The funky Kia Soul landed in Australia in 2009, with an update arriving in early 2014 to a refreshed, second-generation compact SUV.
Struggling to appeal to local buyers, the boxy South Korean is still an affordable little five-seat bus, so we spent a week with one as our Melbourne office ‘runabout’ to see if the Kia Soul indeed had some…
Sitting somewhere between an SUV and an MPV – and actually categorised by VFACTS as a small car – the Soul hasn’t quite set the sales floors on fire, selling only 259 units in 2014 (up 78 cars from 2013).
That’s niche sales territory, but at $24,490 (plus on road costs) the 4.1-metre-long Soul is only slightly more expensive than a mid-spec Toyota Corolla – the country’s highest selling small car.
Now, many small businesses need the use of a vehicle for, put simply, getting the job done.
Next time you are out and about on the roads during peak ‘working’ hours, take a look and you’ll see myriad sign-written mobile billboards that help keep the big wheels of small business turning.
Gone are the days where discrete sedans perform sales, marketing and general duties – to keep up with the 2.1 million businesses operating in Australia in 2015, you need to be promoting your brand all the time (actually, why not check out www.caradvice.com.au).
To the post office: branding. To a meeting: branding. On the highway: branding.
This doesn’t mean you need to offer up a slab-sided van with a giant phone strapped to the roof for the staff to roam the streets in though. Modern signage and vehicle wraps turn any hatchback into a promotional tool.
The trend has become so prevalent worldwide, in fact, some cars are even offered with full colour customisation options during the purchase cycle – and the Kia Soul was a pioneer in this space.
When the original Soul was launched, you could request a range of vinyl decals to aid in the personalisation of the car.
Even now, Kia’s Korean website offers a cool customiser to get your Soul’s base colour palette looking ‘interesting’ with options for trim, panels and body kit components. An ideal starting point then for a marketing savvy, inner-urban small business like us.
In and out of our garage for the week – while not in pantone correct CarAdvice orange – the Kia Soul makes a bold statement in rich Inferno Red (a $620 paint option).
The boxy Soul makes sense from a space perspective, providing excellent passenger head and legroom. But somehow this fails to translate into practicality, as the Soul has a small 238-litre boot. For context, the marginally longer Holden Trax we spent a week with back in September, has a 356-litre boot. Yes, the Kia has little storage holes under the floor, but they don’t help when you are loading up bigger boxes or bags.
The rolling-square shape is also possibly one reason why the Soul hasn’t enamoured Australian buyers. Other cars using lots of right angles haven’t really made their mark either – the Nissan Cube was only ever available here as a private import and I can’t remember the last Toyota Rukus I saw… (actually, I saw one today, but that’s not really the point).
We also seem to be abnormally tall here at CarAdvice, with most of our Melbourne team over six-foot. And when the Soul’s tailgate is up, it just so happens to sit about six-foot off the ground. Do the maths on that and there were a few bumped heads or close calls at least.
Inside, some of the trim components feel a bit light and cheap but they are an improvement on the previous generation. There are lots of clever storage cubbies too to put ‘stuff’ – a particularly great thing for a car used by multiple drivers.
There are four cup holders, four bottle holders, rear air vents, three 12-volt charge points and six airbags to keep HR staff happy.
On the road, the six-speed manual Soul is light and easy to drive, and, while feeling pleasant and ergonomic inside, like other modern Kias, the Soul keeps its funk levels up with lashings of yellow trim. There is good visibility too and it’s not overtly noisy or harsh when out and about.
The 113kW/191Nm 2.0-litre four-cylinder is enough to hustle the little guy along around town, but can see the 1335kg Soul run out of steam at highway speeds – particularly if you need to overtake.
Considering our car is an ‘urban’ explorer, power was less of a consideration than economy. Claiming 7.6 litres per 100km, over our test week the Kia returned 9.4L/100km – not shocking but not awesome either, particularly when considered a business expense.
Sticking predominantly to inner-city roads, and the Soul handles most surfaces well. It can thump a bit over potholes and speed humps result in things getting a touch bouncy. Drive it like a normal person though, and not a motoring writer, and the Kia is a comfy and nice enough place to be.
Bluetooth works clearly and is easy to pair and there is even a reversing camera incorporated into the 4.3-inch touchscreen – which is a far cleaner approach than the Kia Pro_Cee’d GT’s rear-view mirror location.
Importantly for an office car, Bluetooth audio streaming, iPod connectivity and a six-speaker stereo are all standard equipment, meaning staff can rock out to their particular genre of beats without upsetting Sue from accounts by leaving a Ministry CD in the player…
So, as this car was our team runabout for the week, I asked other CarAdvice crew to weigh in on what they thought of our little red box of soul…
David Zalstein – journalist: The Soul feels quite stable and planted on the road, not floaty or sketchy, and generally rides reasonably well.
I like the steering wheel material but the PlayStation-style steering wheel-mounted buttons for volume and cruise aren’t ideal. There’s a bit going on on the wheel actually, because you’ve also got buttons for phone, trip and steering modes.
The gearbox is good, snicking through gears nicely, and the clutch, while light, still gives decent feedback. I didn’t play with the steering modes but whatever mode it was in felt a bit unnecessarily heavy.
Overall, there’s an easy, nice, fun feel to the Soul.
Marika Zhu – Sales Manager: It has lots of features for the price and I found it particularly easy to connect my Bluetooth phone.
The ride was smooth and the Soul was generally easy to drive once you got over its high clutch take-up point. This took me a while to get used to and, considering I’m not always wearing the most sensible shoes, I would have preferred an automatic.
The boxy styling might attract some, but it’s not quite me. I don’t think I could see myself in one long term.
Andrew Beecher – CEO: Engine is uninvolving but does the job and the six-speed manual gearshift is very sweet – smooth, predictable and a great example of the breed. Clutch pedal is light, though take up is progressive.
Suspension is predictable and compliant, and comfortably fit for purpose around town. Steering mode selector is a waste of time, with comfort being too light and sport too heavy.
While the central touchscreen is smaller than the screen of an iPhone 5, usability is great, with simple, easy access to primary functions both on-screen and via the associated physical shortcut buttons. Rear-view camera clarity is also good.
Rear seat headroom is a big positive due to the Soul’s high roofline, but alas, the boot really is tiny.
Based on this, the Kia Soul is a good little bus, right?
Well, it is… but there are plenty of important things that other cars in the segment do better. The Peugeot 2008 is bigger inside and more fuel efficient. Holden’s Trax is cheaper and has a larger seven-inch touchscreen.
On paper, there is counter to every argument for a Soul, except one: Kia’s market-leading seven-year unlimited kilometer warranty. For a business, this peace of mind is a pretty strong selling point and may even elicit a cheery reaction from trusty old Sue in accounts.
So while personal buyers are seemingly looking elsewhere for their small car, for business buyers who need a no-fuss, easy to live with and cost effective runabout-come-marketing tool, the Kia Soul is definitely worth a look.
After all, it does have plenty of, well, soul…
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