with calling functions mounted to the steering wheel, and a USB audio/charging port. The steering wheel has other audio control buttons mounted onto it for easy access, and convention cruise control has buttons on there as well. There is also a trip computer, a tilt and telescoping steering column, and power windows with one-touch auto up/down on the driver's window.
The LX and S also both have power door locks with an entry system that requires two turns. Remote keyless entry via a key fob and an illuminated ignition ring get included on the S and the LX equipped with IVT. A single-zone automatic climate control system regulates temperatures well throughout the cabin, and the glove box is illuminated. Also, you get a front-seat center console with an armrest built in, two cup holders up front, bottle holders for all of the doors, a day/night interior rear-view mirror, bulb-type interior lighting in both the cabin and cargo area, two front sun visors with vanity mirrors, an overhead sunglasses holder, and a 4-way manually-adjustable front passenger seat.
The LX comes with woven cloth seat trim while the S gets cloth seat trim done in premium tricot. The driver's seat on the LX is 6-way manually adjustable while the S gets upgraded to a 10-way power-adjustable driver seat with lumbar support that is power adjustable 2 ways. The front seat belt anchors are height adjustable, and there is a rear seat that folds in a split of 60/40. The door panels and dash have soft touch materials, and there is a front door speaker grille done in painted silver matte with a matching air vent bezel and door handles.
Both trim levels are powered by a standard 2.0-L inline-4 cylinder engine with a CVVT (which is short for the dual continuous variable valve timing). This engine generates 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission comes standard on the LX while an Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT) is optional (and comes standard on all of the higher trim levels save for the Turbo).
Safety features on the LX include electronic stability control, vehicle stability management, hill start assist control, and a tire pressure monitoring system. The S adds forward collision avoidance assist, lane keep assist, driver attention warning, blind spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane change assist.
Compare the 2021 Kia Soul S vs GT-Line Trim. What is the Difference?
What exactly gets added onto the GT-Line trim level? Well, starting with the exterior, there is a unique front grille done in a hot stamping style, the GT-Line exterior appearance features, high gloss black power-adjustable side mirrors, front fog lights, a power sunroof with a manual sunshade, and 18-inch alloy wheels unique to the GT-Line.
On the interior, you will find that the GT-Line gets more sporty features. These additions include two charging ports on the center console, illumination on both of the front vanity mirrors, a two-level cargo board, a 12-volt outlet in the cargo area, the 6-way driver seat, a steering wheel and gear shift knob that are both wrapped in leather, and a leather steering wheel formed in the shape of the letter D.
Performance-wise, you do get upgraded to a sport-tuned suspension on the GT-Line. Otherwise, mechanically, nothing really changes.
Safety features also remain the same as those on the S trim level.
Compare the 2021 Kia Soul GT-Line vs X-Line. What is the Difference?
The X-Line shares some of the same upgrades as the GT-Line, but there are definitely a few important differences. The X-Line has the black radiator grille on the lower trim levels, but there is a special exterior body kit, exclusive roof rails, and silver power-adjustable side mirrors. There are 18-inch alloy wheels reserved for the X-Line.
The interior has most of the same features found inside of the lower trim levels, including the woven cloth seat trim. Otherwise, the differences between the GT-Line and X-Line end right about there.
Compare the 2021 Kia Soul X-Line vs EX Trim Level. What is the Difference?
The EX trim level represents a pretty big step up in terms of standard features. For starters, you get the hot stamping type front grille, body-colored side mirrors with heating on them, the power sunroof with the manual sunshade, and 17-inch alloy wheels.
Inside of the EX's cabin, you will find that the infotainment system gets upgraded to the UVO link with a 10.25-inch touchscreen display, built-in navigation, HD Radio, and SiriusXM Satellite Radio. You also get the two USB charging ports on the center console, smart key with push button start/stop and an engine immobilizer, remote start with a key fob, air conditioning with a cluster ionizer on the automatic temperature control, a rear-seat folding armrest with a cup holder, illumination on the vanity mirrors, the two level cargo board, a cargo cover, the 12-volt outlet in the cargo area, premium cloth upholstery done in tricot, the 10-way power driver seat, and heating on the front seats. Additionally, you get adjustable headrests for the rear seats.
Compare the 2021 Kia Soul EX vs Turbo. What is the Difference?
As the line-topping trim level, the Turbo gets furnished with plenty of standard features. In addition to everything you get on the EX, the Turbo also gets the unique GT-Line exterior appearance, a center exhaust with a tip done in chrome, the high gloss black exterior power-adjustable side mirrors, LED turn indicators mounted onto the mirrors, and LED headlights. The exterior of the Turbo also comes equipped with LED front fog lights, LED positioning lights, a high mounted stop light in the center with the LED rear taillights, and the GT-Line's special 18-inch alloy wheels.
The Turbo's interior features see a few additions too. The Turbo gets a Harman Kardon sound system with a center speaker, external amplifier, and a subwoofer. There are also speaker lights with multiple ambiance themes, a supervision meter instrument cluster with an LCD trip computer, a head-up display, power windows with one-touch auto up/down on the driver's window, LED interior lighting, and synthetic leather and cloth seat trim with a red color pack reserved just for this trim level. The D-shaped steering wheel done in leather comes standard and has a heating function. There is also a an air vent bezel and touchscreen trim done in chic piano black, along with inner door handles done in satin chrome.
In terms of mechanics, the one big upgrade is the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. The second big upgrade is the 1.6-L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. Together, this powertrain gets the Turbo trim level 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. Just bear in mind that this causes the fuel economy to drop ever so slightly. Whereas the 2.0-L powered vehicles get 30 mpg combined (with 28 mpg in the city and 33 mpg on the highway), the 1.6-L engine gets 29 mpg combined (with 27 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway). This vehicle also comes with the sport-tuned suspension.
In terms of safety features, the Turbo gets upgraded to the forward collision avoidance-assist system complete with pedestrian detection. Smart cruise control and an advanced tire pressure monitoring system that checks the high line also come standard.
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Which Trim to Choose?
The 2021 Kia Soul quite clearly has a lot to offer this model year. From the reasonably priced LX to the turbo-powered Turbo line-topper, there is something here for just about anyone. We are going to actually recommend two different trim levels here based on different needs.
The first trim level we recommend is the S. If you drive solo or with just one passenger most of the time, this one is totally practical. It has just the right amount of features and feels spunky enough. Its price is also pretty enticing. But, if you have a family you are constantly hauling around, the EX is a better option. It gives you many more creature comforts, such as the rear headrests and armrest. The removable cargo floor and cargo cover are a nice bonus since, when you lower the rear seats, you get a nice flat load area. It really helps make the Soul all the more practical and worth its generous price tag.
• Compare the 2020 Kia Soul Trim Levels