Kia Soul 2 1.6 CRDi review
by David Finlay (16 June 2009)
It should be made clear right from the start that this Soul is part of the "mainstream" line-up which is due to stay in production for some time, rather than one of the Originals which will be replaced in 2010. The Originals are specially-designed models, and of those the Burner and the Shaker are aimed squarely at male and female buyers respectively (unlike the Samba, which seems to be intended for a more general audience), though Mike Grundon reckons that the Burner is strictly for the birds, while it has taken Sarah Dickie three months during her long-term test of the Shaker to find a woman who likes that version.
The Soul 2 (yes, there's also a cheaper Soul 1) is non-gender specific and therefore free from such considerations, and although it's fairly conventional as Souls go it is still eye-catching. Friends who saw the test car for the first time without knowing what it was tended to guess that it was American, and in a way they were right; the Soul started out as a design study by Kia's Californian design studio, and attracted so much attention within the company that it was confirmed for production in largely unchanged form.
I like to think that the conversation which led to this move went along roughly the following lines: "Hey, this thing looks fantastic - let's build it!" "You're right! Let's do that." "Obviously we'll have to do something about the window line, though. Why would we try to sell a car you can't see out of?" "Oh, yes, the window line needs changing. Obviously."
But that can't be entirely true, since nobody seems to have bothered about the window line at all, so the feeble glass area and massive rear pillars of the design study have been retained for the production car. Grrr!
This is my single biggest gripe about the Soul, and although Kia has clawed back some of the lost ground by creating a rear parking camera with a display on the left-hand side of the interior mirror, it's available only on the Shaker. With the 2, and indeed all other Souls, safe and accurate reversing is more a matter of religious faith than of driving skill.
Fortunately, the Soul is a lot better when you're going forwards, especially if you choose the 1.6-litre diesel engine as fitted to the test car. You can save £1000 by opting for a 1.6 petrol (with an almost identical maximum power output) instead, but this would not be a wise move. The diesel is much more economical, it will probably still be worth at least £1000 more than the petrol at resale time, it's quieter at motorway speeds (thanks to much higher gearing) and it handles a great deal better.
This is where I should report a difference of opinion. Sarah's long-term Shaker uses the petrol engine, and she thinks it handles very well, but she hasn't driven a diesel Soul. I have driven both, on the same roads on the same day, and although there is a slight excess of body roll in each case - unavoidable in a car which is so tall compared with its length and width - the diesel feels significantly more sure of itself.
On quick runs across challenging roads it was a lot more fun than I expected, especially after my day of driving various Souls on the launch event. That took place in and around Henley-on-Thames, and in retrospect perhaps Henley's road network doesn't really suit the Soul, or perhaps vice versa.
Driving the Soul is a pleasant enough experience for more reasons than the handling. The seats are impressively comfortable, and although I personally could do with a little more rearward travel for the driver's seat there is no doubt that four fairly large adults can be accommodated without any complaints about being cramped. (For clarification, the Soul is actually a five-seater, but only a child or a size-zero model will fit in the centre of the back row.)
Luggage space is good too, with a maximum varying between 700 and 800 litres depending on whether your particular Soul has an underfloor storage tray in the boot.
Access to the luggage compartment isn't all it might be - we're back to the whole form-over-function thing here, because the tailgate is unusually narrow and the rear sill is high, aspects which are less important in a concept car than in a real one.
Kia reckons that the Soul 2 will be the most popular model in the range. The Originals were never intended to be big sellers, and although the 1 is £1000 cheaper the 2 has 16" alloy wheels (as opposed to 15" steels), front foglights, a height-adjustable driver's seat, electrically-adjustable door mirrors, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, iPod compatibility and a wider choice of colours (including the test car's Cocktail Orange), among other things, and they are all likely to tempt buyers. A further £1000 gets you a four-speed automatic gearbox, if you want such a thing, to replace the standard five-speed manual.