Despite the boom in the automotive industry this 2017, (it looks to be another banner year for the industry), Kia has unfortunately failed to grow with the market.
Sales have improved year-on-year for the Korean brand, but competitors seem to offer products that are newer, or have better and easier financing deals, or a LCV-based 7-seater diesel SUV.
It’s a shame, really, because Kia’s lineup is really impressive given the technology it brings, and its cutting edge design and functionality.
One such vehicle is Kia’s Soul. Decked out in EX variant, it’s a mightily impressive car in a small package with a great price.
This second generation Soul has grown wider, taller and longer compared to its predecessor. Interior space and NVH have improved as well.
Thirty five percent of the chassis is ultra-high strength steel, while 30 percent is high strength steel, according to KIA, which greatly improves safety, high-speed stability and refinement, torsional rigidity (the chassis’ ability to resist twisting while going through rough roads under full load).
Kia also sought to install four pliant bushings into the front subframe to further reduce NVH emanating from the front suspension and engine.
The rear suspension gets a revised layout to allow greater wheel movement and independent articulation going over rough roads.
The top-of-the-line EX variant comes with the larger 18-inch wheels and steering wheel-mounted audio controls. The base LX variant comes with smaller 16-inch wheels and tires, and the audio controls are no longer mounted on the steering wheel.
The Soul is a perfect everyday vehicle to slog through Metro Manila traffic. The 1.6-later CRDi diesel engine features a VGT turbocharger that delivers a nice, fat 136 hp and 300 Newton meters of torque, allowing the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission to surf through the torque at high gear while keeping the revs down, thereby improving fuel economy.
It’s handsome too. The Soul, finished in two-tone grey with a white roof, looks very modern and stylish.
The two-tone white roof makes it appear like a MINI wannabe, but that’s cool with us, as only Koreans can pull off such cheeky imitation without going overtly and ambitiously upmarket, or deceptively trying to be something it’s not.
Being Korean too, it has that cuteness we’ve come to expect from modern K-Pop culture. And that’s why this car is so appealing to a specific segment.
Inside, the black and gray fabric and plastics are highlighted by distinct yellow stitching on the seats and shift boot. Isofix child seat mounts are standard on both variants.
Entry and exit is easy as the crossover ride height means it’s a simple matter of sitting down much as you would a regular park bench.
This makes it an ideal vehicle for families with senior citizens or children, particularly babies being carried by parents as they get in.
The view over the road is confidence-inspiring: You see the hood clearly, with a sizeable chunk of the road directly in front of you, making it ideal for first-time car drivers since blind spots become almost nonexistent.
The ride height also gives you greater confidence tackling rough roads or light flashfloods.
Safety-wise, the Kia Soul scored four out of five stars on the Euro NCAP crash test ratings. It comes with dual airbags in EX trim (single driver side only for lower LX variant), ABS brakes, traction/stability controls, and hill-start assist (which makes moving off from inclines less jerky due to the dual-clutch transmission).
Of course, the Soul isn’t perfect. Firstly, the transmission’s dual-clutch 7-speeder is smooth on the highway, but can get very annoyingly jerky if you’ve been crawling through traffic, more so when starting from an incline, and you’re balancing brake and throttle.
Methinks some clutch material from the friction discs scrub off and build up on the flywheels, making progress even less smooth.
Next is the steering: I had asked my wife to drive the car into our garage from the street as I opened and closed the gate one rainy late evening. The missus thought the steering wheel was broken as she twirled it like a toy and felt totally disconnected to the wheels.
Admittedly, at speed on the highway, it improves noticeably, but Kia could have engineered a little more feel into the electrically-assisted power steering system.
Next is cargo space. Having 354 liters with rear seats up, it’s not very handy.
If you do drop the second row seats and fill up the Soul all the way to the interior ceiling, you end up with a gargantuan 1,367 liters. However, rear view is lost.
The next best option is to buy a roof rack with a canopy or basket to load big, bulky items overhead, something which the Soul, with its outdoorsy active lifestyle persona, seems well fit.
Lastly is the noise: You can really hear the diesel clatter on startup and cold idle, but the noise and vibration lessens noticeably as the engine warms up.
Cruise at 90-100 kmh, the diesel is somewhat overlaid with a fair bit of both tire and wind noise, par for other cars in its price range so it’s liveable.
The sound system sounds a bit too tinny and digitized.
Then you have the impressive diesel engine efficiency to boot. After covering roughly 180 kilometers into my approximately 330 kilometer test drive over the course of a week, the fuel gauge barely moved.
By the time I returned the Soul, the fuel gauge was still half full. Fluke or not, my consumption average was an impressive 11 km/L in the city, and almost 20 km/L on the highway.
This makes it a worthwhile financial investment if you do long drives regularly with passengers with not much gear.
Overall, the Soul is a great little car, and it shows that Kia is on the right track by putting technologies that really improve efficiency, practicality and ease of use in a cute, affordable and versatile package.
Underneath the skin, the Kia Soul is impressive. It’s just the bits that you touch (plastic interior) and feel (brakes, steering and throttle) that still need some fine-tuning, improvement and massaging.
Yet, it’s a great car worth recommending, thanks to its very competitive price, space, efficiency, and all the technology packed in a distinctly futuristic K-Pop-themed package.
The foibles just help give it character, or, pardon the pun, the Soul of Seoul.
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