New Kia makes shapely statement with bags of Soul
Clearing his Eustachian tubes has been vital for Iain P W Robertson, who once described the outgoing family car from Kia as ’Soul-less’, although the latest iteration of it has him reaching for his hard-pressed wallet.
You have to admire the egg. As a shape, it is abundantly ingenious, not least because, whatever delivers the egg, it seldom suffers from door-slamming problems, thanks to its tapered profile. The egg also happens to be the most aerodynamic, yet accommodating, shape for motorcars. The pointy-end penetrates the atmosphere most efficaciously, while people and their belongings can be slotted into the dumpier-end with a fair degree of ease.
The box, on the other hand, is not only my preferred shape for the motorcar but one that is beloved by most car owners. Thanks to three dimensions and 90-degree corners, it proves to be the most accommodating of all outlines. We refer to saloons as being ‘three-box’ forms, because they consist usually of three sets of different dimensions, with one up front for the engine, another in the middle for the people and different one at the rear, for the boot, as the accepted norm.
There have been ‘one-box’ vehicles, the most popular of which are MPVs, or people-carriers, of a type epitomised by the Renault Espace, or the Ford S-Max, although they also verge on being egg-like. Yet, ‘two-box’ designs also have an important role to play. My personal car is a Skoda Citigo, which is as acutely ‘two-box’ as a car can get, and the visually identical Seat Mii and VW Up! have introduced fresh and non-sexual impact to the expression ‘Up-Mii-Citigo’…ouch!…time for the egg again.
The latest Kia Soul is a ‘two-box’ family car. I like it. A lot. I quite liked its predecessor, also known as Soul. It led to innumerable funky headlines about what was intrinsically a funky car…‘Soul-mate’…‘In Tune with Soul’…’Positive Vibe From Soul’…‘Perfect For Our Soul’ and so on. However, I also felt slightly that Kia had ‘Souled-out’ in trying to corner a segment of the junior-league MPV sector. Its suspension was far too firm for British roads. While its build quality was sound enough, the material detail was not so brilliant. Yet, it was a dub-step in the right direction.
I harbour no such issues with the latest version, which could be headlined ‘Soul 2 Soul’, on several accounts. In fact, I am so enamoured by the latest Kia model that I am now becoming exceedingly worried that my ever-so-Scottish wallet might be pressed into action, to allow me to live up to an aspiration that I have stated publicly for the past six, or seven, years at least, that once Kia started producing cars, with which I felt I could live admirably, I would invest in one!
Well, darn it, the new Soul could be that very car.
While the new model is remarkably similar to the old example, it is, in fact, completely new ground-upwards, from its Kia cee’d-based platform, to its exceptionally agreeable and upmarket interior detailing. If I harbour but one teensy-weensy issue, it lies in the flagrant ’Mark Two’ variegation of its body styling, which raises concerns for me about the integrity of the South Korean firm’s Chief Car Designer, a German gentleman, Herr Peter Schreyer, about whom I have feared that he might be little more than a ‘one-style-is-what-you-get’ exponent.
When you consider how ground-shaking the original TT was for Audi (even though it was Bauhaus-styling inspired), when Schreyer was employed by that carmaker, or the influence he has exercised over both Kia and Hyundai models of the past eight years, since he moved to that group, to feature chrome-ringed front foglamps (empty black roundels on lesser specified models) and matching red assemblies in the rear bumper, while making the original and unfussy Soul more ‘blingy’ overall, creates a minor visual blip in an otherwise exquisite newcomer.
The Kia cee’d underpinnings are unquestionably excellent, which is a compliment that could not be levelled at the original Soul. It suffered from negligible suspension control, sloppy reactions at the helm and a disquietingly unsettled ride quality. However, I cannot level any criticism at the new version. Even on our inexcusable and abysmally surfaced city roads and give-and-take cross-country routes, despite looking hard, I could find no fault in the Soul’s first-class deportment and comfortable ride and handling compromise. I would venture to suggest that some of Kia’s Teutonic rivals might benefit from taking lessons from Kia’s engineers.
I have driven both the 1.6-litre direct injection petrol (130bhp) and turbo-diesel (126bhp) power units in the Soul, which are capable of returning near identical 115mph top speeds and 10.5 seconds 0-60mph benchmarks in their performance curves. The diesel offers the customary mid-range punch expected of a turbocharged engine, although revving the petrol alternative produces similar results along with a tad more character.
There are no issues on the refinement front, as neither engine is particularly raucous, but at least they feel as though there is a connection between right foot and the power delivery, which is not something I get from certain cars at twice the price. Yet, there exists a little hiccough that will afflict peoples’ back pockets. Their respective CO2 ratings are 158 and 132g/km, which means that, if you want a zero-rated tax disc, you will have to wait for the Soul EV (electric) due in the near future.
Thankfully, there is more to living with a car than the cost of its tax disc, which might disappear (although I doubt it), should road tolling become the latest political gaffe for Cameron and cronies in Whitehall. Of significant appeal is the Soul’s thoroughly revised interior trim and I have seldom been as impressed as I was with it.
Having sampled two trim examples – the entry-level ‘Start’ (petrol) and a mid-range ‘Connect Plus’ (diesel), both with 6-speed manual transmissions (a 6-speed auto-box is available) – I would be perfectly delighted to live with either, although my archetypal Scottishness does prefer the £12,600 price tag of the Start, as opposed to the £17,500 of the alternative. Incidentally, the range tops out at £21,550, if you really want all of the garishness of a ‘Maxx’ trimmed variant (personally, I would not advise it, as the lower order models present such phenomenal value for money).
Sadly, there is a final demerit related to running costs and while Kia has become better at making a gallon of pump fuel travel a little further, neither model is as frugal as many of their rivals’ equivalent models have become. If you can live with around 36mpg of the petrol, or the 10mpg improvement you might obtain with the diesel version, I would suggest that you need never look elsewhere.
For me, the ever-so-convenient, beautifully built and trimmed, comfortable, accommodating, well-specified and spirited Kia Soul meets virtually all of my motoring demands. The new Soul drives well and puts a smile upon even the stoniest face with every driving experience. It did mine and, despite its little foibles (well, they are never going to be 100% perfect are they?) I would go for the Soul Start in petrol guise, as it just might be the best £12,600 I have ever spent on a motorcar.
Conclusion: We are all seeking some form of reality on the motoring front these days. The Kia Soul is real. It is also one of the best equipped and best value for money family cars that I have enjoyed driving for many years. As when the stars collide, finding such a useful combination of automotive talents under one roof is a rare thing indeed. If the Soul’s shape appeals, then take one for a test drive and you will soon discover what I mean.