Last week I nearly got dumped by my girlfriend. You see, I committed the cardinal sin of bringing home a test car that she didn’t approve of before she’d even been inside it. I’d sent her a picture of the Kia Soul and she told me if I brought it home it was over. So, as any honest motoring writer would do, I tempted fait and drove the Soul home.
She nearly didn’t get in the car with me, but luckily under the cover of dark she couldn’t get a good look at it and I convinced her it was her only way of getting home. She got in, and I could see a change in her opinion of the Soul – despite the polarising exterior design, the interior is hard to fault, even for someone as critical as my girlfriend. It’s a pretty solid design, simple in its execution, but visually appealing; with the clean dash lines, quirky speaker-come-air vent housings, and simple, rounded centre console design. The soft touch materials feel very plush too – as they should in the latest new model from the brand. Around the rest of the interior the finishes are just as plush, the leather seats feel of high quality and are supremely supportive, and the dark colour scheme around the cabin adds a touch of luxury to the feel of it all.
The crossover hatchback/SUV has grown up a bit since the previous model. It sits loftily on the road, whereas the previous model sat lower and more hatchback-like in its stance; yet despite this I’m sceptical to actually call it a bona fide crossover SUV as it doesn’t feel that tall, nor look it in terms of ground clearance. It seems Kia might agree with me, as even their local website doesn’t classify it as an SUV. But despite this, it does ride high, and gives the driver a commanding view of the road.
But instead of driving like the typical crossover breed, the Soul surprisingly packs the best of both hatchback and SUV driving dynamics. A commanding view of the road and comfortable, plush seating is mated to a controllable chassis and pliant suspension setup that yields well to imperfections in the road surface, yet refuses to wallow and bounce when placed under duress. Blemishes in the road surface are handled with the comfort and ease of a crossover SUV, yet body roll is more akin to that of a compact hatchback than crossover SUV; and around highway flyovers and even tighter turns, the Soul remains planted and well supported – a confidence inspiring trait in such a lofty vehicle.
The FLEXsteer electronically assisted power steering, although lacking feel, has been recalibrated somewhat from its other uses and feels weightier and more in control of the vehicle, regardless of its mode. This, in addition to the supportive qualities of the suspension, and the agile manner in which the Soul seems to move about on the road as commanded made for a rather wholesome driving nature; a point driven home with a solid brake feel, and the knowledge that the ABS and 6 airbags were there to keep me safe should anything go awry.
The combination of a soft, comfortable ride that’s supportive and refuses to wallow is accompanied by superb cabin insulation – keeping inhabitants comfortable with the lack of road noise and the ability to have a comfortable conversation without so much as having to raise your voice. A pity, almost, as it meant that when my girlfriend did moan that I had forced her to be seen in such an unsightly vehicle, there was nothing I could do to drown out the complaints. But despite the complaints from her side, I was finding the Soul to be thoroughly enjoyable – supremely comfortable, classy, and a package that felt well bolted together and composed of high quality materials. I feel at this point I should mention I quite like the Soul’s styling; it works for the car; it looks unique, stylish, and besides the window sills being a bit high, it has all the right proportions.
It also offers a decent bit of poke – thanks to the 1.6-litre diesel engine plating up 94kW and a rather healthy 260Nm. Driving the front wheels via a 6-speed manual gearbox, the diesel mill offers a substantial punch for its size. The 6-speed ‘box serves up a buttery smooth shift action with a shortish throw that makes rowing through the gears a thoroughly enjoyable task – blending creamy gearshifts with a lump of diesel torque that make for formidable on-the-road grunt. Whilst it isn’t a robot-to-robot sprinter, the Soul is never found wanting for overtaking acceleration – a point that even received notable commendation from my other half, despite her attempts to hide the complimentary tone in her voice.
The Soul was growing on her, bit by bit, as it had already done on me. The combination of a comfy ride quality, well insulated cabin, and decent bit of punch from the diesel engine make for an endearing combination. The consumption endeared the Soul to my wallet too, sipping 6.8l/100km – a small consolation for the torque it offers.
The mid-spec ‘Street’ Soul adds further to the allure of the Soul, equipping it with a list of additional equipment including automatic headlamps, ABS, automatic air conditioning, auto-dimming rear view mirror, electric windows front and rear, 6-speaker audio system with USB, auxiliary, and Bluetooth connectivity, leather seats, rear view camera, and rear park distance control. It’s the complete package, only lacking the cruise control that can be opted for with the ‘Smart’ spec level.
A week later, and after many threats of being single again, I feel like I somewhat changed my girlfriend’s opinion on the Soul. She still loathes the appearance of it from the outside – something that will never change, and I suspect there’s a good 50% of the population that’ll agree with her opinions – but she found it hard to fault from the inside. I sacrificed 7 days of affection in a bid to explore the Soul’s faults and virtues, and by the end of it I’ve been thoroughly impressed.
The spaciousness, combined with the comfort, lavish equipment list, and the overall feel of class and comfort make the Soul an all-round package that makes ‘premium’ just that little bit more accessible to those without a big budget. Priced at R304 995, the only thing the Soul does wrong is that not everyone agrees on the visual appeal, or lack thereof – arguably not the worst crime it could’ve committed.
|No. of Cylinders:||
94kW @ 4000RPM
260Nm @ 1900-2750RPM
6 Speed Manual
|Fuel Tank Capacity:||
|Fuel Consumption (Regular driving, combined cycle):||
Front Wheel Drive
|Price (as tested):||