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Kia Soul road test (copyright image)

The base model Kia Soul is the subject of this road test. Ian Barrett tests Next Car's third Soul for 610 kms around Sydney and the NSW central coast.

ROAD TEST:   Kia Soul  (petrol/manual)

by Ian Barrett

6th August, 2009

Home > Road Tests > Kia > Soul

Kia claims to have "the power to surprise". But if you admired the sleek new European looks of the Cerato, then 'shock' is more the word when confronted with Kia's new Soul. Distinctly Asian in character, the 'Suzuki Swift on steroids' look is well suited to Gen-Y, which values individual expression highly. Who says everyone should look the same? The styling of the Soul mimics a small SUV, with its high-set three box design, but doesn't claim any off-road credentials. Looks can be deceiving.

Step inside and you'll be surprised just how much room there is. Dominating the cabin is a dash lay out which matches the exterior styling. But if the look is striking, the entry-model colour scheme is a bit deflating, with an all-black 'graphite' finish to trim and plastics. However, all is not lost. Open the glove box or centre fascia sunglass storage, and bright orange-red colour highlights are revealed. Seating is surprisingly comfortable and there's plenty of leg and head room as a result of the tall body configuration. A notable omission on this base model was height adjustment for the driver. We felt that for smaller drivers the seat was a fraction low.

Equipment levels are par for the course at this price point, with remote keyless entry, manual air conditioning, power windows and (heated) exterior mirrors, reading lights, and tilt (but not reach) adjustable steering wheel. In-flight entertainment is provided by an MP3 compatible CD audio system with 6 speakers including tweeters and power bass. Auxiliary jacks in the centre console, for both iPod and USB devices, round out the picture and provide seamless interfacing. An optional sound system upgrade is available which adds a boot-mounted sub-woofer, large centre speaker above the fascia audio stack, and external amp.

Safety is pretty well covered too, with dual front, side and full-length curtain airbags, as well as active front head restraints, ABS, EBD and Brake Assist standard across the range. Unfortunately, ESP and traction control (TCS) are only available on Soul 2 and Soul 3. The base model, as tested here, goes without these two items, so achieves only a 4-star ANCAP rating.

Kia Soul road test (copyright image)

Underneath that body lies a very conventional front-wheel-drive mechanical lay out. Sitting on a wheelbase of 2,550 mm, the strut-type front suspension combines with a rear torsion beam set-up to give surprisingly flat and nimble handling for this style of vehicle, particularly with the optional 'Burner' wheels and 225/45 x18? low profile tyres fitted to our test car. The downside was ' billy-cart' ride comfort, especially on uneven surfaces, with a tendency to skip around a bit at the rear. And such huge wheels would make the space-saver spare look even more ridiculous, should it ever be required! Potential buyers may be well advised to stick with one of the standard wheel/tyre combinations.

Motive power for the Soul comes from a new all-alloy DOHC 1.6-litre petrol engine with continuously variable valve timing, producing 91 kW @ 6,300 rpm and max torque of 156 Nm @ 4,200 rpm. Our test car was fitted with the standard 5-speed manual transmission. This combination is quite adequate for urban and highway running, providing loads are kept light. We found though, that with four people on board, a bit of gear changing was needed to maintain speed on some of the F3's longer gradients. A 1.6-litre turbo diesel power plant is optional on higher-spec Souls, and this would seem a better bet for country buyers needing that extra oomph.

On a positive note, despite the engine having to work hard at times, fuel economy is surprisingly good. Kia quote a frugal 6.5 litres/100 km for the combined cycle. We failed to match this figure on test, but we did have additional bodies on board on occasions. CO2 emissions are 154g/km, which is sufficient to achieve a 5-star rating in the Federal Government's Green Vehicle Guide.

Kia's clever 'no two souls are the same' sales pitch with this car is to those who crave individuality. And with no less than 11 exterior colours to choose from, the Soul is a blank canvas waiting for 'wanna-be' Rembrandts or Pollacks to work on - at least externally. Those who fancy a retro-chic beige, or street demon red interior to match, will need to dig deeper for a Soul 2 or Soul 3. But for many that won't be necessary. A wide range of customising options - everything from body graphics to side skirts to headlight garnishes to 'gas burner' wheels - truly enables buyers to provide a mind-boggling number of combinations. After all, the one thing we all have in common is that we're uniquely different!

Our week with the car generated much more than the usual interest from friends, colleagues and passers-by alike. For some this was a Soul desperately in need of a body, while others wanted to be pointed to the nearest showroom!

Although undoubtedly designed for Gen-Y younger trendy types, we've said before that value conscious buyers of all ages who don't mind something different will be tempted by the Soul. It's combination of practicality, space - for both people and luggage - and economy of ownership will win many hearts and wallets. Priced from $20,990 (without options), plus dealer delivery and the various statutory charges, Soul certainly represents the sort of value for money motoring that we've come to expect from Kia.

Is it for you? Love it or loathe it, you'll be sure to turn lots of heads along the way!


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