When the KIA Soul made its local debut a few months ago, managing director of KIA Motors South Africa, Ray Levin, said “This is a brand new urban crossover packed full of liberating ideas”. Brand new it certainly is, but we’re not sure about the ‘liberating ideas’ part. One thing is for sure though, it’s like no other car on the road today.
Riding 165 mm above the ground with short overhangs both front and rear, the Soul is positioned in the MPV / SUV arena (the KIA Sedona MPV rides just 2 mm higher, while the new Sorento SUV sits 19 mm higher) but looks like neither. KIA call the Soul an ‘urban crossover’, or ‘crossover utility vehicle’ (CUV), which we suppose is a term that fits the Soul better than it ever could VW’s CrossPolo or the now extinct MG Rover Streetwise.
At the front, the Soul’s high bonnet and rounded forms imply power and strength, while the bulging wheel arches and wide track give the car a broad stance that heightens its sense of stability. Large head lamps and a chrome grille give Soul a ‘friendly face’ and the prominent centre bumper shouts ‘tough-not-rough’. The A-pillars are masked with a high-gloss black moulding for a wrap-around look that is crucial to the Soul’s appearance.
It’s a quirky design that elicits a second glance wherever it goes and whether you love it or hate it, getting noticed on our crowded city streets says something.
The Soul makes extensive use of plastics to form a cockpit that is adequate rather than attractive. The centre console breaks the mold by standing out from and extending the width of the dashboard, with a grey highlight incorporating the radio and climate controls. The switch-gear is simple to use and well laid out, with all instrumentation being lit up with red back-lighting. The illuminated instrument panel is a pleasure to read during the day, but without being able to adjust the brightness it’s overpowering at night and takes away some of the contrast provided between a darker cabin and brighter headlights. Pleasantly surprising features were the satellite controls on the steering wheel for adjusting the radio, as well as USB connection for plugging-in your iPod or MP3 player. Electrically powered windows, both front and rear, provide a touch of convenience in a well put together interior, free of any squeaks or rattles.
As can be expected from its boxy design there is plenty of space inside the KIA Soul, especially when it comes to headroom. The glove box is one of the largest we’ve witnessed, but the bright red interior colour it shares with the sunglasses case atop the dash, clashed with the rest of our test car and looked out of place – unless of course you opt for a red Soul. The Soul welcomes four adult passengers with plenty of legroom, in addition to the stratospheric levels of headroom available. However, the driver’s seat lacks support for one’s back, particularly for the arch area, which is far from ideal. Luggage space is an adequate 671 litres, handling the weekly shopping and school runs with ease – and the rear seats can be folded down in a 60/40 split for extra carrying capacity.
On the safety front, the KIA Soul is equipped with three-point safety belts for all passengers, with pretensioners and load-limiters in the front. Active headrests move forward and upward within milliseconds of an impact to cushion the head and prevent whiplash. Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) are standard on all models, as are the dual front airbags. Side and full-length curtain airbags are available on the ‘high-spec’ models.
The Soul finds a good balance between the power of its engine and handling of its chassis. Considering its ride height, the Soul handles well and does not suffer from excessive bodyroll as one might expect by looking at the car’s proportions. The steering is light and responsive, with a sharp turning circle that makes driving around town a doddle. When pushed, the Soul will understeer, but its handling is completely predictable and easily remedied by easing off the throttle. In fact, its predictable handling helps to make the Soul a fun car to drive and even though it’s not sporty by design, the Soul does humour you if you decide to ‘hotfoot’ it through a set of turns. The combination ABS and EBD linked to disc brakes up front and drums at the rear, work well to bring the Soul to a stop.
The Soul is at home on city streets, however once out of town and travelling at our national speed limit the upright nature of the Soul lends itself to wind noise. Coupled with the high-revving engine and steering that isn’t speed sensitive, or tightened as speed increases, open road driving can become tiring over long distances.
The KIA Soul is powered by a 1,6-litre DOHC 16-valve engine that produces 91 kW at 6 300 rpm and 156 N.m of torque at 4 600 rpm. It’s a lively engine that thrives on revs but sounds quicker than it is. The zero to 100 km/h sprint is dealt with in 10.4 seconds and top speed is 177 km/h. The Soul won’t win any robot-to-robot races, but the willing and vocal engine makes it fun to try anyway. KIA claims a combined fuel consumption of 6.6 L/100km, but with the Cape Doctor at full puff during our test period, we averaged quite a bit higher.
Overall the Soul is a likable city car. It’s quirky design is something few manufacturers can offer. Along with an adequate array of safety and convenient features, for the performance and price KIA offers a ‘Soul-lution’ that won’t break the bank.
What we like…
- Unique styling – the Soul is the first Korean car to receive recognition from the world renowned ‘red dot’ design awards.
- Fun to drive in and around town.
- KIA’s 5-year warranty and 4-year service plan.
What we would like…
- Improved sound insulation from engine and wind noise.
- Ability to adjust the brightness of the instrument back-lighting.
|Base Price||R189 995|
|Warranty||5 year / 100 000 km|
|Service Plan||4 year / 90 000 km|
|Engine Capacity||1 591 cm³|
|No. Of Cylinders||4-cylinders, In-line|
|Power||91 kW @ 6 300 rpm|
|Torque||156 N.m @ 4 200 rpm|
|Drive type||Front-wheel drive|
|Acceleration||0-100 km/h in 10.4 seconds (claimed)|
|Top Speed||177 km/h (claimed)|
|Fuel Consumption||6.6 l/100km (claimed combined)|