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New York show: Kia bares its Soul

Soul glow: Illuminated speakers are back in the second-generation Soul, providing ‘ripple effect’ ambient LED lighting.

Second-gen Kia Soul borrows Track’ster styling, debuts connected infotainment tech


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28 Mar 2013


KIA has not messed with the concept or strayed too far on the styling front with the second-generation of its funky tall-boy Soul small car unveiled in New York overnight.

But the South Korean company has taken plenty of inspiration from the hot Soul-based Track’ster concept unveiled at last year’s Chicago and Sydney motor shows.

Interior design and quality have moved upmarket, with Kia’s first Android-based, high-definition touchscreen infotainment system able to deliver online services including Pandora internet radio using a combination of Sirius digital satellite radio and the data connection of a smartphone paired via Bluetooth. But when the new Soul goes on sale in Australia in the second half of next year, the chances of this sophisticated infotainment system being included are slim due to a lack of localisation and local support for the technology – such as a lack of satellite radio services.

Kia Motors Australia (KMAu) public relations general manager Kevin Hepworth said the Soul’s buyer demographic was not the Gen-Y buyer seen in markets like the US but older buyers who appreciate the easy manoeuvrability and ease of entry and egress due to its high hip point.

Although Mr Hepworth anticipated the age of Soul buyers to lower, he said the new car would maintain its appeal to the older generation that likes the outgoing model.

“I can see the demographic on the car changing to middle-aged empty nesters through to older people – it’s a car that makes a lot of sense to them.” The bolstering of the Soul’s younger appeal should be furthered by improved dynamics from the all-new, 29 per cent stiffer chassis, aimed at making it more fun to punt around the city while improving forward visibility due to thinner – yet stronger – windscreen pillars.

Mr Hepworth said the Soul will be subject to KMAu’s usual thorough re-tuning for the tastes and conditions of Australian customers.

Kia has expanded on the Soul’s reputation for practicality by growing it in length, width and wheelbase to provide more interior space and luggage capacity while reducing interior noise (by around 3dB), vibration and harshness.

Updated 97kW/160Nm 1.6-litre and 122kW/205Nm 2.0-litre petrol engines gain direct fuel injection and have been tuned to deliver more low-end grunt – and Mr Hepworth confirmed these for Australia plus the existing 94kW/260Nm 1.6-litre diesel.

Clear Track’ster-inspired styling touches include the re-shaped grille and trapezoidal lower air intake, which is almost unchanged from the concept, are similarly flanked at the lower extremities by circular fog-lights.

At the back, a body-coloured panel set into the (69mm wider) tailgate is another nod to the Track’ster.

Chief Soul designer Tom Kearns, based at Kia’s Californian studio, described the new Soul as one “one of the most difficult assignments we’ve taken on”.

“Striking the right balance between the wonderful design of the current car with the audacious proportions and stance of the Track’ster was daunting,” he said.

Maintaining the Soul’s 1610mm height while widening it 15.2mm to 1800mm and lengthening the wheelbase 20.3mm to 2570mm gives it a slightly more aggressive and purposeful stance.

Meanwhile LED daytime running lights and halo-like LED tail-lights bring the Soul into line with the latest Sorento SUV and forthcoming Cerato small sedan.

Inside Kia has applied swathes of soft-touch materials to the dashboard, centre console and door trims, combining with piano black trim and the option of leather upholstery to create a more upmarket feel – and Kia claims a segment first for the Soul’s optional ventilated front seats.

Taking inspiration from both the outgoing Soul and the Track’ster are circular design cues, embodied by the deeply-recessed circular instrument gauges, panels for the electric window controls and button clusters on the multi-function steering wheel.

Referencing the Track’ster is the centre console’s starter button and round gear-shift knob, while the door speakers and “floating” dash-top tweeters integrate LED strip lighting to create ripple-effect ambient lighting.

Access to the cabin is eased by a lower hip point and step-in heights, while legroom is increased all round, and front occupants have more head and shoulder space.

The addition of front subframe bushings, a new relocated-one-piece steering box and a front stabiliser bar moved rearward are claimed to reduce ride harshness and bump-thump, improve steering response while reducing rack-rattle and provide better handling balance.

Torsion-bar rear suspension is retained but the longer shock absorbers are now mounted vertically to increase travel and boost comfort.

Kia has sold 1663 Souls in Australia since its launch in April 2009, an average of around 34 units per month, with a peak of 64 sales in March 2011.

Mr Hepworth said KMAu would like more Soul sales but that its current positioning was more successful than at launch, when it was relatively highly specified and priced to match.

In markets where infrastructure supports it, the Soul’s high-definition eight-inch touchscreen provides access to Kia’s latest infotainment and telematics system, UVO eServices.

Scrolling through options is achieved with the stroke of a finger and switchgear has been reduced by locating the audio-visual and navigation controls on the home screen, a move claimed to reduce driver distraction by improving ease of use.

Kia claims the system’s in-built instructional videos that show drivers how to use its various functions are a car industry first.

The Pandora internet radio app is pre-installed and fully controlled via the touchscreen or voice control, displaying album artwork and track title information, enabling the driver to “like” or skip tracks and manage favourite radio station lists.

Google Maps functionality enables the driver to access and navigate to points of interest set up away from the car and stored in their Google profile.

The infotainment system can also deliver traffic, weather and security updates along with other information such as fuel prices, sports scores, movie showing times and share prices.

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