Car reviews - Kia - Soul - 5-dr hatch range
Interior packaging, high-quality cabin materials, keen pricing, simplified line-up, resolved exterior design
Room for improvement
Less power than previous model, no sat-nav available, creeping cruise control
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14 Feb 2014
PIN-POINTING a rival for Kia’s second-generation Soul is a difficult task.
Technically, it is a small five-door hatch – with the VFACTS sales segments confirming this – but the marketing gurus at Kia are also pitching the slabby Soul as a competitor to a number of compact SUVs.
It might be built using the same underpinnings as Kia’s likeable new Cerato hatch and sedan range, but the Korean car-maker has models such as Nissan’s Juke and Dualis, the Ford EcoSport, Holden Trax and Skoda Yeti in its sights too.
Following slow sales for the first-gen model, Kia Motors Australia responded by simplifying the line-up down from three variants to a sole Soul in petrol Si guise from $23,990 plus on-roads for the manual and $25,990 for a self-shifter.
For this kind of money, you could look at the aforementioned rivals, including the two-wheel drive Juke ST ($21,990), the EcoSport Trend ($22,290) or the 2WD Yeti 77TSI ($21,990), while it’s also in-line with a few small-car contenders including the Holden Cruze SRi hatch ($22,490) or even the Hyundai i30 Active Tourer wagon ($22,990).
Kia has packed the generously sized Soul with enough standard gear to ensure it stacks up against its diverse competitors.
There are very few options, but the lengthy standard features list includes cruise control, six-speaker stereo, Bluetooth, audio controls on the artificial leather wrapped steering wheel, 17-inch wheels and power windows.
One omission is sat-nav, even as an option, and there is no possibility to upgrade the trim to leather, but aside from the lack of choice, there is decent kit for the cash.
Kia, wisely, has not messed with the iconic design of the original, instead producing a version that evolves the styling and sharpens it. The design of the new Soul feels more resolved, with the more aggressive front-end and modern tail making for a more butch look than the outgoing model.
More than its looks, the Soul gained a small but dedicated fan-base in Australia thanks to its versatile and spacious cabin, particularly with older buyers that appreciated the higher hip line that allowed for super easy entry and egress.
A slightly lower hip point for the new model makes for even easier entry and headroom and legroom is up by single digits over the old model, meaning the Soul’s cabin is as user friendly and roomy as ever.
It has acres of headroom in the front and the rear, there is ample legroom for driver and front and rear occupants, and we did not encounter one blind spot thanks to the Soul’s excellent visibility.
A good number of small and large storage compartments are located throughout the cabin, including four cup holders, four bottle holders, a massive glovebox, little storage areas on the side of the front seats and an under-floor storage area in the boot.
Speaking of, cargo space is up to 238 litres with the rear seats up and 1251 up to the roof with the second row folded, compared to the EcoSport (346 litres), Dualis (410 litres) or the Rukus (310 litres), though the under-floor storage helps.
The biggest change to the cabin is the design and use of higher quality materials, with the dash taking on a modern, stylish and very ‘Kia’ look with easy to use controls and appealing touches like the metal around the air conditioning and audio controls.
A glossy black finish can be found around the controls in the centre stack and around the gearbox lever and Kia’s use of a circular theme throughout adds a bit more quirk to the Soul, as do the audio tweeters that are integrated into the air-vents.
There is a mix of hard plastics and lovely artificial leather on the instrument panel and steering wheel which also features cool yellow stitching to break up the black and grey.
The chunky three-spoke steering wheel feels good and carries a number of controls for Bluetooth, cruise control and trip computer, and while the seats offer adequate support, they were on the firmer side of comfortable.
Kia has dropped the innumerable exterior and interior customization options that were available in the outgoing model, so anyone wanting to spruce up the cabin with an outrageous colour scheme will have to do it off their own bat.
Overall the quality and finish of the second-gen Soul’s cabin is a giant step up over its predecessor and even tops a number of the aforementioned rivals, notably the EcoSport and Dualis.
Kia has re-tuned the 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine down from 122kW/200Nm in the old model to 113kW/191Nm in a bid to ensure it is Euro 5 compliant, but the lower output has little impact on performance.
The Soul takes 10.4 seconds to dash from a standing start to 100km/h in the auto, meaning it is far from being a performance car, but it certainly doesn’t embarrass itself either.
Sharing its underpinnings with the impressive Cerato and Kia has improved torsional rigidity by 29 per cent over the old model which has clearly paid off, with the front-wheel drive hatch maintaining its composure when pushed through some very tight corners.
Kia local engineering team tweaked the suspension so it is more at home on Australian roads, something the previous model did not receive. We found it to be on the firmer side, but in most ways well-behaved.
The six-speed auto – which Kia expects will account for nine out of ten sales – is matched well with this engine, never holding or struggling to find a gear with its smooth changes.
Switching to manual mode (there are no paddles shifters) produces quick, responsive shifts, but it was our brief stint driving Soul with the six-speed manual that gave us the most joy with its lovely smooth clutch and short throws. This version also has a far more appealing engine note.
The 2.0-litre engine struggled up some of the more challenging hills around Wollongong, but swapping to manual mode and choosing gears yourself helped.
One minor niggle was the cruise control which was a touch slow to react to the undulating conditions, creeping above the specified speed for a little too long for our liking.
Kia has included its FlexSteer system that offers different steering settings and in Normal mode, it felt nicely weighted and direct, particularly around town, while in Sport mode it is much heavier and better suited to highway driving.
Another area of improvement in the new Soul is NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) with Kia adding more insulation to the cabin and engine bay and it has paid off, with minimal road noise making for a polished and quiet ride.
Official fuel consumption figures are 7.6 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle for the manual and 8.4L/100km in the auto, and we recorded 10.4L/100km in the auto with a couple of hours of city, freeway and twisty mountain road driving.
On the safety front the Soul features six airbags, ESC, ABS, a tyre-pressure monitoring system, hill-start assist, and vehicle stability management, while Kia offers a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty and capped price servicing.
The improvements to the Soul have made it a far more appealing offering than it has ever been. It seems the Korean car-maker’s odd-ball baby has finally grown up and grown into its looks.
While interior packaging was always its strong point, the Soul is now a far better car to drive, it offers a lot of standard gear for the price, a classier cabin with high-quality materials and deserves to be shopped against its many rivals in the SUV and small-car segments.
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