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The cutesy, quirky hard to pigeon hole Soul may not the best seller in the Kia range, in fact they sell less Souls than any other model - but it's a bit of an attention-getter for the brand.
For this reason rather than dropping Soul altogether with the release of the second generation, Kia has opted to rationalise the lineup, pairing it back from three to just the one petrol-powered model. The good news is that it's cheaper and more accessible than ever before.
Priced from $23,990 or $2000 more for an auto the latest Soul includes everything you really want, except perhaps for leather and climate air. Having said that the cloth seats are comfortable and supportive and the fit and finish is first rate inside and out.
The dash and doors are trimmed with faux leather, with real leather on the wheel and gear shift - but the fake stuff looks real enough and together with classy piano black gloss inserts serves to lift the ambience.
Standard equipment includes auto lights, cruise control, reverse parking sensors, tyre pressure monitoring, Bluetooth with audio streaming and 17 inch alloy wheels with a space saver spare - plus six-speaker audio with USB and AUX inputs.
The 2.0-litre four cylinder petrol engine produces 113kW of power and 191Nm of torque and is hooked up to a six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic transmission, with drive to the front wheels.
Sadly it's not one of Kia's latest direct injection engines, but an older unit with less efficient multipoint injection, tuned to meet tougher Euro 5 emissions regulations.
It used to make 122kW/200Nm (the 1.6-litre petrol engine and 1.6-litre turbodiesel have been dropped but were either too sluggish or too expensive anyway).
The car takes regular unleaded with a higher capacity 54-litre fuel tank.
Subtle changes to the styling give the the car a chunkier, slightly more masculine look. But we miss the subwoofer and funky mood lighting that went with the first model, not to mention the dragoon tatoo that emblazoned the bonnet of our original test car.
The music system in this one is able to store MP3 files, but the sound while generally crisp and clear lacks some bass (this from someone who usually dials down the bass response).
No problem here. Gets a full five stars for crash safety with six airbags, active headrests, electronic stability and traction control, ABS anti-lock brakes and a camera for reversing - albeit a small one.
Our test vehicle was the manual finished in striking Acid green (an extra $620). By design the Soul is a fun but practical wagon that is larger than it looks, with plenty of room inside and seating for five passengers. Four adults fit easily with generous legroom for rear seat passengers, perhaps at the expense of boot space that is limited.
The drive experience is surprisingly sporty thanks in no small part to the slick manual change with it short throw between gears that makes it really easy to use. The at times harsh ride of earlier models has all but disappeared thanks to some tuning input from Kia's ride and handling guru Graeme Gambold, aided no doubt by the adoption of higher profile 215/55 series rubber.
It's quieter inside and the speedo and other instruments are big and easy to read/use, with no real need for a digital speedometer. The electric steering adds the "flex" steer system that allows the driver to control the amount of effort required to turn the wheel, with three different settings available.
Claimed fuel consumption is 7.6 litres/100km - we were getting 7.7 after about 400km. In the manual an arrow encourages the driver to change to a higher gear in the name of better fuel consumption, but it appears to have no relation whatsoever to reality encouraging us to change up to fourth gear just as we were about to change down to first to navigate a particularly tight, steep hairpin turn with a slower vehicle in front.
Easy to dismiss as the black sheep of the family Soul is something of a surprise packet in terms of drivability and practicality that deserves more sales than the trickle it attracts.
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