Kia’s Soul is aimed at people who want a sensible car that looks anything but sensible. People who like the retro look of a Fiat 500 or BMW Mini, but who also need a back seat that’s suitable for family use.
The soul range starts at $21,490 for the manual 1.6-litre petrol variant. An automatic version of this model is also available at $23,490. The Soul+ 2.0-ltire petrol version starts from $26,990. And finally, the Soul+ 1.6-litre turbo-diesel with automatic transmission will set you back $29,990.
The car we tested was powered by a 1.6-litre petrol engine with 95 kW of power, and 157 Nm of torque at 4850 rpm. While 4850 revs aren’t likely to be reached by many owners the engine has decent torque from about 2000 rpm and really gets up and moves nicely from 3000 onwards. The engine is nicely responsive and we found it happy to pull away from the lights with a good deal of poke. The 2.0-litre petrol engine prodcues 122 kW and 200 Nm and 1.6-litre turbo-diesel is capable of 94 kW and 260 Nm.
Chunky looks that come into the love-it-or-hate-it category are the biggest feature of the soulful Soul from South Korea. And we have to say straight out that we love it. Every line makes a statement, from the distinctive German-inspired grille, through the squared-off side and tall roof to the look-at-me taillights makes the Soul stand apart from the madding crown of lets-not-offend-anyone school of design. The interior is cheeky in style too with big gauges and a funky look that harks back to the 1970s.
The really good news is that the Kia Soul isn't all style and no substance. Buyers of large family cars will find there’s room for large teenagers in the back seat. Obviously, plenty of headroom, fore and aft. The Soul has a reasonable-sized boot, but in a shortish car like this it relies on depth rather than length. While it may not be large enough to cart a lot of gear on an extended holiday trip with two kids on board, you really need a big station wagon or SUV for that, the Soul will prove more than adequate for most families almost all of the time.
As with the Mini, the options list for the Kia Soul is large and designed to tempt the individualist who really wants to stand out from the crowd. Naturally there's a big choice of colours, mostly very bright ones, and alloy wheels in several sizes. You can add a body kit and/or various decals. Or how about a two-tone dashboard, fancy seat trims or stereo speakers that pulse with the music?
Yet Kia Australia reports that a lot of Soul buyers aren’t getting into the car because of its appearance, but because it’s an easy car to get into. Owners in the baby-boom bracket love the fact that the seats are at the height of their backsides, therefore they can get into the Soul without the need to flop down into a low-slung sedan or up into a towering SUV.
Our road test Kia Soul came in a bright red colour and had large alloy wheels added to a great design that was loved by all who saw it.
Typically we found the engine using about five to six litres of petrol per hundred kilometres on in level open-road running. Around town the consumption was generally in the seven to nine litre bracket. At just 48 litres the fuel tank is relatively small so the overall range could be limited in big Aussie road trips.
Kia Australia opted to import the Soul with the European rather than American suspension setup in the interests of reasonable handling, although this does create hassles if you drive on roughish roads. Our road test Soul had the 18-inch alloy wheel option and we found the ride to be rather too firm for our tastes. And really noisy on coarse-chip surfaces. There are smaller wheels in the price list and these may be a better bet on the comfort side of things.
Handling is competent enough, the Soul holds the road well and is reasonably willing to change direction part way through a corner. We aren’t keen on the feel through the electrically-assisted power steering, finding it a bit on the dead side and not giving a lot of feedback. As the Kia Soul certainly doesn’t have a sporting setup, and certainly doesn’t challenge the Mini we mentioned earlier, it’s probably best left to those looking for stylish pizzaz, not to forget practicality.
The Kia Soul isn’t for everyone, but the individualist on a tight budget will love it.
Kia Soul 1.6-litre
Price: from $21,490
Warranty: 5 years/unlimited km
Safety rating: five star ANCAP
Engine: 1.6-litre 4-cyl, 95kW/157Nm
Transmission: 6-speed manual; 6-speed auto, FWD
Body: 4120mm (L); 1785mm (w); 1610mm (h)
Thirst: 7.3L/100km on test, 156g/km CO2