The second-generation Kia Soul literally steps out of the box and into the highly competitive the sub-compact SUV class.
Not content with being pigeonholed as a rival to the slab-sided Toyota Rukus and Nissan Cube (sold overseas), Kia’s born-again Soul attempts to match substance with style to challenge the likes of the Nissan Juke, Ford EcoSport, Holden Trax and Peugeot 2008.
The most notable improvement is felt inside the Soul’s cabin, where the overhauled layout is now less generic and a more inspired match for the characterful exterior, which now looks more sophisticated without losing its funky edge.
The scratchy grey interior plastics of the original Soul make way for darker tones, while piano black trim inserts, satin chrome highlights, faux leather liners, and contrast stitching lift the ambience considerably.
Quality takes a big leap forward too, with soft-touch plastics across the dashboard and front door sills, a smooth finish to the prominent hard surfaces, and a brilliant tactility to the buttons and dials. The result is a cabin that feels much more premium than its predecessor, and one that rivals the best baby SUVs.
Some may be a little underwhelmed by the centre display however, which – despite being full colour, touch sensitive and user friendly – looks tiny on the Soul’s broad dash, and is dwarfed by those in the Trax and 2008.
The infotainment system includes Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, 800MB of music storage, AUX/USB inputs, and reversing camera display, though there’s no satellite navigation, even as an option.
Indeed, metallic paint ($620 for all colours other than white) is the only option of the new Kia Soul. Unlike the last model, which was available with three engines, two equipment levels and a host of customisation options, the new Soul is offered at a single ‘mid-range’ Si trim level powered by a solitary petrol engine that can be teamed to either a six-speed manual ($23,990) or six-speed automatic transmission ($25,990).
While it has a higher starting price than its rivals (EcoSport: $20,790, Juke and 2008: $21,990, and Trax: $23,490), it offsets this with a competitive list of standard features, which includes 17-inch alloy wheels, auto headlights, fog lights, rear parking sensors, roof rails, tinted windows, cruise control, manual air conditioning, cloth upholstery, and a six-speaker stereo. Six airbags and electronic stability control are also standard. (Click here for a full summary of the 2014 Kia Soul’s pricing and specifications.)
The new Kia Soul also has one of the most spacious cabins in its class, with plenty of head and legroom for adults in the back, as well as a deep glovebox and useful door pockets, cupholders and stowage bins.
The boot, while 16 litres larger than before, is still tiny at 238L, and is humbled by the 2008 (410L), Trax (356) and EcoSport (346L). Those above 180cm will also have to duck slightly to stand under its open tailgate. With its 60:40 split-fold rear seats pushed forwards, cargo capacity increases to 878L.
Sharing its new platform with the compact Cerato, the Kia Soul is fractionally larger than the old model on the outside, stretching 20mm from nose to tail to 4.14 metres overall, and adding 15mm of width.
The downside of its larger size and boosted features list is the new Soul’s higher kerb weight. Up roughly 33kg, the new model weighs 1335kg in manual spec and 1405kg as an auto, making the latter close to 200kg heavier than the Juke ST CVT and almost 300kg heftier than the 2008 Active auto.
Weight may mean little to many buyers, though fuel efficiency is a key consideration for most, and an area the Soul is upstaged by its rivals.
The Soul features an updated version of the old car’s 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, and while it’s now Euro 5 emission regulation compliant, it actually produces less power (113kW at 6200rpm, down 9kW) and torque (191Nm at 4700rpm, down 9Nm) and burns more fuel than its predecessor. Kia claims combined cycle fuel consumption of 7.6 litres per 100km for the manual and 8.4L/100km for the auto – soundly beaten by the lighter but also less-powerful Juke CVT (6.3L/100km) and 2008 auto (6.5L/100km). The trip computer of our auto test car read 9.2L/100km after a 150km drive through the twisty Royal National Park and along the highway between Sydney and Wollongong.
The revised engine is particularly refined at low revs, almost silent at idle and relaxed in city conditions. It’s still slow to rev, with progress gradual below 3000rpm, though this trait is not uncommon in this class. Its newfound refinement is particularly evident between the mid-range and its 6800rpm redline; where the old engine sounded breathless, the updated version accelerates with a confident note without causing a racket.
NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels are greatly improved throughout the new Soul, with the worst disturbance being wind noise off the upright A-pillars at higher speeds.
The automatic transmission (which Kia expects 90 per cent of Soul buyers to opt for) shifts up smoothly and swiftly, though is hesitant to downshift on hills and under heavy throttle inputs, waiting too long before changing down and subsequently forcing the engine to rev harder and louder than necessary.
The manual allows drivers to counter this issue. Its clutch pedal lacks pick-up point feel, though its notchy shifter slots confidently into place.
The Soul’s ‘FlexSteer’ system allows drivers to select between three steering weights: Comfort, Normal, and Sport. It’s a bit of a gimmick, though, with Normal’s nice mid-weighting making the too-light Comfort and the unnecessarily heavy Sport largely redundant. No setting amends the steering’s vague patch at the straight-ahead position, though turned into corners it’s predictable and holds its line.
Kia Australia’s engineers tuned the Soul’s suspension specifically for local conditions, and while it’s improved over the old model, it still struggles with surface imperfections. Smaller bumps and road joins are met with dull but pronounced thuds, while speed humps and undulations cause it to bounce. It performs better on quality surfaces and smooth highways, where it’s a comfortable cruiser.
It’s weight is obvious when pushed through corners, where the Soul lacks the agility of the benchmark 2008 and takes plenty of effort to pull up under braking, though it at least feels reasonably planted as a result.
Like all models in Kia Australia’s line-up, the new Soul is protected by a five-year unlimited-kilometre warranty and offered with capped-price servicing for the first five years/75,000km.
Less powerful and less efficient than the model it replaces and trailing the class leaders for on-road refinement, the all-new Kia Soul hasn’t taken generational leaps forward in all areas.
Most customers will probably fall in love with the styling and buy it on looks alone however, and for them its heightened cabin quality, refined NVH, and strong standard equipment will all be welcome additions.