Once marketed as the poster-child of what Kia was capable of in terms of design, the boxy Soul’s glory days are now behind it with just a single variant available in Australia and the previously available almost-endless personalisation options pared right back.
But the Soul lives on, which is more than can be said for its similarly boxy Toyota Rukus rival. Interestingly though, instead of grooming the upright Soul as a small SUV - a key segment Kia is unrepresented in - the Soul keeps hanging onto its versatile hatch title.
Though it may have been fresh out-of-the-box thinking when it arrived (oh, the irony) the Soul is conspicuously unusual in a market that’s fallen in love with small SUVs
Vehicle Style: Small hatch
Price: $24,990 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 112kW/192Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 8.0 l/100km | Tested: 8.8 l/100km
The Kia Soul comes in just one flavour for Australia, the Si automatic, powered by a 2.0-litre petrol engine and with six-speed automatic from $24,990 - a little high as far as entry level small cars go, but not too far off the pace.
The standard equipment list isn’t overstuffed, though there’s not much missing with Bluetooth, power windows, alloy wheels, cruise control, and more as standard though unlike Kia’s newer models the Soul misses out on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity.
That might not be a problem as, despite arriving as funky-fresh tool to entice younger buyers to the brand, the Soul seems to have found its niche as a roomy, simple, and easy to drive car for older buyers looking for space and versatility - something the Soul has plenty of.
- Standard Equipment: fabric seat trim, premium steering wheel and gear knob, manual air conditioning, cruise control, auto-on headlights, trip computer, roof rails, 17-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 5.0-inch touchscreen, AM/FM radio, Bluetooth connectivity, USB input, six-speaker audio
- Options Fitted: Inferno Red + Black Roof $910
- Cargo Volume: 328 litres to back seats, 878 litres to front seats
Considering the Soul’s tall and square-shouldered styling, it should come as no surprise to find the interior is absolutely immense - exactly as it was intended to be, making it more flexible than its compact footprint might suggest.
There is more headroom than anyone could possibly need, and the Soul’s upright stance encourages a similarly upright seating position, although manages to escape any kind of church-pew seating position.
The SUV theme rears it head yet again with the kind of commanding visibility usually reserved for high-riding crossovers, but in this case there’s more space inside than usually found in the boot of your average small SUV.
At 328 litres the boot doesn’t seem particularly capacious, smaller than a Mitsubishi ASX for instance, but larger than a Mazda CX-3. It’s the way you can load it that makes the difference, with square corners that let you pack in just about any box, carton, or furniture item imaginable without striking the sides.
Unfortunately a combination of the Soul’s age, and it’s primary development for the American market (where consumer demands are a little different to here) mean the cabin feels low-rent.
While there’s gloss-black trim highlights used throughout, the black-on-black cabin feels sombre and lacks any kind of sophistication in its choice of materials. Kia has tried, with a few design flourishes for the outboard air vents, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark.
Standard equipment also falls on the low side. The Soul goes without features like smartphone mirroring that Kia’s other models have adopted, gets by with manual air con and still requires you to turn a key to start it… how retro.
There’s still a healthy balance of equipment though, including standard cruise control, power windows, reversing camera, Bluetooth, and a 5.1-inch infotainment screen.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol, 112kW @6200rpm, 192Nm @ 4000rpm
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: 280mm ventilated front discs, 262mm solid rear discs
- Steering: electric power steering, 10.6m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 1100kg braked, 550kg unbraked, 130kg towball download
Although slightly smaller than the Cerato, the Soul shares its 2.0-litre engine with Kia’s other, more conventional hatch and when driven side-by-side the similarities between the two are obvious - which is no bad thing.
There’s no choice of transmission, as a six-speed automatic is all that’s available, which makes a lot of sense given the popularity of autos in the segment, coupled with the Soul’s buyer profile, which tends to be at the more mature end of the market.
Don’t expect dynamic thrills as the engine, though entirely functional in day-to-day driving, isn’t really any kind of highlight with only average levels of noise suppression and performance that’s adequate rather than engaging.
Give it a big rev and the 2.0-litre engine can sound coarse, although to its credit the six-speed auto keeps up cleverly with driver demands and is rarely caught off-guard.
Perhaps more worrying is the warning label on the driver’s sun visor warning against abrupt steering inputs due to an increased rollover risk - something that seems a little unnecessary. Sure the Soul is taller than you average small hatch, but it doesn’t feel unstable or insecure.
The ride quality has been stiffened to prevent excessive body roll through corners, but as a flow-on effect the Soul’s initial bump compliance isn’t as cushy as it could otherwise be, making the ride a little jiggly when unladen but more settled with a few passengers aboard.
As a simple grocery-getter the Soul is a perfect example of how a basic city car should operate. It’s small on the outside for ease of parking, easy to see out of (though the rear pillars are quite large), offers a slightly raised driving position, and packs in plenty of space.
If your planned usage includes longer cross country stints behind the wheel, or your driving style is more demanding the Soul may not always answer your needs with some concessions to comfort, pedestrian performance, and dynamics that fail to excite.
ANCAP Rating: The Kia Soul has yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety Features: Six airbags (dual front, front seat side, full-length curtain), front seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters, electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, rear park sensors, rear view camera.
The Kia Soul is not available with advanced safety features like fatigue detection, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning or autonomous emergency braking either standard or as an option.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Seven years/unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Kia offers seven years capped price servicing with 12 month/15,000km intervals (whichever comes first). The total program cost is $2688 over the entire schedule with individual services priced between $297 and $512 depending on the interval. Your Kia dealer can advise on full terms, conditions, and exclusions of the program.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
Kia’s own showrooms are filled with sort-of similar small hatches. You could pick from the more traditional Cerato or the equally van-like five-seat Rondo, making the decision all the harder within the company’s own range.
If the taller stance is appealing but the boxiness isn’t, then the Subaru XV bridges the gap between SUV and hatch, adding the surety of all wheel drive grip. Although the base price isn’t as sharp there’s a well built and furnished interior and plenty of standard features.
A replacement is coming soon, but the Skoda Yeti still drives well, offers good value, and like the Soul is boldly boxy, making a unique style statement while maximising versatility. Although down on power and torque, the Yeti punches above its weight and feels right at home in the cut and thrust of urban traffic.
Perhaps not the most obvious choice, but the Honda Civic could be the answer. Although it’s a traditional hatch without the high stance, the Civic maximises interior space, making it feel absolutely massive inside, with more technology and a more premium feel inside and a recently added five-door version even greater flexibility.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
While the Soul may not set your imagination on fire, it doesn’t really need to. It’s practical, still has an air of ‘funky’ to its styling, and it’s simple. Newer hatches and SUVs may have it beaten for safety features and connectivity but the Soul isn’t too far behind the pack.
Where Kia may have done itself a disservice is in not making the Soul into a small SUV - that segment is on fire right now and Kia has no vehicle to fill the gap in Australia. Europe gets an SUV-styled Soul, and as it stands the Soul fits the description of the ever more car-like urban crossover SUV.
To prove how fickle the market really is, the Soul is largely ignored by buyers in Australia for no other reason than its lack of a fashionable SUV label. Some chunky body cladding and the right marketing push could really boost the Soul’s presence, but in the shrinking pool of regular passenger cars this inbetweener is likely to be overlooked entirely.