Characterful Kia stirs the Soul
Kia's Soul has been facelifted and tweaked. Andy Russell finds out if it drives as good as it looks.
With a motoring journalist for a husband and a petrolhead of a younger son, my wife is pretty clued up about cars.
But the Kia Soul had sort of passed her by. Knowing one would soon be gracing our driveway, if only for a few days, she asked me what it was like. And I have to say I struggled a to describe it – it takes up the space of a supermini but this five-door hatchback's chunky styling gives it a hint of sport utility vehicle.
So it's pretty hard to pigeon-hole the Soul, but Kia's urban crossover's individual looks make it stand out from the crowd and, in a strange kind of way, it's rather appealing.
The mid-life makeover has made the most of those design cues with new bumpers, front grille and lights aiming to make the car look wider while new wheels bring added style.
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The revised Soul gets a new, more powerful 138bhp 1.6-litre direct injection petrol engine with a six-speed manual gearbox instead of five, while there have been revisions to the 126bhp 1.6-litre turbo diesel to improve performance, emissions and economy.
My Hunter test car, one of the latest of a frequently updated run of high-spec special-edition Soul Originals, was powered by the modified diesel mated to the new six-speed automatic transmission which replaces the original four-speed box.
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Going in and out of work and running around at the start of my time with the Soul I enjoyed its perky low-down pick-up and smooth refinement which made light work of the daily commute and proved easy to drive in stop-start traffic. But you pay the penalty at the pumps compared to the manual with 37mpg overall. And at 60mph on cruise control the automatic gearbox had an annoying habit of dropping down a gear at the slightest incline even though the engine wasn't straining.
Then I had to do a longer run and the Soul was not so impressive, having to be worked hard to make decent progress and the diesel engine becomes quite vocal when kicked down for overtaking which did nothing to help fuel consumption which averaged 43mpg. That said, drive the Soul sedately and it is relaxing transport.
It's a similar story with the ride and handling. At low speed and in urban driving, the Soul's light steering takes the strain as it nips in and out of tight spaces and the suspension irons out the worst effects of roadwork scars and potholes, although the Hunter's smart 18in alloys wheel did the ride no favours. Out on the open road and the ride is jiggly and sensitive to poor surfaces, accompanied by road noise, while cornering at even reasonable speeds creates enough body lean to have rear-seat passengers sliding on the rather flat, shapeless back seat.
What passenger will like though is the amount of interior space – given its size on the outside it's impressively roomy inside with generous legroom in the back to comfortably accommodate six-footers, abundant headroom thanks to the high roof and the ability to seat three in the back with its flat floor. So it's disappointing the boot is rather shallow with the high, bumper-level floor. That said, there is a useful underfloor storage tray which is easily removed, significantly increasing the depth and volume of the boot. Rear seat backs fold flat 60/40 level with the boot floor at it upper level, increasing capacity from 340 to 818 litres.
And drivers will like the tall, upright driving position which has all the adjustment you need to get comfortable at the wheel but chunky rear pillars and a small screen restrict visibility out of the back so I was glad of the Hunter's parking camera with the display built into the rearview mirror. The cabin is well put together, the dials clear and controls intuitive and easy to use but brightwork trim and hard plastics means it looks better than it feels.
Safetywise, all Souls get stability control and management, the latter aiding control if one side of the car has less grip in ice, standing water or leaves, anti-lock brakes, six airbags and hill-start assist. Soul 1 includes air-conditioning, Bluetooth, four electric windows, remote locking, remote audio controls and electric mirrors. Soul 2 gains 16in alloy wheels and folding mirrors while Hunter adds metallic paint, 18in alloys, LED running lights, uprated eight-speaker stereo with boot-mounted subwoofer, heated door mirrors, cruise control, electric sunroof, reversing camera, part tartan upholstery and privacy glass. The other special model, Quantum, includes leather seats, heated front seats, climate control and rear parking sensors.
The Soul may not be for you if you drive enthusiastically but if you want something that stands out for the right reasons, has a spacious, versatile cabin and good equipment levels, it could win over your heart.