ALL TOO OFTEN, what we want is not what we need. What we need usually wins and what we want is impractical and over-priced. Of course there are some exceptions to that rule, and Kia is hoping it?s got one of them for us.
Kia drops its fresh and funky Soul onto an unsuspecting market right at a time when most other manufacturers are busily pulling bold designs in lieu of more staid volume sellers.
From concept to reality the Soul has kept its brash and ballsy styling. More tellingly though, Kia no longer just builds the kinds of cars people need, instead they?ve lunged straight for the ?want? factor.
Think you?ve got the hang of what Kia is all about? May we present to you the Soul, and ask you to guess again.
From time to time the planets align and someone, be it a noted design house or a backyard doodler, creates the kind of legendary form that doesn?t dull with age.
Of course, taste is purely subjective, but iconic designs as diverse as the Converse All-Star, Eames recliner, the Guggenheim Museum and even Alec Issigonis? original Mini have all passed the test of time.
While the Soul certainly cuts an intriguing figure, does it belong in such esteemed company?
The short answer is no. While at first glance the eye-catching Kia Soul may look hotter than Prada?s summer collection, its time as a style icon will likely be short-lived.
As it stands though it offers something unique in the Australian market. Unapologetically bluff and boxy, the Soul almost looks like the caricature of a tough-guy with its solid base, pumped-up guards and blacked-out A and B pillars.
Up front, careful attention has been paid to the two-part head lamps, equipped on the Soul3 with rather butch looking 'eyeliner' treatment. From behind, the building-block style of the massive tail-lights looks both retro and modern.
The stand-alone 'escape hatch' style tailgate is another innovative touch. Also nifty is the raised flat surface in the centre of the bonnet which is a handy dress-up ?canvas? for Kia's range of genuine accessory decal kits.
To top-off the look, the Soul3 sits atop 18-inch alloy rims. These lend an air of street cred to a body, which, despite its cubist inspiration, manages to look oddly athletic for a car. (Something, you?d reckon, a two-box silhouette simply shouldn?t be.)
All good things must come to an end. The eye-catching innovation that the Soul proudly wears on its sleeve from the outside almost vanishes as you climb aboard.
There are a few sexy little inclusions, and ticking a few boxes on the order form will ?up the ante? in the appearance stakes, but the car TMR tested came in uninspiring grey tones for the dash and seats.
One thing that doesn't change though is the funky red-lit instrumentation as well as the split-watermelon style red lining for the glove-box and lidded bin above the stereo.
The adventurous can add either a Street Demon (red) or Retro Chic (beige) dash with matching seat trim, should a little added visual sting be required.
The added benefit of the Soul?s upright boxy shape is that accommodation is cavernous, especially given the car?s comparatively small footprint.
There?s plenty of room both front and rear with space for three across the rear bench. There is also plenty of space for knees and feet for all but the gargantuan (who?ll still have plenty of head-space in either row).
Sadly for all the cat-swinging room around the seats, they?re fairly flat. A lack of shape in any seat and no lumbar adjustment for the driver means long trips can become a little bit tiresome. Coupled with firm cushions, ?numb-bum syndrome? becomes a very real possibility.
Further back, cargo space is also deceptively roomy. Although the rear seats appear to be uncomfortably close to the tail gate, the surprising space available is useful in accommodating all manner of objects, with a multi-compartment under-floor storage tray a handy inclusion.
Equipment and Features
Like the Soul?s somewhat plain interior, the equipment list isn?t exactly bursting with innovation.
That?s not to say that the Soul is short-changed when it comes to gadgetry though. There?s still a decent list of comfort and safety items.
On the safety front, the Soul3 comes with six air-bags as well as four-wheel anti-skid disc brakes with brake-force distribution and electronic stability control to keep everything on track.
Inside, there are steering wheel audio controls linked to an eight-speaker audio system which includes a centre channel, subwoofer and 315 watt amplifier. It makes for impressive reading sure, however the top-end performance of the stereo is still a little lacking.
For the iPod equipped, linking the Soul via an optional multimedia cable also provides full iPod control through the head-unit and steering wheel, with all screen data repeated in the audio system display.
As an added wow factor there are mood-lit speakers in the front doors which can be set to stay on, pulse, or groove to your tunes. It certainly entertains passengers and best of all, it can be turned off which is particularly handy at night given the reflections the little suckers throw up.
Powering the show is a Euro-4 compliant 1.6 litre turbo diesel, with twin overhead camshafts, four valves per cylinder, common-rail high-pressure fuel injection and a variable geometry turbocharger (VGT) which adjusts the flow of exhaust gases in order to ensure optimum performance throughout the rev range with maximum fuel economy and low CO2 emissions. A diesel particulate filter is fitted to the automatic version.
With 94 kW on tap and a handy 260Nm at 1900 rpm, it does the job, but the Soul is hardly what you?d call quick.
In fact, despite its best efforts, the power-sapping automatic transmission probably shoulders much of the blame here, making the Soul feel much heavier than its 1289kg kerb weight.
Under the official ADR81/02 combined consumption test, the SOUL diesel is recorded as achieving 5.2 litres/100kms (manual transmission) and 5.9 litres/100kms (automatic), while CO2 emissions are just 137g/km with the standard five-speed manual gearbox and 155g/km with the optional four-speed automatic.
The optional four-speed automatic gearbox uses what Kia refers to as an 'intelligent' system. Governed by an electronic controller, it monitors several parameters to ensure smooth shifting at all times, taking into account individual driving styles and adapting as it ?learns?.
Underneath the SOUL there is a fully-independent strut-type front suspension with coil springs and gas-filled dampers and a torsion-beam rear axle with trailing arms, coil springs and gas dampers.
Anti-roll bars are fitted front and rear to minimise body sway and ensure maximum stability while both the front and rear suspension systems are mounted on subframes with isolating bushes to curb noise, vibration and harshness (NVH).
Making up for the lack of grunt means adding plenty of force to throttle applications. However, get the engine working hard and you?ll discover the 1.6 litre turbo diesel engine isn?t the sweetest nor most silent little unit around.
If you fall into the category of thinking the Soul has a unique personality then the accompanying noise is easier to swallow: the punk-rock diesel works a treat, providing a running commentary of what?s happening under the bonnet.
Trying to keep up with the flow of traffic is hard work though and as a result we couldn?t match Kia?s claimed 5.9 l/100km fuel consumption figures on the combined cycle. Try closer to 8.9 l/100, eradicating much of the diesel engine?s economy advantage.
Low profile tyres also don?t do much for ride quality. It?s not exactly uncomfortable, but every imperfection in the tarmac below finds its way back into the cabin.
Steering also tends to be a bit of a non-event. While it?s light and great to use in a busy city environ, there?s next to no sense of connection to the front wheels.
Considering the amount of body roll ? it?s a tall body remember - there?s no real need to make the Soul a corner-carving weapon.
You don?t ?go places? in the Soul, the Soul shares the journey with you. Its attention-seeking appeal means that you?ll never not be noticed, especially in the likes of the Orange Cocktail hue of our tester.
For the top of the line Soul3 CRDi Automatic you see here, the value for money equation is a little hard to fathom.
At $30,890 the Soul is knocking on the door of some equally funky Euro competitors. These ? like the MINI and new Alfa MiTo - take the lead for road manners, but, on the other side of the ledger, do not offer the space and practicality of the Soul?s interior.
For a lot of buyers, the Soul?s brash individual looks and small-wagon versatility will count for a lot.
If you can put aside the dynamic short-comings and can handle being thrust into the spotlight every time you take the wheel, then there?s a Kia Soul waiting with your name on it.
- ?So hot right now? styling
- Plenty of room inside
- Decent stereo with superb iPod integration
- Plenty of safety kit
- Thirsty for a small diesel
- Lack of grunt
- Disappointingly sombre interior
- Brittle ride and numb steering
Photography by Joel Strickland.