Kia Soul review
New Kia Soul keeps the chunky looks of the previous model, but improves practicality and equipment
The original Kia Soul was introduced in 2008, and offered distinctive boxy SUV styling and a practical interior for buyers wanting to stand out from the crowd.
The second-generation model is based on the larger platform from the Kia Cee’d, so it’s bigger than its predecessor, but the angular styling remains.
The Kia Soul was one of the first chunky crossovers to arrive in the UK market but it never really hit it off with buyers. The second-generation model is bigger, bolder and more practical than ever so it should be second time lucky. To boost its chances the latest model has taken several design cues from the Track’ster concept first seen at the 2013 Chicago Motor Show.
It now rides on the same platform as the Kia Cee’d but it retains the distinctive chunky SUV-inspired looks of the bold original. The changes beneath the surface help improve practicality and boost passenger space.
Buyers can pick from either a 130bhp 1.6-litre petrol or a 126bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine. As you'd expect, the diesel promises lower running costs for those covering high mileages. There’s a choice of five trims – Start, Connect, Connect Plus, Mixx and Maxx – with the higher end models coming with a generous standard kit tally.
Kia is even taking on the likes of the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3 with an all-electric version of the Soul called the Soul EV. Capable of 124-miles on a single charge, it has a longer range than either of the aformentioned rivals, but at around £25,000 after the £5,000 Government grant has been deducted, it's not cheap.
All Souls, even the EV, benefit from Kia's renowned seven-year, 100,000-mile warranty, too.
Our choice: Soul 1.6 CRDi Mixx
Engines, performance and drive
You have a choice of a 1.6-litre petrol or 1.6-litre diesel engine with the Kia Soul. The petrol motor isn’t turbocharged, and while it's relatively cheap to buy, it's not particularly economical. The 1.6 CRDi diesel isn’t the most refined engine around and it fires up in the Soul with a clatter like the diesels of old and it never really smooths out on the move – although it settles down to a background hum at a cruise.
A large windscreen, smaller A-Pillars and raised ride height give an excellent view out the front and the wheel adjusts for reach and height. Kia’s Flex Steer system gives you a button on the wheel to switch between Sport, Normal and Sport steering modes, but while weighting increases a bit, there’s little real difference in feedback or feel. However, the increased proportions of the new model mean it holds the road better, while the more rigid body helps reduce body roll.
The six-speed manual gearbox is easy to use and there’s the option of a six-speed auto from Connect Plus trim onwards. The ride, although not brilliant, is much improved over the outgoing model thanks to changes in the suspension setup. It’s comfortable on the motorway but it still fidgets about over sudden changes in the road surface.
While the limited range will put some customers off the EV, there's nothing wrong with the way it drives. Acceleration is brisk off the line and the lack of engine noise makes it smooth and relaxing to drive. It's heavier than the standard car, but the low centre of gravity means it feels planted and darts around corners nicely.
MPG, CO2 and running costs
The Kia Soul is popular in the US, and the new model feels like it’s been tailored for that market.
It's a surprise that the new Kia Soul has poorer emissions and economy figures than its predecessor. Some of that is due to its increase in size, but the lack of stop-start also puts the 1.6 CRDi on the back foot - on test, a return of 40.8mpg was 8.1mpg worse than the similar Peugeot 2008 which comes with stop-start technology.
Unlike some other Kia models, there's no super-efficient EcoDynamics version of the Soul, so those looking for ultra-low running costs will be disappointed.
The 1.6-litre diesel engine is the most economical choice, but its 132g/km CO2 output is on the high side. If you go for the 1.6-litre petrol, that figure rises dramatically to increases to 170g/km.
If you really want to reduce your running costs though, and don't need to cover big mileages very often, then the Soul EV is the one to go for. A full charge from a household socket will take between 10 to 12 hours, although fast chargers can top it up in around half an hour, but either way the electricity required costs a fraction of the price for a tank of fuel.
More expensive models come with lots of standard kit and every Soul benefits from Kia’s industry leading seven-year warranty.
Interior, design and technology
Whatever you thought about the styling of the original Kia Soul, you’re likely to maintain the same opinion of the new car. While the switch to a larger platform has increased the overall dimensions, the angular lines and boxy silhouette are pretty much the same as before.
The bluff front end features a false grille, and the air intakes have been moved down to the bumper. The combination of sharp angles and bulging wheelarch blisters gives it a bit of an SUV look.
At the back, large tail-lamps flank the upright tailgate with a flash of gloss black plastic connecting the lights, which makes it look similar to the Fiat Qubo, while the rear bumper sticks out awkwardly.
If you want a rugged look, then the top-spec Mixx and Maxx models add gloss black wheelarch extensions and roof rails.
The cabin features quite a bit of black plastic – a familiar Kia feature – but the speaker-topped vertical air vents at either end of the dash add a bit of style to the cabin. Contrast stitching on the seats, honeycomb seat patterns and gloss black plastic around the gearlever also give the interior a lift.
One particular highlight on the Connect Plus model is the eight-inch touchscreen. The graphics are crystal clear and easily legible, while the sat-nav map has clean graphics and you can even set up your own home menu that features the options you use most frequently.
If you avoid the entry–level Start trim, the interior in the second-gen Soul is modern and fresh. An eight-inch colour touchscreen dominates the dash and gives the cabin the feeling of a car from the class above.
Build quality is also excellent with lots of soft touch materials and big robust dial and switches. The layout is straightforward, while piano black inserts brighten up the cabin even further.
To mark it out from the pack, the Soul EV comes with a blanked-out front grille that opens to reveal a pair of charging ports - one for a standard charger and the other for a fast charger. A set of unique 16-inch wheels have been designed to slice through the air more efficiently, while there's a two-tone paint job on the outside and a lighter colour scheme for the interior.
Practicality, comfort and boot space
The Kia Soul is bigger and more practical than ever. Compared to the first Soul, the latest version has a 20mm longer wheelbase and is 15mm wider, which contributes to a more spacious cabin and an extra luggage room. It’s also 10mm lower to the ground so it’s easier to get in and out and headroom hasn’t been affected.
Boot space has increased by 14 litres to 354 litres, plus you get extra storage under the boot floor. A heating and colling system for the battery pack in the EV model means you lose some of that underfloor storage however, reducing the boot space to 281 litres. The high roofline gives excellent headroom and the rear seats are comfortable. The small transmission tunnel also increases rear passenger space and you’ll have no trouble fitting three adults across the rear bench.
However, unlike some crossover rivals, the rear seats don’t slide and there’s no clever folding modulation. But even though they don’t fold fully flat you get 1,367 litres of luggage space if you load to the roof with the seats down. Higher trim models come with handy features like a reversing camera, navigation and Bluetooth.
Up front in the Kia Soul, it’s easy to get comfortable as there’s plenty of seat and wheel adjustment, plus you get a wide range of storage options, including a deep glovebox, door bins, and a centre console cubby with cup-holders.
Reliability and Safety
Just like every other model in the Kia range, the Kia Soul comes with a seven-year warranty, although you’re unlikely to need to get any work carried out, as the company’s cars are very reliable. The Soul is based on the Kia Cee’d’s running gear, so its mechanical components are tried and tested, while the EV model should be even more dependable because it uses much fewer moving parts.
Cee’d owners are happy with the reliability of their cars, giving it a top 10 placing in our Driver Power 2014 satisfaction survey. Euro NCAP has yet to test the Soul for safety, but the Cee’d has a five-star rating and has good scores across the board.
With that in mind, the Soul should be just as effective in an accident. There are six airbags, while tyre pressure monitors are standard, and Connect Plus models feature a reversing camera.