If you’re thinking about buying the Kia Soul, chances are you’ve fallen for its quirky, attention-seeking styling. While certainly not for everyone, the Soul exudes visual attitude few small cars can match.
The box-car trend originated in Japan and has more recently taken off in the US where cars like the Kia Soul, Scion xB (Toyota Rukus here) and the Nissan Cube target mostly Gen Y drivers with their combination of chunky, squared dimensions and small-car fuel costs.
But few have warmed to the concept in our market, with most Aussies favouring conventional hatchbacks over their ‘tallboy’ cousins. And models such as the Rukus have actually attracted a much older audience than expected.
The Kia Soul started the box movement down under more than three years ago – although the Cube had previously been popular as a grey import – but is still yet to reach 1500 sales. Its key rival, the Toyota Rukus, has enjoyed more success, averaging 100 sales per month since arriving in mid 2010, although neither is making an impact in 2012, with both enduring double-digit percentage losses so far.
But for prospective owners, their unpopularity may be considered a good thing. The Kia Soul is an image car, and the fewer of them there are on the road, the greater the chance they have of making an impression. The Soul is certainly a head-turner, with plenty of people stopping for a look and asking about it during its two-week stint with CarAdvice.
We tested the Kia Soul+ 2.0-litre petrol automatic, which sits in the middle of the range at $26,990 before on-road costs. Below it is the standard Soul, which comes with a less powerful 1.6-litre petrol engine and is available with the choice of manual ($21,490) and auto ($23,490) transmissions, while the Soul+ 1.6-litre diesel auto tops the range at $29,990.
The base model Soul is modestly equipped with 15-inch steel wheels and a space saver spare, manual air conditioning with pollen filter, trip computer, cloth upholstery, and a six-speaker audio system with CD player, AUX/USB ports and Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming.
There’s no option to add cruise control to the base model, however, which means you’re forced to step up at least $3500 to the more generous Soul+ if you can’t live without it.
Along with cruise control, the Soul+ adds massive 18-inch alloy wheels, front foglights, roof rails, mudguards, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, driver’s seat height adjust and armrest, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear knob, ‘Soul’ pattern upholstery, front seatback pockets, luggage screen and a storage compartment under the boot floor.
Six airbags (dual front, side and curtains) and electronic stability control add to a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating. Like all Kias, the Soul is also protected by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty, which is as good as it gets in Australia.
The entry-level 1.6-litre petrol engine produces 95kW of power and 157Nm of torque. Teamed with the six-speed manual gearbox it uses 6.5 litres of fuel per 100km while the six-speed auto is around 10 per cent thirstier at 7.3L/100km.
Naturally, the diesel is the pick if saving fuel is your go, with the 94kW/260Nm 1.6-litre unit burning through a respectable 5.9L/100km in auto guise.
The 2.0-litre petrol generates 122kW and 200Nm. Paired exclusively with the auto ’box, the engine is officially rated at 7.5L/100km combined, although the trip computer never dropped below 10L/100km in our time with it, which comprised mostly suburban driving but also some extended stints on the highway.
The engine isn’t the quickest to rev, but performance is sufficiently sprightly and certainly quick enough to ensure the Soul keeps pace around town. The 2.0-litre is a noticeable improvement over the 1.6-litre that provides performance that can be best described as merely adequate.
Freeway on-ramps and high-speed overtaking manoeuvres aren’t its forte, with the engine emitting a breathy note as you ask for more power, although once it settles into top gear it’s a quiet and composed highway cruiser.
The automatic transmission is quick to shift up to keep the revs down, with an emphasis on efficiency rather than performance. It generally teams well with the engine, but has a tendency to hunt for gears around hills.
The ride on the 18s of the Soul+ is regrettably unrefined, with the suspension struggling to smooth out coarse surfaces and loud when it hits potholes. The steering also becomes unsettled when encountering bumps mid-corner. The vibrations transfer into the cabin, at times causing the dash plastics to rattle, detracting from passenger comfort.
There’s also an inconsistency to the weight of the steering that makes the handling somewhat unpredictable, feeling light at times and heavy at others. The wheel offers little feedback, although there’s a comforting stability to it when you’re going straight ahead with the wheel at dead centre.
While the Soul doesn’t shine dynamically, it’s very likeable as a practical A-to-B runabout.
The 340-litre boot is 30 litres larger than that of the Rukus (although 110-190 litres shy of the Skoda Roomster’s) and expands to 818 litres with the 60:40 split-fold rear seats pushed forward completely flat.
There’s no shortage of head and legroom in the back, and three adults can ride in reasonable comfort over short- to medium-length trips (but may complain about the lack of rear air vents).
The driver is looked after with a comfortable seat and a tilt and reach adjustable steering wheel. The elevated seating position gives you a more commanding view of the road than a typical small car, although the rear visibility is compromised by the thick rear pillars and compact rear window.
The interior misses out completely on soft-touch plastics, although fortunately some of the firm surfaces your hands often contact have a quality feel. The cabin could be better insulated, however, with plenty of road noise able to penetrate the cabin.
The dashboard and centre console layout is simple and well supported by the convenient cruise, audio and Bluetooth buttons on the steering wheel. There are a number of storage compartments throughout the interior, although the lack of a centre bin and armrest is a bit of an oversight.
The Kia Soul is arguably Australia’s funkiest box, and for some, that alone will be enough to get it over the line. But if you’re after an even more practical box with a superior drivetrain and sharper dynamics, the $22,490 Skoda Roomster should be at the top of your list.
2012 Kia Soul manufacturer’s list prices:
- Soul 1.6-litre petrol manual – $21,490
- Soul 1.6-litre petrol automatic – $23,490
- Soul+ 2.0-litre petrol automatic – $26,990
- Soul+ 1.6-litre diesel automatic – $29,990