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First drive: Kia hatches cool Soul, man

Seoul searcher: Kia now has Soul in the small-car class.

Kia’s new small-car interpretation, the Soul, chases Gen Y converts


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3 Apr 2009

KIA hopes its new small car, the Soul – launched in Australia this week – will do much more than slightly boost its share of the small-car class.

It says it expects to sell only 400 examples of the five-seat five-door hatchback through its 108 dealers this year, at an annualised sales rate of around 534 cars – barely a drop in the small-car ocean.

More important than numbers, says Kia, is the Soul’s contribution as a brand-building ambassador among young people, for whom Kia is just not on the radar.

Kia dealers have been sent point-of-sale material to create a ‘Soul zone’ in their showrooms, giving the Soul its own space.

The Korean company has also targeted its potential sales audience with a Soul microsite and by sponsoring Network 10’s music show, Live At The Chapel.

Kia sees the Suzuki SX4 as the most logical competitor in Australia (but Kia product manager Nick Reid notes that the Nissan Cube and Scion XB are natural global competitors) but also draws comparisons with the Fiat 500 and Mini in terms of their similar ability to be easily customised at factory or dealer level.

The Soul arrives in one five-door body style in three trim levels called Soul, Soul Squared and Soul Cubed and with two engine options, a 1.6-litre petrol unit available across the range and a 1.6-litre turbo-diesel available in the two upper spec models. Automatic transmission is an option for both petrol and diesel Soul Squared and standard for Soul Cubed petrol and dieselThe Soul is 4.1-metres long, has a 2.55-metre wheelbase and is 1.6 metres tall, which puts it within millimetres of Suzuki’s AWD version of the SX4. While the SX4 is an obvious competitor, from that point the small-car comparisons fragment, although Kia likes to consider the Nissan Dualis as a point of reference for the Soul’s similar (but ultimately, not as large) interior.

While the Soul is strictly a catholic small car in its mechanical layout - transverse, front-wheel drive with conventional five-speed manual or four-speed auto transaxle - its tall stance gives it a 4WD/MPV look and a usefully higher hip point than most other small hatches.

The Soul’s standard engine is Kia’s new alloy 1.6-litre petrol Gamma series, which develops 91kW of power at 6300rpm, and 156Nm of torque at 4200rpm. The Gamma 1.6 features twin overhead camshafts, 16 valves and CVVT. CO2 emissions are quoted as 154g/km and combined fuel consumption is 6.5L/100km (manual) running on standard unleaded. Fuel tank capacity is 48 litres across the range.

The turbo-diesel is a DOHC common-rail design with a variable geometry turbocharger and an intercooler. It develops 94kW of power at 4000rpm and 260Nm of torque at 1900rpm. The combined fuel consumption figure is 5.2L/100km (manual) and 5.9L/100km (automatic). The diesel’s emissions are 137g/km (manual) and 155g/km (four-speed automatic).

The Soul petrol manual has been given a five-star rating in the Green Vehicle Guide. Although the diesel models consume less fuel and emit less CO2, they have higher particulate and NOx emissions, resulting in only a 3.5-star rating.

The Soul uses the five-speed manual fitted to the Kia Cee'd but with different ratios. The Soul version is lighter, with less friction and improved bearings. Kia says the gearbox also features double-cone and triple-cone synchronisers as well as a concentric slave cylinder for improved clutch pedal response and better shifting efficiency and smoothness.

The diesel has different final drive ratio and gear ratios (except second gear) to the petrol gearbox.

The front suspension is MacPherson strut, and at the rear there’s a conventional torsion-beam axle with trailing arms, suspended by coil springs. Anti-roll bars are fitted front and rear.

Both front and rear suspension are mounted on subframes with isolating bushes that Kia says is to curb noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).

Kia says the Soul bodyshell employs 70 per cent high-strength steel in structurally critical areas, saving weight without compromising stiffness.

The Soul has electric power steering, giving a claimed three per cent reduction in fuel consumption over a hydraulic system. The turning circle is 10.5 metres, and the Kia has 2.7 turns from lock-to-lock.

The Soul has 280mm ventilated front discs and 262mm solid rear discs on Soul Squared and Soul Cubed (203mm rear drums on base Soul). ABS is a four-channel, four-sensor system.

A steel space-saver spare wheel is fitted under the rear cargo floor and accessed from inside.

Kia says the Soul’s hip point at the driver’s seat is around 120mm higher than in a typical small car, while ground clearance is 45mm higher and the base of the windscreen is around 135mm higher.

Soul has more leg, head and shoulder room than its closest competitor, the Suzuki SX4.

All Souls have a six-speaker radio with CD player, MP3 compatibility and USB and Aux ports, and iPod compatibility. Audio volume is road-speed sensitive.

Soul Squared and Soul Cubed have steering wheel-mounted remote audio controls, and the Soul Cubed has a 315-watt external power amplifier with dash-top centre speaker, a boot-mounted sub-woofer and mood-reflecting LED lights within the front door speakers.

The mood lights can be set up to give static light, auto dimming and brightening at two-second intervals or to pulse in time with the chosen music or switched off altogether.

The Soul range has dual SRS front airbags, side front SRS airbags and full-length curtain SRS airbags, active headrests and seatbelt pre-tensioners for front seats, anti-lock braking system (ABS), electronic brake-force distribution (EBD), Brake Assist and five three-point seatbelts.

The entry-level Soul has front disc/rear drum brakes, while the rest of the range has discs all round (vented front, solid rear) and electronic stability control (ESC, or ESP as Kia describes it) and traction control.

The entry-level Soul has 15-inch steel wheels with 195/65R15 tyres, keyless remote entry, air-conditioning (manual), power windows with driver’s auto-down and power adjustable mirrors.

The Soul Squared also gets steering-wheel-mounted audio controls, front foglights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, 16-inch alloy wheels with 205/55R16 tyres, upgraded cloth seats, driver’s front seat armrest and roof rails.

The Soul Cubed has 18-inch alloy wheels with 225/45R18 tyres, metallic finish on the console, dash and doors, wide-view bumper and eyeliners, privacy glass and no roof rails.

The Soul Cubed also has two extra interior trim colour options: red and black ‘street demon’ (for Black, Titanium Silver or Tomato Red exteriors) or beige and black ‘retro chic’ (for Vanilla Shake, Blue Stone, Cocktail Orange, Green Tea Latte or Java Brown exteriors).

While Kia says the Soul Cubed is an auto-only proposition for both petrol and diesel, it does have the flexibility to offer a manual transmission as a factory order if a customer wants it, for $2000 less than the auto.

Cruise control is not available until August, when it comes on stream as an option for the diesel model only.

There are more than 30 dealer-fit options, such as alloy wheels, body-kits, side indicator garnishes, sports pedals, audio upgrades and body graphics (such as racing stripes or the ‘burner’ decals) and three option packs, a Body Pack, Chrome Pack and Sports Pack.

A rear view camera and sunroof is the only factory option – available for Soul Cubed for $2000 – while premium paint adds $400.

While the dealer-fit options will delay delivery of a car in stock by up to a week, if a customer wants a particular colour and factory option combination not available ex-stock, the wait is up to 11 weeks for delivery from factory in Korea.

Eleven exterior colours are offered on Soul: White No.1, Blue Stone, Tomato Red, Vanilla Shake, Bright Silver, Titanium Silver, Green Tea, Cocktail Orange, Moonlight Blue, Java Brown and Black Soul.

2009 Kia Soul hatch pricing:
Soul $20,990
Soul (a) $22,990
Soul2 $23,190
Soul2 (a) $25,190
Soul2 diesel $26,690
Soul2 diesel (a) $28,690
Soul3 (a) $27,390
Soul3 diesel (a) $30,890

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