Monday, 13 August 2012

2012 Kia Soul FULL ROAD TEST

Personalisation options are all the rage at the moment from stickers, roof decals, fancy wheel designs to customizable interior trim combinations. The purpose is to enable buyers to tailor their cars appearance to individual tastes. It’s an idea that’s really taken off since the launch of the highly successful MINI.

There is one car that has pretty much gone unnoticed in the cut-throat compact urban hatch sector being completely overshadowed by the MINI, Fiat 500 and Citroen DS3. That car is Kia’s intriguingly named Soul which has recently received a fairly extensive midlife spruce-up. We find out if it’s a good as its name would suggest and whether it can tempt drivers out of their Fiestas, MINIs and Nissan Jukes.

What is it?

Library image
The Soul was first unveiled in concept form at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and went on sale in 2008 with surprisingly minor alterations. It was the work of Kia’s California design centre and was the first model that ushered the new design-led strategy featuring the company’s now familiar Tiger Nose or Bow Tie grill. The main aim of the Soul is to offer buyers a refreshing alternative to more conventional hatchbacks with its unique styling and extensive customisation options. Based on the same platform architecture as Kia’s Venga and Rio as well as Hyundai’s i20 and iX20 the Soul is larger than the average supermini but still smaller than anything in the c-segment. Earlier this year it received a thorough reworking including revised styling and a new GDi petrol and revised CRDi diesel engines mated to new 6 speed manual and automatic transmissions. Trim levels remain similar to the original Soul but with boosted levels of standard equipment. As before there are two regular trim grades logically named ‘1’ starting at £12,795 and ‘2’ starting at £13,600. Of more interest to those looking for something a little different are the ‘Soul Originals’ which consist of the aptly named Hunter, Quantum and Inferno. Prices range from £15,100 for the petrol Hunter to £18,695 for the Petrol (only) Inferno. Here we are testing the 1.6 138 bhp GDi petrol Hunter with metallic paint.

Rivals: Nissan Juke, Ford Fiesta, Toyota Urban Cruiser, Citroen DS3

  Key Features

  • 18” alloy wheels
  • Reversing camera (Rear View Mirror)
  • 8 Speaker Stereo with Amplifier and Sub-Woofer
  • Bluetooth/USB/Ipod connectivity
  • ABS, EBD with BAS, ESC, VSM, HAC
  • Automatic Projector Headlights
  • LED Front and Rear Lights
  • Air Conditioning
  • 4x Electric Windows
  • Powerfold mirrors (LED Indicator lights)
  • Electric Tilt-Slide Sunroof
Looks are everything if you are in the market for something a little different from the norm and this is where the Soul really scores. Its upright, utilitarian looking shape with floating roof contrasts nicely with the wide curvaceous wheel arches and headlights. New for 2012 is a heavily revised front facia with much larger fog lights and new LED daytime running lights now nestled under the projector headlights. There is also a new more butch-looking rear bumper, jazzy redesigned rear light clusters and fresh chubby 18 inch alloy wheels. The raft of changes build on the Souls already bold looks and make the whole recipe seem to gel better than ever before; it’s a real head-turner in the metal.

The cabin is well designed with a curved uncluttered centre console, revised switchgear and Kia’s now signature individually hooded dials. If you find black trim bland then the Hunter is the trim level to consider as it comes with ice white highlights all over the place including the steering wheel and best of all the tops of the seats and door panels are trimmed in black and white tartan! Everything is sensibly located and clearly labelled with improved build quality. The majority of the dash-top is nicely squidgy with the door pulls and centre console finished in harder plastic with a thin rubberised coating. You certainly won’t have to worry about trim rattles in years to come.

A considerable advantage of that squared-off body is a cabin with an abundance of space especially considering the cars footprint that isn’t much bigger than a Fiestas. Space in both the front and rear is cavernous with masses of leg and headroom and the Soul’s generous width means that three abreast in the back isn’t too much of a compromise. The driving position won’t suit all, we found that even with the seat in its lowest position it still felt too lofty but the height and reach adjustable steering column helps. The biggest gripe the driver will have is all-round visibility which is restricted by the thick windscreen pillars and even thicker rear pillars. Luckily our car came as standard with a reversing camera neatly housed in the rear-view mirror making parking easy.

The spacious cabin seems to have come at the expense of boot space which isn’t as generous as we would have hoped but is no worse than in a Polo or Fiesta at 340 litres extending to 818 litres with the seats folded. We liked the additional under floor storage which had a number of smaller sections to stop items rolling around.

Powering our Soul is an all-new 1.6 litre 138bhp petrol engine now with direct injection. We were left underwhelmed by the figures; 0-60 mph takes 10 seconds but at 1,245kg the Soul is noticeable heavier than the likes of the Fiesta. In practice the engine is clearly geared for economy which is all too evident by the gearshift indicator which encourages changes around 2,500 rpm which makes the Soul feel far too sluggish. With the maximum torque of 122lb/ft available from a fairly high 4,850rpm holding onto to each gear for longer allows the driver to make the most of the power on offer. The engine’s hunger for revs found us opting for the latter fairly frequently although we wish the soundtrack was a little more characterful.

On the move engine refinement is impressive as is our cars super-slick 6-speed gearbox which is the best we have experienced from Kia so far. The fade-free disc-brakes all-round do a sterling job of bringing the Soul to a halt backed up by standard fit ABS and EBD. We didn’t however; get on with the pedal arrangement as the clutch pedal is very light and overly sensitive making it easy to stall or kangaroo when pulling away.

What will surprise most is the Soul’s ability when dealing with challenging corners. To counteract the higher than normal centre of gravity Kia have opted for a taught suspension setup that results in superb body control with next-to-no bodyroll. Those good looking 18” alloy wheels shod with 225/45 tyres provide masses of grip and coupled with its sharp turn-in make Soul good to drive. We just wish there was more feedback through the steering which is numb at best. When we learned that Kia enlisted the help of Lotus to tune the Soul’s suspension the thrills on offer made much more sense.

Its Achilles heel however; is the ride quality that will be too wooden for most, initial damping is supple enough but rougher urban surfaces ricochet noisily through the cabin. Models with smaller wheels however; are likely to ride much more smoothly. That said we found that at higher speeds the busyness of the suspension fades away making the Soul decent for longer journeys.

Words and Photos by Rob McSorley

Technical Data

Price as tested: £15,545
Engine: 1.6 16v 138bhp - 0-62mph: 10 secs - Maximum Speed: 112mph -
Economy: 36.7mpg (urban) –50.4mpg (extra-urban), 44.1mpg (combined) - Emissions: 149g/km (Band F) - VED (12 months): £135
Dimensions: Length: 4120mm - Width: 1785mm - Height: 1610mm - Wheelbase: 2550mm

*data from Kia UK

The Verdict 4/5

The Kia Soul has a lot to offer buyers looking for a refreshingly different hatchback. Its utilitarian inspired styling holds a lot of appeal when compared to more conventional offerings and the recent refresh has refined the finer details with impressive results. With one of the most spacious cabins in its sector and a well sorted chassis and the Soul’s case becomes even stronger. In Hunter trim as we tested here equipment levels are generous and the additional exterior details including those massive wheels make the asking price of a smidge over £15,000 seem like a good deal. As with every car there are weaknesses which include a crashy ride, numb steering and over-sensitive clutch pedal. Also whilst with us we were underwhelmed by the economy of the petrol engine, when driven carefully guided by the gearshift indicator over a mixture of roads we averaged 34 mpg. This is some way off the figure given by Kia of 44.4 mpg combined. The Soul deserves to be incredibly successful as it has so much to offer buyers willing to take the risk and buy something vastly different. Sadly for most the Kia badge lacks the cache of the MINI brand but for those who can see past this the Soul is a very complete package.

You will like
+Individual looks
+Value for money
+Talented chassis
+Practical interior

You won’t like
-Hard ride
-Poor economy
-Over-sensitive clutch
-Numb steering

Special Thanks to; Kia Motors (UK) Limited, 2 The Heights , Brooklands, Weybridge, Surrey, KT13 0NY

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