Kia’s polarising Soul has returned with a much improved model that aims to be more stylish, better equipped, a better drive and able to carry more things while offering passengers more room. We spent a week with the top of the range 1.6 turbodiesel Smart automatic to see how it’s improved.
The Kia Soul has always polarised opinion on style, people either seem to think it’s the ugliest car they’ve ever seen or they think it’s really stylish and often use the word ‘funky’ to describe it. Nobody though has ever looked at the Kia Soul and said ‘meh, it’s okay’. Much of the style of this all-new Kia Soul has been pulled from the Track’ster concept released in 2012. The front end has had a bit of a rework with the positioning of the lights and fog lights and the rear has an added ‘floating’ body-colour panel to make it stand out. The whole car is a bit bigger as well, it’s wider (15mm) and longer (20mm) and 10mm lower than the old model. The platform is also all-new, borrowed from the European Cee’d and the suspension has been reworked to offer a more comfortable ride while the steering has also been adjusted to deliver better feel and feedback around the centre.
Vodka Bar Interior
Kia has worked on improving the Soul’s noise and vibration harshness levels in order to make the cabin a quieter place to be. It’s worked as even at freeway speed limits there’s a quiet murmur from the wind and nothing too annoying from the tyres on the road either. The cabin layout isn’t as eccentric as the exterior and looks relatively standard fare for an average Kia. The Soul’s party piece inside is the mood lighting that turns the Soul into a new age Vodka Bar. Basically what happens is you press one of the selective buttons on the right of the steering wheel and the interior speakers glow with a ‘rave stick’ that can be set to flash and glow in time with the music. The basketball hoop centre storage hole is gone, but there’s still good storage spots around the cabin. Kia is falling a bit behind in the entertainment department with regards to the centre screens. It is a touch screen system, but lacks the screen size to make it effective – those with larger digits will struggle. The screen doubles as a reverse camera but again, it’s a bit small for that and distorts the rear view making everything seem really far away. The Soul is well specced though, as most Korean offerings are and standard equipment right from the base model includes things like 17-inch alloys, ABS brakes, fog lamps, electric mirrors, air-conditioning, Bluetooth, Aux connection and front, side and curtain airbags. As you climb up the range the equipment obviously gets better, as does the safety and our top spec ‘Smart’ model has LED daytime running lights, parking sensors, electric seats, cruise control, stability control and a chilled glove box.
The diesel model we had here was the 1.6 turbodiesel variant, paired with a six-speed automatic ‘box. It puts out good power and torque figures at 94 kW and 260 Nm respectively. There’s very little lag from the turbo and the engine feels eager to get a move on. Overtaking isn’t much of a task with good torque delivery through most of the rev range, the only thing that holds it back slightly is the six-speed automatic gearbox. It doesn’t feel up there with the smooth shifting, almost pre-emptive ‘boxes we’ve become used to. It often feels like it’s holding the whole speeding up process back with lazy like shifts up the gears.
The Kia Soul is a fun car to whip around the city and the added ground clearance you get from it means it’s pretty good at climbing the odd pavement and bashing down a dirt road – although it’s not at its most comfortable on dirt. Kia has improved the steering feel with the Soul, and unlike its stablemates it doesn’t feel overly light and disconnected. It has good weight to it around the centre and you’re able to get a good feel for what the car is doing underneath you. It’s now quite a confidence inspiring car to send down a nice road, but probably not in the same way as a hot hatch.
I quite enjoy the new styling on the Kia Soul, it’s something different on the roads and the improvements to the space inside means it’s more practical for those who like carrying many things. The top spec model is well endowed with gadgets and tech although the touch screen could do with being a couple inches bigger and more hi-res. The diesel engine is efficient and performs decently although it’s let down by the lazy automatic box. It is however a bit out of its price market when compared to other stylish hatch/crossovers like the Nissan Juke or the Ford Ecosport, especially in diesel form. If you want a Kia Soul, you’re definitely better off in a petrol version where you’re going to get better value for money.
The Kia Soul starts from R244 995 for a 1.6-litre petrol. At the top end of the range and the model we had on test is the R344 995 1.6-litre turbodiesel Smart auto.
I've always liked the wacky and space age looks of the Kia Soul, and I've never driven one until now. Despite its good build quality, concept car looks and generous specification, the entire package is let down by a woeful gearbox & engine combination. For a car that's claimed to be super economical, we couldn't get lower than 8L/100km. Stick with the petrol models and you'll save some money too. - David Taylor
We Like: Cool styling, good space inside, improved ride and drive
We Don't Like: Entertainment system feels old and small, expensive, autobox is poor
Kia Soul Quick Specs
|Engine||1.6-Litre 4-cylinder turbodiesel|
|Wheels||17-inch alloy wheels|
|0-100km/h||12.2 seconds (claimed)|
|Top Speed||177 kph|
|Fuel Economy||6.2L/100km (claimed)|
|Fuel Tank Capacity||54 Litres|