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Driven: Kia’s second-generation Soul arrives

Soul brother: Kia’s new Soul is only available in one specification and with one 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine.

Improvements to ride, handling and NVH for Kia’s funky new-generation Soul hatch

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13 Feb 2014

KIA'S second-generation Soul hatch arrives in local showrooms this month with a reduced line-up, better ride, handling and packaging, and a more refined interior than the outgoing model.

The Korean car-maker has sharpened its line-up for the latest iteration, eschewing a base and top-spec variant for a mid-spec Si specification only, kicking off from $23,990 plus on-road costs in manual guise with an extra $2000 for a six-speed automatic version.

Previously the hatch was available in base Soul spec from $21,490, while a more generously specified Soul + started from $26,990 before the range topped out at $29,990 for the diesel-powered Soul + CRDi.

The new model’s $23,990 sticker price undercuts the equivalent specification of the previous model by $1000 and also places it on par with another small car from Kia’s stable – the mid-spec Cerato Si sedan or hatch – a vehicle that shares a platform with the Soul.

Kia Motors Australia chief operating officer Tony Barlow told GoAuto he doesn’t believe Soul will eat into Cerato sales, adding that the two models will appeal to different buyers.

“I think the Soul will be a very much a car that appeals to the niche,” he said. “There are different people that make up that niche but somebody that’s looking for something different is certainly going to be attracted to the Soul.

“It’s something that’s not the standard Cerato-type model. It also has its own styling, its own functionalities and its very convenience for people for access and egress and from an affordability point of view as well. There are lots of reasons people will differentiate between Soul and Cerato.”

While potential Soul buyers will also likely look at a number of small-car and compact-SUV competitors, the only obvious direct competitor is Toyota’s boxy tall-boy offering, the Rukus, which starts from $27,990 – $4000 dearer than the Soul – and tops out at $33,490, plus on-roads.

Kia admits that the Soul is a niche model in Australia and is not expecting sales to soar, but Mr Barlow said the improvements to the new model will keep existing owners happy while attracting new buyers.

“While Soul has not been a volume model for Kia in Australia, the car has won a loyal following through its individual styling, practical use of space and all-round ease and satisfaction of ownership,” he said.

“With the arrival of the all-new model, with its improvements and refinements across the board, I believe the Soul will continue to be a benchmark model for new car buyers shopping with their head as well as their heart.”

Since its launch in 2009, Kia has sold 1779 Souls in Australia, which is a drop in the ocean compared to the off-beat hatch’s global sales of 760,000 units since 2008.

The Soul is hugely popular in the United States, with Kia recording 8092 sales of the second-gen model in January this year, just below that of the strong-selling Optima mid-sizer with 9979 sales in the same period.

As a part of the model rationalisation, Kia has ditched the diesel powertrain and the smaller 1.6-litre petrol unit in favour of a 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol unit from Kia and Hyundai’s Nu family of lightweight engines, producing 113kW/191Nm.

This power output is slightly down from the outgoing model’s 2.0-litre engine that produced 122kW/200Nm.

Buyers opting for the six-speed manual gearbox can expect a 0-100km/h sprint time of 10.4 seconds, while in six-speed automatic guise you can reach 100km/h from a standing start in 10.2 seconds.

Fuel economy has actually increased over the first-gen model which Kia puts down to the additional mass and larger body, with official figures of 7.6 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle for the manual and 8.4L/100km in the auto. This marks 0.9L/100km rise in fuel use over the outgoing 2.0L automatic.

Kia has attempted to improve the handling and steering by tweaking the MacPherson strut front and coupled torsion beam axle rear suspension. The lower arms of the suspension now feature larger diameter bushes, while the steering rack is a stronger one-piece housing and the stabiliser bar has moved rearward on the strut.

The steering has been modified for improved on-centre feel and steering response, while impact felt through the steering wheel has been reduced. Kia’s FlexSteer system is standard on the Soul and offers drivers the choice of steering settings from Normal, Comfort and Sport mode.

Kia says the Soul was assessed and modified by its local engineering team to ensure it can cope with Australian conditions.

The Soul is built on Kia’s new small-car platform that also underpins the Cerato and Cee’d and Kia says the re-engineered body-shell, use of ultra high-strength steel and stronger connections and adhesives result in a 29 per cent increase in torsional rigidity over the outgoing model, thereby improving ride and handling.

Improvements have been made to the NVH levels (noise, vibration and harshness) thanks to the use of a 25 per cent thicker isolation pad across the engine bay bulkhead, PU layered carpet in the cabin and an expandable foam body-shell cavity filler.

Kia has remained faithful to the distinctive design of the original Soul, but has incorporated elements from the funky Track’ster concept that was revealed at the 2012 Chicago motor show and the company says that none of the exterior body parts are carried over.

Styled at Kia’s American Design Centre in California, the Soul features the same trapezoidal lower air intake as the Track’ster and the fog-lights are located in the same spot as the concept.

The previous-generation model’s large, swept-back head-lights have been replaced by more aggressive looking units flanking the signature ‘tiger-nose’ Kia grille, while at the rear, the tail-lights have been reworked and the floating body panel on the tailgate is taken from the Track’ster.

A wrap-around windscreen is carried over from the first-gen model as is the blacked out A-pillars, however on the 2014 version the pillars have been reduced by 20mm for better forward visibility.

The Soul is slightly larger than the model it replaces, measuring in at 20mm longer (4140mm) and 15mm wider (1800mm), with a 20mm longer wheelbase (2570mm) but it is 41mm lower (1619mm) when including the standard roof rails.

Head-room, shoulder-room and leg-room has also subtly increased and cargo capacity is up by 16 litres to 238 litres with the seats up and a whopping 178 litres to 1251 litres when loaded to the roof with the rear seats down. The tail-gate opening has also been widened by 62mm for easier access to the boot.

The cabin features the circular theme that was adopted for the Track’ster, with sculpted circular shapes in the door panels, surrounding the gear lever, the speakers, steering wheel controls, the power windows and door locks.

Soft-touch materials feature on the instrument panel, centre console and doors and Kia has used higher quality materials throughout. The three-spoke steering wheel is tilt and reach adjustment and the seats have larger bolsters on the backrest and cushion that Kia says offers “greater support during cornering”.

Standard equipment in the single-spec Soul includes cruise control, a reversing camera and 4.3-inch touchscreen, rear parking sensors, tinted glass, rear folding seats, Bluetooth, auxiliary and USB connectivity, six audio speakers, air conditioning with vents under the front seat for rear passengers and 17-inch alloy wheels, while premium paint is a $620 option.

Six colours are available, including white, black, ‘Bright Silver’, ‘Titanium Silver’, ‘Inferno Red’ and ‘Acid Green’.

Safety wise, the Soul gets six airbags, ESC, ABS, tyre-pressure monitoring system, hill-start assist, and vehicle stability management. It is yet to be tested by ANCAP for crash safety but was awarded a five-star rating from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

2014 Kia Soul pricing*
Si $23,990
Si (a) $25,990

*Excludes on-road costs

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