2014 Kia Soul road test: Something for the funky and fogeys
GROW up, not old. That's the philosophy being adopted by the new Kia Soul.
The boxy and groovy-shaped offering from the South Korean carmaker has entered its second generation with a more mature outlook.
Like many of us getting older, it's put on a little weight. But sitting on an all new platform, the latest Soul is taller, wider and more spacious…but somehow fitter looking with an upgraded appearance.
Three engine choices have been cut back to one, while there is also one solitary trim, "Si". Consider it a sole Soul range.
That means pricing has risen by nearly three grand to get into compact hatch, now starting from $23,990. Although sit it next to the previous Soul+ with equivalent specification and buyers are about $1K better off when choosing the automatic transmission.
Kia isn't being picky with the marketing approach.
Given the Soul has sold in relatively low numbers since launch about four years back, Kia would welcome a foothold within any buyer group. But the Soul appeals to a broad market, from the funky to fogeys.
Here is a fine example of how to produce crisp and clear analogue dials. The driver has a large speedometer sitting front and centre, flanked by the other important gauges like tachometer, temperature and fuel level.
Up front there is an improved view courtesy of smaller a-pillars due to higher tensile materials used in the chassis.
Circular themes are prominent across the cabin, from the air conditioning dials on the dash, steering wheel controls and within the driver's instrument binnacle.
Cloth trim with contrasting double stitching feels hardy, while the console, doors and steering wheel are leather-clad.
There are a few vacant buttons on the right hand side of the steering wheel which can't even be filled with any options. Head room is excellent, front and back, with two adults comfortably fitting in the back with decent knee and leg room.
On the road
With only one powerplant on offer and two transmissions, Kia has simplified the line-up with the engine which would have won the lion's share of support even if the 1.6-litre petrol and the diesel was still offered.
This is an updated version of the old donk, which actually has less power and torque than the outgoing model.
But this new Soul is much stiffer and benefits from Kia's Australian ride and handling program. Experts here made changes to the suspension to make it more dynamic in corners, and they have done a solid job.
The acceleration is not astounding, it takes more than 10 seconds to reach 100kmh from standstill, but the little four-potter is capable in daily activities.
Overtaking and tackling steep inclines can take some encouragement. In the manual it pays to shift down a cog lower than you traditionally would to maintain steady momentum and you can tell the Soul has been geared for fuel consumption improvements.
The best pick is the automatic transmission. It is a smooth little unit which answers when summoned, kicking down at the right time and shifting up smoothly through the gears.
There are no steering wheel paddles though, so if you want to take control manually you have to go old-school and use the shifter.
Tackling a bend can also be done with confidence with limited body roll.
Like all of the latest Kia offerings the Soul is equipped with FlexSteer which enables the driver to choose between comfort, normal and sport settings. It gains a progressively heavier feel, with comfort best for around town, while sport is most appropriate on the highway or on sweeping rural routes.
Most impressive are the improvements in cabin serenity, courtesy of a range of changes including additional sound deadening materials. Unless you are working the engine hard, the Soul cruises along wonderfully, just above 2500rpm on the highway, with minimal road noise.
What do you get?
Standard equipment includes cruise control, reversing camera and rear parking sensors, tinted glass, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, six-speaker stereo with 800MB hard drive for MP3 files and a 11cm touch-screen, AUX/USB ports, air-conditioning and tilt and telescopic steering adjustment.
Five-star safety is expected with stability control, anti-lock brakes, six airbags (front, side and curtain), as well as a tyre pressure monitoring system which is a first for Kia cars Down Under.
Key competitors include the Toyota Rukus (from $27,990) and Skoda Yeti (from $21,990 drive-away), but its crossover styling should also attract the attention of those considering a Suzuki S-Cross (from $22,990), Holden Trax (from $23,490), Peugeot 2008 (from $21,990), Ford EcoSport (from $20,790) or Nissan Juke (from $21,990).
Those with "stuff" will appreciate the many storage spots. In front of the shifter is a perfect spot for phones and it is close to the USB/auxiliary ports.
The glovebox is gigantic, and an excellent under-floor area in the boot is perfect for wet clothes or gear you are keen to keep out of sight. There are two cup holders in the centre console, another pair in the fold down arm rest in the rear and a slot in each door for a larger bottle.
Boot space is 238 litres with the rear seats upright, fold them down and it expands to 878 litres and 1251 litres when loaded to the roof.
Official fuel consumption figures are less than eight litres for every 100km for the manual, and nearly one litre more for the auto. Our sojourn in both variants was about nine, which is at the heavier end for a four-cylinder.
Capped price servicing and a five-year warranty that's available across all Kia's new offerings is great peace of mind.
There is no hiding in the Soul. This new model borrows some of the styling cues from the awesome Track'ster concept car.
It's an attention-grabber for its square proportions, characterised by the big front trapezoidal lower air intake, small Kia signature grille, fog lamps, while still maintaining its macho proportions with high-mounted taillights.
There are six colours available, including white, grey, black, silver, red and green.
Perhaps the biggest challenge ahead of the Soul is getting a conservative buying public to give it a try. The styling doesn't suit all tastes, but it is something different and quirky. It's an especially effective car as a mobile billboard, and its internal flexibility make it a handy little hauler for those in business.
Having only one variant and a single engine choice simplifies the buying process but the four-cylinder is no firecracker. Its performance is adequate for most conditions, and is impressively quiet on the road.
What matters most
What we liked: Styling which isn't run-of-the-mill, storage spots, easy to drive.
What we'd like to see: Slightly more punch, some extra kit with option of leather trimmed seats.
Warranty and servicing: Five-year unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assist for 12 months, which is extended if you get your car serviced by a Kia dealer. Servicing is capped for five years, with the average service cost $398. Servicing intervals are annual or every 15,000km.
Model: Kia Soul Si.
Details: Five-door front-wheel drive crossover.
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol generating maximum power of 113kW @ 6200rpm and peak torque of 191Nm @ 4700rpm.
Transmission: Six-speed manual or six-speed automatic.
Consumption: 7.6 litres/100km (combined average, manual); 8.4L/100km (a)
CO2: 178g/km (m); 195g/km (a).
Performance: 0-100kmh in 10.2 seconds; top speed 186kmh.
Bottom line plus on-roads: $23,990 (m); $25,990 (a).