The Kia Soul never struck me as a standout car when it came out in 2008, and after six years of being in the market it has received a facelift. On first impressions, the Kia Soul is meant to be a stylish alternative to a hatchback or small MPV, but to be honest I never was smitten by the looks of the previous Soul. The interior wasn’t that nice either, what with low-rent materials scattered throughout. However, going with Kia’s new-found mojo of designing good-looking cars, things look a lot better for the new Soul, which might just make my job of convincing you that it’s a good car that bit easier.
Engines and price
Swiss buyers have the option of either a petrol or diesel engine, both being 1.6-litre units. This test car comes with the diesel option, which produces 128hp and 260Nm of torque, as well as an optional six-speed automatic transmission sending drive to the front wheels (a six-speed manual is standard) – allowing the car to get from 0-100km/h in 12.2 seconds and on to a top speed of 177km/h. As for fuel economy, Kia claims the Soul will use 6.0l/100km combined, 5.2l/100km on the highway, and 7.5l/100km in the city. CO2 emissions are quoted at 158g/km. The cheapest diesel-engined Soul costs CHF 27,950, while one with the Style trim and automatic transmission costs CHF 32,550. Add the Style-Pack 1 option on this press car and the total price is CHF 37,050.
Interior and space
Step inside the Soul and you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the design and quality of the materials (at least in a fully-kitted car like this). The leather-wrapped steering wheel in particular was my favourite item, being both nice to hold and to look at. In fact, if you removed the Kia badge, I think it wouldn’t look out of place in a more expensive premium brand product. There’s also a reasonable amount of space for four adults, but I do suspect that a Cee’d hatchback has slightly more rear legroom. But while most occupants might not complain about the lack of room, the trunk is rather small, meaning that a family can’t necessarily carry a lot of luggage with them on a long road trip. However, with the rear seats folded, carrying capacity increases from 238 litres to 1,367 litres.
The driving experience
The ride quality of the Soul is mostly acceptable for the most part, but it does feel a bit “bouncy” on some uneven surfaces. By this I mean that there’s a slight back and forth rocking motion when surfaces are really rough, and it’s hard to point this down to the low-profile tyres on these 18-inch wheels or the suspension setup. Visibility is typical of many modern cars, meaning that the A- and C-pillars are quite thick so going through blind corners needs extra caution. Otherwise forward and rear visibility, as well as the seating position, are very good.
The engine can be best described as an effective powerplant. There’s an adequate amount of grunt for everyday city and highway driving, and you can also drive in Active ECO mode (which sets the transmission, engine and air conditioning to run in the most efficient manner possible). The automatic transmission changes gears smoothly, but it can be a bit frustrating in Active ECO mode. In this mode it quite often refuses to change down a gear when you want it to, having to resort to flooring the gas pedal for the kickdown switch or turning the mode off.
The diesel engine isn’t too noisy when idling or driving normally, and there’s a nice turbo whistle to be heard when you open the windows. However, when you ask for brisk acceleration, it doesn’t sound like it likes it at all – sounding really unenthusiastic in the process. The electric power steering can be set on COMFORT, Normal, or SPORT modes – with COMFORT being the lightest, and the steering weighting up slightly as you change the modes. But, even in SPORT mode, the steering is still relatively light, and it helps guide the Soul through corners with some reasonable accuracy. Going up through some mountain roads showed that there’s not a lot of body roll either, and the torque of the engine really helped it accelerate out of tight uphill corners well. The Soul is both comfortable and stable on the highway, but if you were to suddenly brake from “higher-than-posted” speeds, it does move about a bit, betraying what is otherwise a comfortable highway cruiser.
As for the toys, this particular Soul came with: heated and cooled seats; satellite navigation, which has some good graphics and is relatively easy to use; automatic climate control; a reverse camera; xenon headlamps; an automated parking system for both parallel and reverse parking; Bluetooth; USB and AUX sockets; a lane-departure warning system; panoramic sunroof; heated steering wheel, as well as the optional Infinity sound system.
You can definitely get the Soul with a lot of equipment, but I was rather surprised to find that there was no CD player. One thing that vexed me quite a bit was the annoying warning about paying attention to the road whenever you turn on the user interface/satnav.
The bottom line
The design of the facelifted Soul is not necessarily beautiful like a curvy sports car from the 1960s, but it is definitely interesting and looks far better – to my eyes at least – than the car it replaces. But while the exterior is an improvement, the interior is a genuinely nice place to be, provided you are wiling to pay for the optional extras. My only real issue with the Soul is indeed the automatic transmission. According to Kia’s own numbers, having the automatic transmission rather than the manual means that acceleration is slower, fuel consumption is higher, CO2 emissions are higher, and its CHF 1,600 more expensive. Were it a more responsive unit then maybe one would be able to overlook those drawbacks, but – unfortunately – it isn’t. The Soul is a definitely a more interesting alternative to a hatchback, just make sure you get one with a manual transmission.
Written by Alex Kisiri