Kia's new Soul won us over in its expected top-selling guise – the 1.6-litre CRDi turbodiesel paired with a satisfying six-speed manual gearbox.
Now we're sampling the lighter, cheaper 1.6-litre petrol-powered Soul to see if it’s good enough to usurp the diesel.
What’s the petrol Kia Soul’s engine spec?
Incongruously christened ‘GDI’ for ‘gasoline direct injection’, the 1.6-litre four-cylinder does without a turbocharger. Power is 130bhp at a heady 6300rpm (a meagre 4bhp more than the diesel delivers). Torque is predictably lower too: just 119lb ft, which doesn’t even get out of bed until the engine is spinning at 4800rpm.
When you’ve got around over 1300kg of quirky crossover to shift, the same-sized diesel’s 73lb ft advantage (a full 2950rpm lower down the power band) looks like a clear winner on paper.
What about on the road?
Smooth as the petrol is, it can’t outrun the unfortunate truths of its limp-wristed output. Its 11sec-dead 0-62mph run is actually 0.2sec faster that the diesel, but you’d never know it. Coaxing power from the GDI petrol takes revs, revs – wince – and yet more revs. It’s not a tuneful engine, nor does it step up its power delivery near the redline, despite a helping of variable valve timing. You get the same whiny voice heard in the mid-range of the Kia Ceed GT and Hyundai Veloster, only without their rortier final flourish – or their extra power.
On the motorway, the diesel extends its advantage. Acceleration in fifth and sixth gears elicits a good five seconds of yawning before the Soul GDi’s speedo needle reluctantly moves up a notch.
How is the petrol for fuel economy?
The best we saw on a brief test drive was 37.6mpg. Kia’s claim is an unambitious 43.4mpg, pointing to a tacit admission the engine is off the pace of the best downsized turbo units from the likes of Volkswagen, Nissan, and Renault. Interestingly, the naturally aspirated Kia’s fuel appetite matches that of the turbocharged three-cylinder Ford Ecoboost we reviewed recently, proving that some downsized engines are more equal than the others…
How does that compare to the diesel?
Mixed driving on Sicily’s flowing autostradas and winding mountain roads gave us a best score of 45mpg from the Soul diesel – some way off the official 58mpg lab figure, but respectable for the speeds and challenging nature of some of the test route’s roads. In any case, it’s another point for the oil-burner.
Though Kia is yet to release prices and UK specification level of the new second-gen Soul, it’s thought that the petrol version will undercut the CRDI diesel by around £1000.
That expected four-figure price advantage is the only reason we’d recommend a petrol Soul versus a diesel one. The diesel is more efficient, sounds marginally better, and is more flexible to the point of embarrassing the petrol Soul. Though the petrol car has a 90-100kg weight saving (depending on spec) and a marginally quicker steering rack, it doesn’t uncover new layers of handling verve and depth from the boxy Soul.
Kia expects the 1.6-litre CRDI diesel with a manual gearbox to account for two-thirds of European sales of this funky new family-mover. Quite frankly, we’re surprised it’s not more.