Kia Soul: Is It a Reliable Car?
The funky Kia Soul debuted in the U.S. for the 2010 model year. Popularized by a memorable series of hamster-themed TV commercials, the Soul embraced its boxiness (some would say cuteness). With a third generation on the streets, the Soul still maintains its core shape.
While the Soul has a recognizable profile, it’s a hard-to-define vehicle. The lack of all-wheel drive doesn’t give it proper SUV credentials (the Soul is front-wheel drive only), and a somewhat taller stance doesn’t make this Kia a station wagon. Some split the difference and call the Soul a five-door hatchback.
Regardless of the label, the Kia Soul has proved popular among shoppers looking for efficient, versatile, and wallet-friendly transportation. This also holds true in the used car market. With this in mind, we’re deeply diving into the world of second-hand Kia Souls. Keep reading to learn about the highlights of each generation, explore reliability, review critical recalls, and compare the Kia Soul to the competition. To clarify, we’re only look at gas-powered Kia Souls, the all-electric Kia Soul EV is not part of this analysis.
Overview of the Kia Soul
First-Generation Kia Soul: 2010-2013
Kia’s boxy design helped the Soul stand out in a market becoming dominated by crossovers and SUVs. Relying on a modest 138-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine, the first Soul wasn’t about performance. Instead, Kia cleverly engineered a surprising amount of interior room and cargo space in a small package. Later first-generation years were available with a 164-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine.
Second-Generation Kia Soul: 2014-2019
While maintaining its basic shape and size, the second-generation Soul is marked by refinements across the board. An optional turbocharged 1.6-liter powerplant gave the Soul sporty characteristics, thanks to 201 horsepower. Outside, slightly softened body lines helped differentiate the second-gen Soul from its predecessor. Kia also tossed in more infotainment tech and safety gear. A new GT-Line trim level sought to provide this Kia with more than economy-car qualities.
Third-Generation Kia Soul: 2020-Present
Third-generation Soul is still recognizable, but a sleek exterior gives this Kia upscale vibes. The narrow headlights and smoother body convey a modern look, while upgrades in technology and interior materials keep the Soul relevant in a crowded marketplace. Buyers can opt for a 10.25-inch touchscreen and a head-up display. Engine choices include a base 2.0-liter engine making 147 horsepower or the carryover turbo engine.
Kia Soul Reliability Ratings
Numerous entities rate the reliability of the Soul. For instance, RepairPal gives the car an overall 4.5 out of 5, ranking it third among seven compact SUVs.
But buyers may also be interested in how the Soul’s individual model years stack up. For this, we’ll turn to J.D. Power and Consumer Reports. Both these outfits assess reliability, but each takes a somewhat different approach.
J.D. Power “measures the level of defects, malfunctions, and design flaws experienced by vehicle owners.” Meanwhile, Consumer Reports issues a “Reliability Verdict” that predicts dependability based on other models’ performance and additional factors. The organization calls this an “informed prediction.”
Here’s how each assessment compares among the different Kia Soul model years.
|Kia Soul Model Year||J.D. Power Reliability Rating
(XXX out of 100)
|Consumer Reports Reliability Rating
(X out of 5)
It’s interesting how each group assesses specific years. For example, J.D. Power thinks highly of the reliability for the 2012, 2014, and 2020 model years; it’s the polar opposite for Consumer Reports.
So, rather than worrying about conflicting methodologies, we suggest focusing Kia Soul shopping on years with solid ratings from both outfits. The chart highlights the model years (2013, 2017, 2019. 2021, and 2022) that receive the equivalent of a “B” grade or better from J.D. Power and Consumer Reports.
A Note about the 2023 Kia Soul: J.D. Power and Consumer Reports have reliability ratings for the 2023 Kia Soul (87 out of 100 and 4 out of 5, respectively). Yet, it may be too early to tell how this model year will hold up over time. Remember this if you’re thinking of buying a used 2023 Kia Soul. It won’t have complete factory warranty protection (Kia’s ten-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty doesn’t apply to subsequent owners).
Kia Soul’s Performance in Key Areas of Reliability
Let’s review data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NHTSA and carcomplaints.com to assess how key systems hold up in the Kia Soul. We’ll also discuss commonly reported problems according to owners.
It’s easy to find fault with just about any car. But we’re looking for an abundance of reports concentrated on a primary system. Of course, these complaints can vary by model year, so we’ll highlight the worst-offending editions.
It’s also helpful to note that owner-supplied reports aren’t scientific. Meaning these complaints may be attributable to poor maintenance or not understanding how a system works. But, it’s all we have to work with because the manufacturer will never reveal the problems it uncovers unless forced to do so in a recall (which is explored later).
Arguably, the most crucial part of any conventional automobile is the powerplant. It doesn’t matter how well the other components operate if the engine isn’t working correctly. And unfortunately, this is the Kia Soul’s greatest weakness. A data review shows hundreds and hundreds of reports of engine troubles (many of which are tied to recalls).
In particular, the 2014-2016 Kia Souls have more engine-related reports on file with NHTSA than any other year. Not coincidentally, these are the first three years of the second-generation Soul. This is something to think about if you’re shopping for a used Soul. Other model years have their share of reported engine troubles, but not at these levels.
The gearbox can be an Achilles Heal for many cars, but the data shows the transmission to be robust across all Kia Soul model years. Very few owner complaints confirm this. That means the transmission is one area a used Kia Soul buyer shouldn’t have to worry about. Although getting a pre-purchase inspection by a qualified mechanic is always wise (and this assessment should include an examination of the transmission).
We’ll point out that NHTSA has about a dozen reports (a modest amount) of transmission issues with the 2020 Soul. This coincides with the debut of the third generation and the switch to a continuously variable transmission (CVT). CVTs can be finicky. So, we suggest looking at a different model year to be safe. Skipping the first year of all-new design isn’t a bad approach either. It’s the best way to avoid the gremlins that sometimes plague the initial year of a new generation.
In general, staying away from a model with a history of electrical problems is a good idea. Electrical issues are tricky because they can be hard to diagnose (which translates into expensive repairs). A review of NHTSA data shows that the Kia Soul has a mixed record in this area.
A few reports of these troubles are expected, particularly among the earlier model years (alternators and other parts do go bad). But, we see that the 2014-2016 Souls have the largest number of electric system-related reports. In fact, carcomplaints.com calls these specific Kia Souls “really awful.” You’ll notice a pattern with 2014-2016 editions if you’ve read about the engine troubles (above).
Meanwhile, owners report issues ranging from flickering dash lights to premature battery failure to fires in the engine compartment.
While steering doesn’t often come to the forefront of reliability discussions, it’s essential to a car’s safe operation. For the most part, the Kia Soul gets a passing grade for its power steering. There’s a recall for a troublesome steering gear (2014-2016 model years; see below).
We’ll call attention to the 2012-2013 Souls for an above-average number of complaints about the steering. Owners report hearing a clunking sound while turning or loose-feeling steering. This is a matter to keep in mind while shopping for a used Kia Soul.
Like steering, the suspension doesn’t get talked about much. It’s a sight-unseen component equally important to safe and comfortable travel in every vehicle. Kia Soul shoppers can take comfort in not having to be concerned with suspension issues. There are very few complaints on file about this system. So, if you’re worried about the Kia Soul’s reliability, you can focus on other areas.
Problems with brakes don’t always translate into reliability issues. Often, the trouble is caused by poor maintenance. While there are complaints about the Kia Soul’s brakes, there aren’t many reports. Yes, we noticed owners telling of a faulty brake vacuum chamber and other flawed parts. However, there are also complaints about squealing brakes, which usually means a wear and tear issue, not a manufacturing defect.
Until the research says otherwise, reliability issues with the Soul’s brakes don’t appear to be a cause for concern.
Kia Soul Recall History
Recalls are a fact of life with modern automobiles, and the Kia Soul is no exception, as most model years have had at least one recall. It’s important to consider that while recalls involve free repairs, some recalls are more impactful on reliability than others.
For instance, a recall for a defective airbag is serious but won’t affect how critical mechanical systems operate in the long term. On the other hand, a recall for an engine or transmission issue is worth paying attention to, even when the problem is repaired. Sometimes, in pursuit of the least-expensive fix, automakers may not provide a comprehensive repair, creating potential trouble down the road. In addition, there’s always a chance the recall repair wasn’t completed properly.
Here’s an overview of the most significant recalls to date for the Kia Soul (there are more recalls besides the ones listed). Take special note of the three recalls involving the engine (you can click on the links for more details). If you’re considering a Soul from these affected model years, be sure the recall has been corrected. Always check the NHTSA website to confirm the recall details and verify the car has been repaired.
|Kia Soul Model Years Affected||NHTSA Recall Title||Summary of the Recall|
|2012-2016||Overheated Catalytic Converter May Damage Engine||A damaged catalytic converter may cause improper engine operation, leading to a broken connecting rod to puncturing the engine block|
|2014||Front Airbags May Not Deploy||Sensors may not communicate with a control unit|
|2014-2015||Engine Damage May Cause Fire||Fuel and/or oil leaks in the engine compartment may cause a fire|
|2014-2016||Steering Gear May Separate||The pinion gear may separate from the steering gear assembly|
|2014-2015||Accelerator Pedal May Fracture||The accelerator pedal is prone to bending or breaking|
|2017-2019||Air Bags May Not Deploy||Circuit damage to a control unit may cause the airbags not to deploy|
|2020-2021||Improperly Heat-Treated Piston Oil Rings||Improper manufacturing may lead to an engine that fails or causes a fire|
Kia Soul: Reliability Comparison with Competitors
When the Kia Soul first hit the market over a decade ago, it had few direct competitors. But this has changed significantly over the past five years. However, these recent challengers don’t appear to outperform the Kia Soul’s reliability significantly.
Looking at the 2017, 2019, and 2002 model years—the more recent years that J.D. Power (J.D.P) and Consumers Reports (CR) give high marks for Soul reliability)—we see that this Kia offers comparable, if not higher, dependability.
|Model Year||Kia Soul
|2017||86 / 4||75 / 3||82 / 4||80 / 4||83 / 2|
|2019||87 / 5||79 / 5||NA||84 / NA||82 / 3|
|2022||87 / 5||81 / 5||NA||NA||NA|
Ultimate Reliability Protection for the Kia Soul: Endurance
Reviewing reliability details only goes so far because no car is perfect. This matter is significant with the Kia Soul as not every model year is reliable, and different authorities rate the Kia Soul’s reliability differently.
Whether you own a Kia Soul or are considering putting one in the driveway, having the peace of mind of an extended warranty tops all the data. An auto protection plan from Endurance safeguards against breakdowns and surprise repair bills.
Endurance’s vehicle service contracts offer protection for primary systems, like the engine or transmission, or coverage similar to a new car bumper-to-bumper warranty. There are options for high-mileage cars, select luxury models, and commercial-use vehicles.
Standard features with every Endurance warranty include 24/7 roadside assistance (with towing coverage and lockout assistance), rental car reimbursement, trip-interruption support, and flexible payment terms. There’s even a 30-day money-back guarantee. Request coverage cancellation during the first month for a refund that typically covers your full initial payment. Endurance customers can also pick any ASE Certified mechanic or repair facility for covered repairs.
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Discover all the details of an Endurance extended warranty. Request a FREE quote or call (800) 253-8203 for one-on-one service from our award-winning customer service team. Or, visit our online store for instant price information and coverage details. Read the Endurance blog for expert-written advice on car maintenance, DIY repairs, auto reviews, and more.
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