By on November 18, 2016

Kia USA lineup 2016: Images: KiaAmerica’s midsize sedan market is fading fast. Sales are down 12 percent this year, and the cars that operate farthest from the top of the leaderboard are the cars that are fading fastest: the Mazda 6, Volkswagen Passat, dying Chrysler 200, and the Kia Optima.

U.S. sales of the Kia Optima, the best-selling Kia in America in each of the last four years, are down 25 percent through the first ten months of 2016, a loss of more than four Optima sales for the average Kia dealer per month.

The Optima, therefore, is no longer the most popular Kia in America.

Launched in 2009 in the midst of a global recession, U.S. sales of the Kia Soul have been on the rise ever since. Sales more than doubled in 2010, jumped another 52 percent in 2011, and increased a further 13 percent in 2012 before Kia squeaked out a 2 percent gain in 2013 as the first-generation model neared the end of its lifespan. The launch of a new Soul for 2014 produced another huge improvement: year-over-year volume jumped 23 percent.

Kia reported a modest 1-percent uptick in calendar year 2015, including a 17-percent surge in the final five months of 2015 and an all-time best of 17,108 sales in August 2015 — a record that still stands.Kia Motors 2017 Soul TurboIn part because of an inability to match that second-half pace in 2016, coinciding with the overall market’s slowdown, Soul volume is off last year’s pace by 3 percent through the end of October. But Kia has already sold more Souls in 2016’s first ten months than in any full calendar year prior to 2014.

And the Soul, initially thought to be an oddball boxy niche-filler that would embarrass the Nissan Cube and send the Scion xB on its merry way, is now the best-selling Kia in America.

For pragmatic car buyer who wants a flexible and affordable package, there’s not much to complain about. Kia has progressively made the Soul better and better. A turbocharged Soul just debuted at the LA auto show, addressing one standout complaint regarding a dearth of power. But a few characteristics have remained constant since 2009: big league space and plenty of features inside, tidy dimensions outside, and reasonable MSRPs regardless of trim level.Kia USA sales by model October 2016 YTD: Image TTACYou’re no longer surprised to see one. You’re not surprised to hear that your coworker can’t decide between a Soul and a Civic (“I think I want to sit up high”) or a Soul and a Crosstrek (“Do I need all-wheel drive?”) or a Soul and an Encore (“They both have a lot of features”). Incidentally, even without an all-wheel-drive option, the Soul, America’s 31-best-selling vehicle, outsells all subcompact crossovers.

Of course, part of the credit (or the blame) for turning the Soul into Kia’s most popular model belongs to the Optima and Sorento. Optima sales are projected to fall to a five-year low in 2016. The Sorento, which has moved upmarket since last topping Kia’s U.S. sales charts in 2011, is down marginally this year compared with 2015 and is off its 2011 peak by 15 percent. Combine these downturns with the Soul’s consistent success, and the stars have realigned.

Regardless of its precise positioning in the Kia hierarchy, the Soul that done brung the funk eight years ago is a downright mainstream option now. By the end of 2017, more than 1 million Souls will have been sold in the United States.

Timothy Cain is the founder of, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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60 Comments on “What’s The Most Popular Kia In America? Hint: Not The K900...”

  • avatar

    Hot damn, I can’t wait to pick up a nice used Cadenza on the cheap.

  • avatar

    An Uber driver picked us up in one and I was surprised at the back seat room. The highway noise was a bit more that I would like. Otherwise a comfortable back seat ride.

  • avatar

    If the Soul offered AWD to go with that turbo motor I’d give it a serious look.

    • 0 avatar
      Timothy Cain

      “Yet the Soul’s audience has become so numerous that I have to believe a turbocharged, all-wheel-drive, sport-suspended Soul would gain more than just a small cult following,” I said in 2014. I got half what I asked for. Not bad.

  • avatar
    Old Man Pants

    Most efficient and ergonomically merciful grocery-getter in the barely <20K neighborhood. Has flaws, but they're not often encountered in its primary role as a senior’s town buggy.

  • avatar

    Not K900000? The fools!

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    The latest Optima refresh didn’t keep pace with the Hyundai Sonata redesign (in terms of the changes), and so the Optima remains essentially the same car it was in 2011, with one additional engine choice, I think.

    Externally, it’s really hard to identify the differences across 7 model years. On the plus side, it means my 13 Optima Hybrid still looks current.

    Worldwide, however, I thought the Kia Rio was their best-seller.

    • 0 avatar

      I would hope it still looks current, it’s only three!

    • 0 avatar

      “The latest Optima refresh didn’t keep pace with the Hyundai Sonata redesign (in terms of the changes), and so the Optima remains essentially the same car it was in 2011, with one additional engine choice, I think.”


      The 2016 JF Optima rides on the LF Sonata’s platform which came out in 2015.

      What’s also new to the Optima is the Sportwagon—it’s unknown if it will arrive here or not. We seem to get stiffed on models and options (self parking, turbo with a stick) that other markets get.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        Yes, but nobody cares about platforms. The Optima is nearly indistinguishable over two generations, unlike the Sonata. Engine choices are nearly static – 2.4, 2.4 hybrid, 2.0T, and now 1.6T.

        Sonata sales are down per the mid-size trend, but they’re not plummeting like the Optima.

        • 0 avatar

          Again, it’s not the “same” car from 2011 as you said above so don’t try to back pedal on your statement.

          Platform is new.
          Interior new.
          Engines have been re-tuned.
          1.6T with DCT is new.
          Plug In Version is new.

  • avatar
    Arthur Dailey

    The Soul is an urban runabout, grocery getter and in town commuter car. Therefore in my estimation there is zero need for an AWD/4wd option.

    An option for those shopping small sedans which offers better interior use of space without looking too ‘cheap’. Or ‘young’ seniors who prefer the height for ease of access/egress, visibility and the available headroom and upright seating.

    Adding AWD/4Wd would drive it into another price range and sell minimal extra units. Just another wish from ‘petrol heads’ who still would not buy one.

    What percentage of HR-V sales are Fwd?

    As for the Optima, I returned a rental unit after 1/2 day because I could not adjust the ‘active’ headrest into a comfortable position. Not sure whether it was the design or a defect in that particular car.

    • 0 avatar

      I disagree, Arthur; AWD is almost a necessity in some areas where the Soul is sold. I have family in rural PA that owns one and they have to drop back to an older (and questionable) Ford Explorer when winter comes (questionable due to a dying transmission.) The so-called “Rust Belt” has need of AWD vehicles to more safely handle winter driving situations, especially in more rural areas. My former Jeep Wrangler was overkill for my needs, though I admit it was fun off road. Problem is, in 9 years of ownership I only managed a very few off-road excursions so I traded it on something with better fuel mileage while keeping that AWD/4×4 capability for the places I actually drove. I’ll later buy a more basic Wrangler or something when I need a ‘toy’ car.

  • avatar

    VW Golf
    Kia Soul
    Chrysler minivans
    all serve practical needs and then some.

  • avatar

    Tim will want to fight me, but [generally] I think the Soul should have offered AWD as well. Give it some cladding and ride height, and watch sales take off. Those people would love a cheap new crossover. But it’s too late now, for two reasons: Niro and Sportage. They’re all too similar in size to add another AWD option.

  • avatar

    Should be able to pickup a great mildly used Impala or Sonata cheap. Would even try out a 2016 on up Optima. As for the Soul, you gotta be kidding me people. If I can’t carry more than a couple bags of groceries with the rear seats up then it’s useless to me.

  • avatar

    I was going to say, I see tons of Souls driving around.

  • avatar

    I like the Soul, and if I were buying a new Kia today, it’d likely be one (since they no longer offer a BOF SUV and as far as everything else they make, I’d rather have a compeditor’s version).

    I like it for what it is: a sensible and practical alternative to a cheap sedan. It looks funky, its not trying to be “upscale” or make any statement about the owner other than “here is a guy or gal who is 40% more fun and/or quirky than a Forte, Corolla or Sentra driver”.

    I highly prefer its styling and usability over the Nissan Juke. But, then I liked the original xB, Cube, etc as well. I think its great how Kia carved itself out a niche in a market the others abandoned, and is doing well with it.

    Of course it’s a bit noisy and the interior isn’t as nice as it could be, but don’t forget its price. If you want a nice, quiet and luxurious Kia, I’m sure they could find a Canine-hundred for you.

    • 0 avatar

      “Of course it’s a bit noisy and the interior isn’t as nice as it could be, but don’t forget its price.”

      Seriously how much nicer should it be then? The majority of the touch points are soft touch plastic including the dashboard. The door opens and closes with a solid thud and the door handles themselves feel heavier than the ones that I see every single day.

      Hell even KIA decided to toss in hood struts—something not even offered on $50K Explorer.

  • avatar

    This is the car that FCA should build. Just take the best attributes of the Soul, xB and Cube, mix in a tiny dash of European style, add a small, economical but peppy engine and a reasonable price.
    Too bad Boxcar Willie isn’t around any more – he would have been perfect to do the commercials.

    And if they don’t want to name it the Chrysler Boxcar, they could call it the Fiat Cartone or the Alfa Romeo Cassa.

    • 0 avatar

      You know, RHD, you just described the Fiat 500x and Jeep Renegade quite well. Don’t believe what people say about those cars, try it for yourself. I bought a Renegade quite specifically BECAUSE it doesn’t live down to those poor reviews.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    It’s not Optima vs Soul. It’s Optima vs Sportage.

    Sportage sales are way up this year (55%) since the newer model came out. It’s roomier than the Optima, and it has more of that cool utility thing. With cheap gas, nobody cares about its lower-than-Optima fuel economy.

  • avatar

    Interesting relationship to another article posted today.

    I seriously looked at a Soul last year when I was replacing my Scion xB.

    You can get a Soul with a manual transmission, but only with the 1.6 liter. Okay, I’m fine with that.

    However, Kia will not sell a 1.6, manual-transmission Soul with cruise control. It’s available (in fact standard) with a 1.6/auto, but if you want a Soul with a clutch, you can’t have cruise.

    No sale.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      When I bought my former xB1 in 2005, it also wasn’t fitted with cruise control (5-spd stick). But I immediately added the same aftermarket cruise control that the Scion dealers were installing, and it worked great.

      Maybe something like that is available for the Soul?

      • 0 avatar

        I also installed aftermarket cruise in my xB. It worked for about 6 months, then failed. I’ve become leery of aftermarket cruise ever since.

      • 0 avatar

        You can easily add OEM cruise control to the base Soul for less than $100–there are detailed instructions on But I totally agree with the larger point: it’s ridiculous that Kia won’t even offer the basic features that it already offers on the base model with the auto transmission–notably cruise control and remote keyless entry. Just add those in and increase the price by $100!

  • avatar

    I test drove a Soul and a Forte5 last year when I was replacing my xD. Obviously preferred the Forte5 since it’s low-riding (and still the best looking compact in my opinion), but the Soul felt a lot like a modern version of the xD, and felt way less unwieldy than an xB. It was a perfect car if you wanted to ride slightly higher but didn’t want a crossover. It also has that same feeling of sitting on top of the car rather than in it that the Yaris and the Scions had/have. Like all Kias though, they both just felt artificial to drive. Like they put every affordable car that was regarded as “fun to drive” from the last 10 years into a lab and somehow boiled it all down to an equation and reproduced it using 1980s supercomputers, and that’s how they made their cars handle. Love the interior of the Soul though, I’ve always felt the exterior is kind of boring compared to the other boxes on wheels, the 2nd gen is an improvement though. It’s probably the only car I can think of that screams “Korea” as soon as you see it though, and not in the cheap plastic and chrome way like an XG350 or Amanti.

    I’d regard someone driving a Forte5 or a Koup as more “quirky” than a Soul driver since so few people buy them.

  • avatar
    Frank Williams

    Looks like I nailed the demographic all those years ago!

    • 0 avatar
      Old Man Pants

      From your germinal rapportage:

      “There’s also a deep, subdivided well under the rear floor where you can stash the Depends, Metamucil or other such necessities.”

      Are you still a stereotyping ditz?

  • avatar

    Optima sales are down due to a number of factors…

    First being the increasing move from sedans to crossovers.

    Coinciding with this has been the increase in supply of the Sportage for the US market (the Forte, despite being a sedan/hatch, has also seen a sales increase due to increased supply).

    Another factor has been the lull between the outgoing and new Optima hybrid (Optima hybrid sales are way down compared to Sonata hybrid sales – which is the new model).

    The work stoppages and strikes in Korea also hasn’t helped in terms of supply.

    The current Optima being less striking than its predecessor hasn’t helped either.

    On that basis, think the new Cadenza will sell a good bit better than its predecessor and that the RWD GT will sell a good bit better than the new Cadenza.

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