The second iteration of the Soul, Kia’s quirky little urban runabout, promises to build on the character of the original while ironing out some of its ride- and build-related shortcomings. But has the new car managed to improve without losing too much of its (ahem) soul?
Inside and out
Bettering the previous Soul’s distinctive design was always going to be something of a challenge but, in turning to its funky 2012 Track’ster concept for inspiration, it appears that Kia’s designers have managed to pull it off.
Up front, the concept’s chunky lower apron, with its outer-sited foglamps, echoes that of the concept, the signature ‘Tiger Nose’ grille has been given a mild rework, the headlamps in this halo-spec model have also been give a more purposeful slant and see their the LED daytime running lights migrate from the base to the top of the units.
The hatch sports an eye-catching body-colour panel that ‘floats in a gloss black surround flanked by a more rakish take on the signature stacked brakelamp arrays while the profile shows off a larger glasshouse, more pronounced wheel arches and smother flanks that have done away with the previous model’s plastic trim inserts. Chrome door handle finishers and a set of eye-catching 18-inch, dual-tone alloy wheels round off the STREET- and SMART- spec exterior treatment.
Underpinned by the same platform as the firm’s C’eed hatchback, the new Soul’s dimensions have swelled to 4 140 mm long, 1 800 mm wide and 2570 mm in the wheelbase; constituting increases in the order of 15-20 mm in each department. Although theses gains are hardly gargantuan in order the sit-behind-yourself test by a 180 cm passenger, an exercise that wasn’t particularly accommodating in the previous model showed there to be plenty of head-, shoulder, and legroom on offer. Bootspace has also taken a hike to the tune of four per cent over that of the previous car and now stands at 354 dm3.
While the previous Soul’s interior was on the plasticky side lacked the exterior’s verve, the new car’s cabin treatment has gone some way to regaining that lost ground with the application of rounded elements finished in glossy piano black trim and neat elements such as the ‘floating’ speaker grilles atop the dash. Material quality is of a good standard and solid fit and finish ensured that squeaks or rattles didn’t accompany our journey over some stretches of Gauteng’s more pockmarked roads.
Our first acquaintance with the Soul a few years back saw the car draw criticism for its choppy ride and numb steering but the new car appears to have atoned for such shortcomings. Revisions to the power steering’s geometry has lessened, but not entirely negated, dead-centre inaccuracy while the almost imperceptible differences in steering feel between presets means that the Flex Steer adjustable power steering module remains something of a gimmick.
With its fairly high centre of gravity and light steering, the Soul isn’t really built to be hussled but its dynamics are predictable and road holding is good.
The MacPherson strut front/coupled torsion beam rear suspension setup has been carried over from the previous model but has undergone a series of revisions to better meld with the Cee’d platform (the previous model shared its underpinnings with the Kia Venga/Hyundai i20).
While the ride remains on the stiff side, especially with our SMART-spec model’s 18-inch alloys, there isn’t the skittishness or wheel rebound that characterised the previous model’s ride and things generally feel pleasant and composed.
The 1,6-litre turbodiesel is a new addition to the Kia range and makes a pleasant change from petrol motors that, although keen revving, tend to lack mid-range punch.
It’s a remarkably smooth unit with impressive levels of refinement helped in no small part by the inclusion of copious sound deadening both behind the dash and in the A-pillars.
Those expecting a healthy bit of punch from the 94 kW and 260 N.m of torque on tap might be taken aback by what feels like rather leisurely power delivery. This could be an upshot of that impressive refinement but is more likely linked to the 6-speed automatic transmission; a really smooth-shifting unit that only begins to hunt a little under cut-and-thrust driving. Generally speaking, though, it’s a sound performer and will prove more than sufficient for the urban jaunts and odd bit of motorway driving to which the Soul is suited.
What you pay for
As expected, going the diesel route never constitutes the best value, but Kia is renowned for packing its cars to the gunwales with kit, and the Soul is no exception. Even the base level START specification throws in such items as 17-inch alloys, ABS, front foglamps, air-con, audio system with Bluetooth, and front/side/curtain airbags as standard.
The next rung on the ladder, STREET specification, adds 18-inch alloys, Brake Assist, keyless start and go, climate control, leather upholstery, rear parking sensors, stability control and Hill Start Assist, among others.
The range-topping SMART package is only offered on the diesel and 2,0-litre petrol and incorporates the 6-speed auto ‘box while further adding LED daytime running lamps and brakelamp clusters, cruise control, front and rear parking sensors, electrically adjustable driver’s seat, high-intensity brakelamps, headlamp washers and interior mood lighting with illuminated speaker surrounds that can pulse to the music.
This took the STREET-spec diesel up to an asking price of just under R341 000.
Kia has done an admirable job of updating its funky little hatch/crossover while retaining the charm and improving upon the material and ride quality of its forebear. The diesel is also a welcome, albeit rather expensive, inclusion but the petrol engines remain a bit noisy and thin at the top end. Given the hip, youthful target audience, the pricing is on the steep side. But then again looking good is seldom a cheap exercise.
Kia Soul price list:
Kia Soul 1,6 START R239 995 (auto R12 000 extra)
Kia Soul 2,0 STREET R274 995
Kia Soul 1,6D R299 995
Upgrade to SMART package R41 000