This is the new Kia Soul – we promise. Although it looks little changed from the quirky original that’s graced UK shores since 2009, Kia insists the new version has received a raft of deeper-than-skin changes to make it better to drive, and more upmarket inside. Those were the two areas the Soul desperately needed improvement in, so has it worked?
Give over – that’s the old Kia Soul!
The California-designed Soul appears to have borrowed a trick from Mini. When you update a car, simply take the popular outgoing design to a photocopier, hit the 110% button, and then use a lathe to sharpen the edges. Presto! It’s a slightly bigger, more modern-looking version that won’t put off the enthusiasts. Standout new details in the metal are the clever ‘floating’ tailgate panel and the curiously appealing clash of squared-off bumpers and round reflectors. Spec the 18in wheels and a contrast-colour roof and the Soul does a not-at-all unappealing impression of a Range Rover Evoque.
Essentially, if you liked the old Soul – and other outlandish crossovers such as Nissan’s Juke and the Jeep Renegade, you’ll find much to fall fond of here – it is a design-led machine, after all. If you prefer your jumped-up hatches more conservative, the door of the Nissan Qashqai is that way.
Has Kia remembered to design the Soul’s interior too this time?
Yes. If the outside is Marmite – love it or hate it – the new Soul’s interior is homemade jam. Everyone’s going to like it. Material quality is up, the centre console no longer looks like a grafted-on afterthought mashing incongruous switchgear with Dacia plastics, and there’s much more equipment to complement your silver brightwork and bulbous speakers.
Rationalising the centre console with a conventional touchscreen allows the fitment of sat-nav, as part of Kia’s user-friendly infotainment system. The driver contact points are much more pleasant to the touch, and best of all, the driving position caters for a much wider range of driver shapes and sizes. It’s very car-like, rather than a bit too lofty for its own good, as before.
What about the space?
The old car struggled to efficiently convert its boxy profile into cabin spaciousness. Inside the new car, there’s a useful amount of extra rear headroom, but the thick pillars and tinted glass still conspire to make the Soul feel more claustrophobic than it actually is. Seating three children across the rear bench will be a doddle – less so your adult chums.
The boot now has a 60mm wider opening, and, at 354 litres, is 14l bigger than before. A Qashqai has a better-shaped load bay – the Kia’s isn’t as deep as we’d like.
The cabin’s a success then. What about the drive?
Kia bullishly claims that for this Soul, driving dynamics were given just as much credence during the development process as the all-important looks – quietly hinting that driver satisfaction was far from as high on the agenda first time around. It showed.
On paper, the new Soul has a much better starting point. Thanks to more liberal use of high-strength steel, the new Soul’s bodyshell is said to be 28% more rigid than the old car’s. A 20mm longer wheelbase, 10mm ride-height drop and 15mm width stretch nod towards more composed, less woolly handling than we’re used to from a Soul – along with completely rethought suspension and a repositioned steering gearbox.
Stronger mounts mean less kickback through the rim, apparently . Kia is so confident about the car’s handling, it’s even fitted an adaptive steering system – drivers can select the helm weighting by toggling between Comfort, Normal and Sport settings on the move.
Has it worked?
Yes – the new Soul is miles better to drive than its all-looks-and-no-entertainment dad. It corners flatter, grips harder, and delivers much more feedback through the wheel-rim – not a difficult achievement, given the amount of feel it had to beat was ‘none’. Comfort mode offers delicately light steering around town (best ignored unless parking), and Sport mode adds a smidge more weight but not too much self-centring effect. Frankly, Normal mode is a sensible middle ground and we’d see no reason to meddle with it.
The gearbox is another big thumbs up – not only is the glossy lever (pinched from the Proceed GT warm hatch) more tactile than the Fisher-Price lightsaber you used to get, but it’s connected to a more direct, snappy shift. The detail chassis tweaks and that resolved driving position add up to a much more pleasant car to drive.
At the expense of refinement?
No – there’s less wind noise around the upright (but 20mm narrower) A-pillars than before, and the ride is almost as good – all the cars on the launch wore 18in rims, which sadly robbed the Soul of the last word in pliancy. UK cars get 16in and 17in alloys as standard, so should survive British tarmac better.
The 1.6-litre diesel engine is quieter upon start-up and revs more smoothly than in the old Soul, but it’s still no firecracker: 125bhp and 192lb ft are all you get. Although Nissan’s rival diesel has more turbo lag, it’s punchier once the blower is wound up. Perhaps a faster, 201bhp ‘Soul GT’ is what’s needed: Kia insiders say it’s near the top of the company’s new product wish-list.
In sorting out the Soul’s drab cabin, numb dynamics and questionable refinement, Kia’s exorcised the demons of the only remaining weak link in its range – although it does deserve a performance version to outpace the anaemic current engines.
Fact is, if you like the looks – still the main reason for lusting after a Soul – there’s a lot more to recommend what’s under the skin this time around.