Car reviews - Kia - Soul - 5-dr hatch range
Packaging, easy controls, high specification level, keen pricing, practical interior
Room for improvement
Numb steering, firm ride, loose body control, vague gearshift, lack of low-down torque, no digital speedo
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14 Nov 2014
Price and equipment
WHY is the Kia Soul so invisible in Australia?In the United States, the South Korean hatchback has sold more units in one month than the previous generation managed in five years here, reflecting a real consumer disconnect in this part of the world.
Just 1779 have found homes here, compared to over 760,000 worldwide.
Last time, though, Aussies had reason to be suspicious, since the brand was still struggling to emerge from the dark old days of sub-standard quality, design and driveability.
Since then, Kia’s cars have improved out of sight – witness the handsome Rio, Pro_cee’d, Cerato, and Sportage – so we’re holding out high hopes for the second-gen Soul.
Launched earlier this year, the PS series is now a one-horse contender, dropping the previous AM version’s 1.6-litre petrol and diesel variants for an all-new 2.0L petrol version in either $23,990 six-speed manual (as tested) or $25,990 six-speed automatic guise – both before on-road costs of course.
Standard features include six airbags, stability/traction control, anti-lock brakes, tyre-pressure monitors and a hill-start assist system.
Also present are a 4.3-inch touchscreen, reversing camera, cruise control, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, auxiliary and USB connectivity, air conditioning, 17-inch alloy wheels, a five-year manufacturer’s warranty and fixed-price servicing.
Perhaps unexpected is Kia’s Flex Steer system that offers three modes of assistance – Comfort, Normal and Sport more on that later. Finally, metallic paint is a $620 option.
Compared to the previous Soul +, Kia reckons the newer, better equipped and more powerful Soul Si saves buyers around $1000.
Bigger than before, this Soul has grown 20mm longer and 15mm wider and sits on a wheelbase that’s been stretched 20mm. But the roof is now 41mm lower.
Along with a palpably heavier car, this all translates in a car that feels properly C-segment sided in terms of interior space, making the Kia a cinch to enter/exit and agreeably roomy inside. A pseudo-SUV style seating height enhances the light and airy feel.
Angular forward pillars, circular themes on the dash top and door inserts… there’s more than a hint of BMW’s Mini in the Soul’s cabin architecture.
That’s no bad thing – and nor is the attractive stitch-effect leather-wrap three-spoke steering wheel, speaker/vent towers at either end of the fascia, humongous glovebox with a centre storage bin-cum-armrest to match, cool-white instrument markings contrasted by red LEDs, mirror-mounted reverse camera, and stupendously simple to fathom audio/Bluetooth system.
It’s dead easy getting to know this cheerful but not cheap Soul. No wonder the Americans flock to it.
Furthermore, the front seats are sufficiently comfortable over longer distances, with the driver’s seat well set up in terms of steering-wheel reach and gear stick/pedal control.
The Soul’s front headrests also feature an anti-whiplash feature by allowing precise adjustability of their positioning relative to the person sat there.
Speaking of which, all that roof height not only allows for unencumbered rear-row entry, it gives top hat wearers the luxury to sit bolt upright without crouching.
Plus, the windows wind all the way down – our dog loved that – while non-canine occupants ought to appreciate the overhead grab handles, central armrest with cupholders, deep door pockets and reading lights.
But while big feet can be tucked beneath the front seats, the cushion itself is a bit wanting for thigh support there are no face-level air vents (though Kia reckons they exist beneath the front seats) and the front-seat backs consist of the world’s cruddiest plastic moulding. Mentor throwback much, Soul? The Soul’s boxy shape makes for an easy car to load and unload, helped out by the square aperture and deep tailgate. But as the rear seat cushion does not fold, dropping the split backrests results in a higher-than-expected load area.
On the other hand, the cargo floor lifts to reveal a handy trio of storage compartments sitting above a space-saver spare wheel, while a 12V outlet and various tie hooks complete the Soul’s load-carrying abilities.
For the record, luggage capacity rises 16 litres to 238L with rear-seats erect and by a considerable 178L to 1251L (to the lofty ceiling) with them flat.
Furthermore, the tailgate aperture is 62mm broader for better boot access.
Engine and transmission
The 2.0-litre direct-injection engine from the previous-generation Soul has been modified for the new model to ensure it met Euro 5 emissions standards, and in its transition to this life has lost it some kilowatts and Newton metres.
What was 122kW and 200Nm is now just 113kW and 191Nm, which has helped fuel economy and CO2 emissions.
As the red line kicks in at 6750rpm, it is immediately obvious from the first time you set off that this Kia needs every single one of those revs to really hustle along.
The issue is either a lack of low-down torque or throttle software that’s too obviously tuned for economy. Either way, it makes for embarrassing stalling because you haven’t stomped on the pedal fast enough. Very annoying.
However, once that 2.0L DI unit is spinning, power comes on rapidly, making it a quiet and refined cruiser. You just have to remember to row that slightly stiff and rubbery gear lever – another disappointingly old-school Kia throwback.
Was it our test car? It’s inaccurate to call the Soul slow, because it only feels sluggish when taking off or when you plant your foot when overtaking.
Fuel consumption, too, didn’t sparkle like we had hoped, with figures in the low-9.0L/100km reflecting the low-rev resistance of the 2.0L unit. The official average is 7.6L/100km.
Ride and handling
Based on the latest Cerato’s platform, Kia says the Soul’s MacPherson strut/torsion beam suspension and electric rack and pinion steering systems have been overhauled for improved dynamics and comfort.
There’s even been some attention paid by an Australian engineering team.
With all this in mind, the Soul is a delightfully benign car for tootling about the suburbs at low to medium speeds.
But the Soul is far from an invigorating drive. In fact, after a long journey, fatiguing is the word that springs to mind.
The biggest culprit is the lifeless steering. Even with Flex Steer, the driver is left with three choices – dead-light, dead-heavy and dead-heavyweight.
The only plus point is that, at low speeds, the Soul is dead-easy to manoeuvre and park in tight spots.
At higher speeds, the Soul continues to disappoint, suffering from excessive body movement on its suspension, resulting in a propensity to pitch, roll and lurch if you press on through corners.
Yet the springs feel too firm on anything other than super-smooth road surfaces, so there isn’t any softness as payback. Maybe that’s the price to be paid for sitting on sexy alloys shod with 215/55 R17 tyres.
Safety and servicing
Five-year’s worth of unlimited kilometre warranty, with 12-month/15-month service intervals, are Soul-full virtues in anybody’s language.
On the crash-test safety front the latest Soul has yet to be tested by ENCAP or ANCAP, but it achieves a five-star rating from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Please note that the previous model managed five-stars under the old system in late 2010.
There’s much to like about the Soul.
It looks great (especially from behind), has an appealing and versatile interior with enough space for five adults, is well built, nicely presented, generously equipped (including a five-year warranty) and super-easy to operate.
But maybe you should fork out for the automatic version because the manual is sluggish at take-off, prone to being stalled too easily, and not very pleasant to shift between cogs.
And if you’re a keen driver… well, either look elsewhere in the Kia range (such as the bargain Pro_cee’d GT) or buy a Skoda Yeti instead, because the three-level dead steering choices are just a joy kill.
We’re not hot on the lack of body control and firm ride either. If the Pro_cee’d is tuned for Euro tastes then this one smells like hotdogs and Pringles.
Unfortunately the Soul isn’t Kia’s best foot forward. After the Rio, Cerato 1.8L, Sportage and Pro_cee’d, it’s a bit of a step backwards.
1. Skoda Yeti 77TSI, from $23,490 plus on-roads
Other than a stiffer-than-necessary ride, the Yeti is a remarkably user-friendly and enjoyable car to both sit in and drive, thanks to a brilliant chassis, eager turbo powerplant and quality cabin.
2. Suzuki S-Cross GL, from $22,990 plus on-roads
Don’t let that sad-sack face fool you – the underrated SX4 replacement will win your head over with low running costs, a great ride, classy dash and a comfy and well-made interior. But the steering is also devoid of feeling.
3. Hyundai i30 Tourer Active, from $24,990 plus on-roads
Hyundai’s related Euro-wagon might be a bit dull to look at, but it’s a winner for value, styling, practicality, comfort, safety, cabin presentation, ergonomics, simplicity and warranty. It could use a bit more oomph though.
MAKE/MODEL: Kia PS Soul Si
ENGINE: 1999cc 4-cyl DOHC petrol
LAYOUT: FWD, transverse
POWER: 113kW @ 6200rpm
TORQUE: 191Nm @ 4700rpm
TRANSMISSION: 6-spd manual
TOP SPEED: N/A
SUSPENSION f/r: Struts/Torsion beam
STEERING: Electric rack and pinion
BRAKES f/r: Discs/discs
PRICE: From $23,990 plus on-roads
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