What is the Kia Soul?
The Soul is an attempt to make sensible family transport a little less dull, mainly by being styled to look as if it’s just left a car tuning workshop on the West Coast of America, and being loaded with options to lift its interior.
The deep front grille, bonnet bulge ‒ suggesting that the engine has so much power that it’s bursting out of the car ‒ and sloping roof are designed to add a bit more interest to what is a reasonably priced, practical car with space to seat five in comfort. It’s a combination that has worked well for Kia. The first-generation Soul was a big seller and the current, second-generation car has kept a very similar design.
The Kia Soul is a small crossover, halfway between the Kia Cee’d hatchback that it’s based on, and a taller off-roader. In theory, this gives owners the comfort and handling of a conventional car, with the tall driving position and additional space of an SUV. Alternatives include the Nissan Juke and Renault Captur, which are roughly the same price if you compare similarly equipped models.
The line-up is simple to understand: buyers have a choice between one diesel or one petrol engine, both 1.6-litre units. The diesel comes with the option of an automatic gearbox and there are four trim levels, all of which feature air-conditioning, split folding rear seats, DAB radio and all-round electric windows as standard.
Kia’s seven-year warranty and the Soul’s historically good residual values provide some reassurance about the car’s reliability and expected low depreciation.
The advertisements for the first-generation Soul featured hamsters cruising down a road with the window open and the music blaring. It’s a style of driving that suits the current model, too. You sit up high with good visibility and the ride is comfortable, particularly on the mid-range version’s 17in wheels, even if the Soul is not as effective at absorbing bumps as a lower-riding Volkswagen Golf or Ford Focus.
Add the car’s light steering and the Soul is a good urban car, particularly when fitted with the diesel engine which provides maximum pull from low revs. In other words, when you press the accelerator, it moves sharpish. The downside to this unit is that there’s a noticeable rattle at lower speeds. The petrol engine needs revving before it gives its best, which won’t be to everyone’s taste and doesn’t really suit the car’s character.
The Soul isn’t set up to be sporting, so won’t put a huge grin on your face if you decide to take the twisty back roads. More importantly, though, it won’t start rolling like a storm-tossed schooner when cornering, remaining fairly level and helping to keep passengers more comfortable. It’s not as good as the Nissan Juke in this respect, though.
Part of the problem is the Soul’s weight. It is 136kg heavier than the equivalent Nissan Juke diesel. This also has an impact on fuel economy. Officially rated at 56.6mpg for the diesel and 41.5mpg for the petrol (expect at least 10mpg less in the real-world), the Soul is off the pace of the best. A Renault Captur diesel returns a claimed 76.4mpg and, as a result, has lower CO2 emissions.
This is the story of the Soul. Despite the unconventional styling, it is quite an average car to drive: good in most respects but not excelling in any of them.
Inside, Kia has got the dashboard spot on with standard steering wheel controls for the stereo, clear instruments and big, uncomplicated buttons. It’s a masterclass in simplicity, which helps remove distractions for the driver.
Depending on your taste there are also some stylish touches such as the sculpted door handles and speakers that are integrated into the air vents, another attempt to make the soul appear more youth-oriented.
There’s enough space in the rear for adult passengers to fit comfortably and the boot should be adequate for family outings, although bear in mind that the Soul is based on a small hatchback. If you’re regularly carrying large buggies or luggage and can’t fold the seats down, then you are better off looking at a larger crossover such as the Ford Kuga or Mazda CX-5.
Your choice of specification will come down to the engine you prefer. Petrol buyers have the option of basic Start trim. To upgrade to Connect, the next level, costs £2,200 which is a high price to pay, even though this adds cruise control (which can also act as a speed limiter) Bluetooth pairing for the stereo and a reversing camera. This last is handy since the sloping roof makes the rear window quite small, reducing visibility when reversing.
Connect is the cheapest trim level on offer to diesel buyers, but many will think it worth upgrading to Connect Plus for an extra £1,100. This buys an excellent inbuilt sat-nav, running on an 8in touchscreen, as well as an eight-speaker Infinity sound system. This sounds like a premium system and includes a circle of lights around both front-mounted door speakers. These flash and change colour in tune with the music, if desired. They can be turned off, if not.
The Kia Soul has not yet been crash tested by Euro NCAP. The previous model scored the full five stars, so it would be reasonable to assume that the current car is at least as safe, with front, side and curtain airbags as standard across the range and Isofix mountings for child seats.
The one to buy
Kia Soul Connect 1.6 CRDi 6-speed manual
Engine: 1,582cc, four-cylinder diesel
Power: 126bhp @ 4000rpm
Torque: 192 lb ft @ 1900rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Acceleration: 0-60mph in 10.8sec
Top speed: 112mph
Fuel: 56.6mpg (combined)
Road tax band: E
Dimensions: L 4140mm, W 1800mm, H 1600mm