Good for the soul and better than botox
– by Nadine Armstrong
If Shrek were to own a car, it would surely be the Kia Soul. Just like the loveable green ogre, the ill-proportioned stature and unique personality of the Soul is strangely appealing.
And if you’re looking for a dose of youthful fervour, without going under the knife, this latest addition to the Korean carmaker’s budding line-up of affordable cars might be the answer. If you ask me, it’s better than botox.
However, I do harbour a healthy case of badge snobbery and an innate attraction to sports cars, so by no means was this love at first sight.
[Road test diary note: +30 seconds; what the…?]
In today’s market there are few cars that can truly lay claim to unique looks. The Soul can rightfully take this stance. Sure, it’s not for everyone; show me a car that is.
[Road test diary note: +10 minutes; it’s quite cute actually.]
It’s this car’s looks above all, that seem to polarise its audience. Mind you, nine out of 10 comments that have come my way have been fuelled by intrigue and interest, as opposed to those of disdain or the derogatory. It passed the 12-year-old girls’ test with flying colours – “that’s so cool” was the general consensus.
Likewise, the more senior citizens in the neighbourhood approached with great eagerness. “I’d drive one of those” said a gentleman neighbour who currently drives a Nissan X-Trail. Could it be that Kia has created a car that straddles the great divide, the generation gap?
[Road test diary note: +72 hours; what an easy car to live with.]
On road performance of the Soul however is a little less dynamic that its exterior.
Over two weeks we tested two diesel models; the Soul3, four-speed automatic and the Soul2, five-speed manual. The premium and mid-level spec models. The four-speed auto was my pick of the two.
The 1.6-litre turbocharged diesel engine has an output of 94kW at 4000rpm and 260Nm at 1900rpm. Whilst no greyhound, it delivers sprightly, more than adequate acceleration off the mark and a fairly smooth transition through the gears. The automatic transmission was also quick to drop a gear when under pressure.
I found the manual gearbox a little bit ‘notchy’ and ratios slightly mismatched, but it’s a short throw and effortless motion nonetheless. The clutch is light and the brakes waste no time in bringing you to a stand still. It really doesn’t require much effort to get from A to B.
The diesel engine is incredibly fuel efficient. Kia quotes a combined cycle fuel consumption of 5.2L/100km for manual transmission and 5.9L/100km for the auto. We achieved close to this claim in the manual transmission, travelling 397km on just 24 litres of fuel; 6.0L/100km. Carbon-dioxide emissions are 137g/km with the manual and 155g/km in the automatic; statistics that gain the Soul diesel a 3.5 from five-star rating from the Australian Government’s Green Vehicle Guide. The manual petrol variant boasts a five-star rating.
Light, direct steering makes the Soul very easy to manoeuvre at low to moderate speeds. However, there is a distinct lack of steering feedback, which makes driving the Soul feel a little basic and dull at times. It’s a very one-way relationship. Its responsiveness and obedience, on the other hand, is to be commended and it rarely got out of shape.
The Soul has a firm ride whereby the suspension (McPherson strut up front and coupled torsion beam axle in the rear) does a fair job of absorbing bumps, to keep the ride quite composed. It has a rigid build and suffers only from minimal body sway at moderate speeds, however, road noise is a little intrusive. Overall, its ride and handling are surprisingly refined.
The Soul’s Tardis-like cabin is an experience in itself. Without fail, every occupant commented on how spacious it is, and it’s comfortable space at that. A reasonably low seat-line (no leg-up required for the vertically challenged), coupled with considerable roof height produces a very spacious cabin.
A comparison of dimensions puts the Soul smack in the middle between the slightly smaller Honda Jazz and the slightly larger Dodge Caliber. Aside from height, where it trumps both models, standing 85mm taller than the Jazz and has 75mm over the Dodge. Inside, it feels bigger than both of these.
Luggage space is good in standard configuration, with a capacity of 340 litres. Make use of the 60:40 split fold seats – which are simple to engage – and this grows to 800 litres. Specify a roof-rack and you’re spoilt for luggage options.
There are few dislikes or disappointments from the Soul and it has to be said that rear visibility is poor, as a result of large rear pillars. It calls for more concentration, and considerable guesswork, than I care to give when reversing or parking. The reversing camera, a pricey option at $2000, would be money well spent and we think Kia could include parking sensors as standard.
There are no air vents in the second row. However, it didn’t seem to hinder adequate cooling or heating of the cabin. And, sure, there’s lots of plastic to be seen, but the interior has been well executed.
The cloth trim seats are large and comfortable and offer three-way manual adjust for driver and two-way for passenger. The leather-wrap, multi-function steering wheel (with tilt adjust only) feels sturdy and the centre console and audio display is simple but tastefully finished.
Three large dials form the instrument cluster – the tachometer, speedo and the temperature and fuel display – which are positioned within good view of the driver. There are also lots of handy storage compartments throughout the cabin (although some in alarmingly contrasting shades); in-door, centre console, glove box, in-dash and back of seat pockets.
Kia plays up to tech-savvy buyers and their need for connectivity. USB, auxiliary and iPod compatibility is standard across all three models, and the interface is seamless.
I plugged in my iPhone and its iPod function became fully integrated with the audio console. The audio upgrade in the Soul3 includes an additional centre speaker and sub-woofer. An eclectic playlist that includes artists from Moby to the Bee Gees gave these speakers a good test, and they passed with flying colours.
It would be remiss of me not to mention the front speaker mood lamps that come with the Soul3. They have the power to illuminate, both physically and mentally. I’m inexplicably happy when the speakers glow red to the beat of my music. Simple pleasures.
Using customisation as a key selling feature, the Soul offers eleven exterior and four interior colour options and a long list of accessories including: body mould sets, decals, spoilers, fog lamps, and multiple colour combinations.
The Soul2 diesel is priced at $26,690 for the manual transmission and $28,690 for the automatic. The range-topping Soul3 diesel model, in auto transmission only, is $30,890.
At nearly $10,000 over the entry level model, the Soul3 starts to push the value-for-money boundaries, straying into a seriously broad, competitive market in the mid $30,000 bracket; think entry level models of the Audi A3 or the Mini Cooper. It’s hard however to compare apples with apples when benchmarking the well-pimped Soul.
I approach most family vehicles, specifically SUVs, with a distinct air of disregard. I don’t want one because it will cramp my style, but the space and functionality they offer is undeniable. The Soul delivers this with a modern, quirky blend of non-traditional aesthetics – and it doesn’t scream ‘family’. I found this combination very appealing.
However, despite its unique looks and a respectable list of credentials, the Soul struggles to engage the driver. For this reason, it doesn’t feel like a serious, long-term buy, but a cheap and cheery run-about.
Having said that, add to its ‘cheap and cheery’ attributes the fact that it’s economical, fun and versatile, and it ticks a lot of the basic criteria on many shopping lists. So it comes back to design; the biggest differentiator for the Soul.
Confused? Me too.
I’m now on the home straight of what’s been a liberating two weeks testing the Soul. I’m approaching my late thirties; I have a baby on the way; no waistline; I’m wearing expandable pants; and, having recently parted with my beloved coupe and around 237kW, find myself faced with the prospect of buying an affordable, practical family car. It’s not a happy place.
The Kia Soul has been the saviour to my desperate need to not conform. It brought my badge snobbery into line, put a smile on my face and turned back the years. Don’t knock it ’til you try it.
Kia SOUL (base model) features include:
· Dual front advanced airbags; front side & full length curtain airbags
· 15-inch steel wheels with P195/65R15 tyres
· ABS brakes
· AM/FM/CD+MP3 audio
· USB + Aux audio inputs with iPodR compatibility
· Keyless remote entry
· Air conditioning (manual)
· Power windows with driver’s auto-down
· Power adjustable body-coloured mirrors
· Body-colour bumpers & exterior door handles
· Optional 4-spd automatic transmission
Kia SOUL2 – same as SOUL, plus:
· Electronic Stability Program (ESP)
· Steering wheel-mounted audio controls
· Front fog lamps
· Leather-wrapped steering wheel & shift knob
· 16-inch alloy wheels with P205/55R16 tyres
· Cloth seats (SOUL Shining)
· Front seat armrest
· Roof rails
Kia SOUL3 – same as SOUL2, plus:
· 18-inch alloy wheels with P225/45R18 tyres
· Audio upgrade (centre speaker, subwoofer, external amp)
· Front speaker mood lamps
· Metallic finish – console, dash and doors
· Wide view bumper & eyeliners
· Privacy glass
· No roof rails
· Cloth seats (SOUL Shining) standard
· Interior trim Options:
o Red + black (Black, Titanium Silver or Tomato Red exteriors)
o Beige + black (Vanilla Shake, Blue Stone, Cocktail Orange, Green Tea Latte or Java Brown exteriors)
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