Cheaper and with a few refinements, the 2017 Kia Soul remains a unique offering...
The revamped 2017 Kia Soul is now more attractive and more affordable, but will the changes do anything for its sales fortunes in Australia? Let’s find out whether more buyers should consider a Soul…
Sales of the current-generation Kia Soul have been slow – glacial, even. To the end of October 2016 just 83 Souls had been sold (ha!), compared to 156 this time last year. Kia Australia says the Soul has “largely flown under the radar in Australia, failing to gain the popularity and cult following it has enjoyed in other markets, notably the United States”.
Yeah, part of that has been because it hasn’t been cheap enough. When this model launched the price was pegged at a high $26,990 plus on-road costs, but now, for the 2017 Kia Soul update, it’s a more respectable $24,990 drive-away.
Another element of its sales struggles is that the Soul arrived at the small SUV party a bit early. It originally came here way back in 2009, but this second-generation model launched in 2014 and has never had the appeal of, say, a Honda HR-V or Mazda CX-3.
And that’s weird, because it is essentially a competitor to those cars, but most people don’t see it as one – even with its chunky styling setting it apart from some of the other swoosh looking soft-roaders in the small SUV class. On the topic, the 2017 Soul sees changes to the design of its grille, front and rear bumpers, fog-lamps and wheels. It still doesn’t look like a wannabe off-roader, though.
The Soul used to be Kia’s standout car, the one the company thought young buyers would want to personalise with stickers and stuff. Now there are three colours to choose from (white; two metallic silvers which add $520), and then there’s the white with red roof combo ($390), and the red with black roof combo you see here ($910). Metallic paint used to be $620 for all colours.
The boxy body of the Soul is arguably a love or hate proposition, but there’s no denying it offers practical benefits.
The low floor (with an almost flat foot space in the second row), narrow doorsills and tall doors mean it’s easy to slide in and out of both the front and rear seats. This is why the Soul has been popular with older buyers – retirees, for example – but younger buyers should consider it would be beneficial for loading kids in and out, too, and the doors open fairly wide to help with that. There are two outboard ISOFIX child seat anchors and three top-tether points as well.
The back seat offers better space than most of the small SUVs in the segment, and certainly there’s more room in the Soul than you’ll find in a similarly priced hatchback.
For this six-foot tall reviewer there was easily enough space arrears of my own driving position, with ample knee and toe room, as well as excellent head room. The width of the back seat is enough for three adults at a squeeze as well, but there are no air vents to keep things cool on warmer days.
The rear seats fold down almost flat, with no annoying lip between the boot space. The cargo space isn’t massive at 238 litres (VDA), but figures aside there is enough space for a couple of small suitcases or a week's worth of shopping for a couple, and the wet-or-dry under floor storage bin allows you to stow some items out of the way, too. One can't help but wonder why they didn't just leave out the storage bin and drop the boot floor to make it a much bigger space for regular use.
In-cabin storage is very good. In the back there are bottle holders in the doors, a mesh map pocket on one of the seat backs, and a fold-down centre armrest with cup holders. The front has larger door pockets with integrated bottle holders, a pair of cup holders between the seats, and a nice little cubby that sits ahead of the gear selector.
Above that there’s a new look centre console and a 5.0-inch colour media screen – the lower spec model used to get a lower-spec stereo without a colour screen. There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and no satellite navigation either, but you get Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, as well as auxiliary input and USB jacks. The stereo is a six-speaker system, but there are no funky lights in the speaker surrounds like there was in the first-gen Soul way back when.
Trainspotters may also have picked up on the Soul’s revised seat trim, and its new silver steering wheel finish. The contrast stitching has been ditched.
The materials are quite nice to the touch, with soft finishes on the dash and front door tops (the rear door tops are hard plastic – which may detract from the ambience, but could prove easier to wipe down after the grubby kids or grandkids smoosh their banana on them). The door grabs are finished in shiny piano black plastic, which looks nice but can show up fingerprints all too easily.
The interior is covered for safety with six airbags (dual front, front side and full-length curtain), while there’s a rear-view camera and rear parking sensors standard. The Soul misses out on any of the electronic safety nannies that some rival small SUVs have on offer, such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning and autonomous emergency braking. You can’t option any of them, either.
Under the bonnet remains an unchanged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine producing 112kW of power (at 6200rpm) and 192Nm of torque (at 4000rpm), and those outputs are about average for the class, if a bit lower than the first-generation Soul.
It’s available only with a six-speed auto – the six-speed manual has been dropped – and it is front-wheel drive. We don't get the impressive 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder that used to be under the bonnet of the Pro_cee'd GT (and can also be found in the Hyundai Tucson) that is offered in other markets with a dual-clutch auto. And that's a real shame.
Its fuel consumption, claimed at 8.0 litres per 100 kilometres, is higher than you’d expect, though – a Mazda CX-3 2.0-litre FWD uses a claimed 6.1L/100km. We saw 9.2L/100km on the screen of the Soul.
Part of the reason our fuel use was on the high side was the Soul needs you to really rev the engine to get the most out of it, and the gearbox – because of its insistence on choosing the highest gear possible for the best efficiency – is busy as a result. You may find yourself dropping from sixth down to fourth up a slight incline, and the way the drivetrain is set up means it feels like it’s less peppy than it actually is.
When you do give it some throttle – in Sport mode, we suggest, as that will make the gearbox hold on longer and it also affects the steering weight (more on that in a sec) – it is decently responsive: not amazing, a bit loud, but certainly pushy enough to get you around a truck on the highway, for instance. But it never offers the sort of fizz you find in, say, a Suzuki Vitara Turbo – or even the non-turbo Vitara, for that matter!
That Sport mode makes the steering feel heavier, but doesn’t really add any extra to the drive experience, which, it must be said, is pretty damn good. The Australian tune conducted by Kia has seen benefits, with the Soul offering nice steering accuracy and a surprising amount of grip through corners.
It drives more like a hatchback through bends than a small SUV, and perhaps that’s part of its appeal. Its suspension has an assured feel to it – it isn’t stiff, but it isn’t spongy, either. It has a real mature feel to the way it holds itself on the road, and it’s really quiet at high speeds on coarse roads, too.
As for body control, when you hit a bump you’ll hear it more than you feel it, and the way the Soul copes with changes of direction and rough, pothole-marked surfaces is a lot better than some of the big-name models – we’re looking at you, Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3.
As we already know, the ownership program on offer from Kia is a benchmark setter. There’s a seven-year unlimited kilometre warranty, seven years of roadside assist, and a seven-year capped-price service plan. The average service cost over that seven year period (maintenance due every 12 months or 15,000km, whichever occurs first) is $384.
The improvements to the value equation of the 2017 Kia Soul mean it is more enticing than ever. As an alternative to a Cerato hatchback at just under twenty-five grand drive-away it is an intriguing proposition, one that hits a few home runs but also offers up a couple of air swings.
That said, the ownership promise is so strong it really should be selling in bigger numbers than it has been to this point. With a bit of clever marketing, the updated Soul has the potential to arrest the sales slump and perhaps finally achieve the sales tally it deserves.