The Kia Soul first arrived on UK shores back in 2008 and is now in its second generation. At first glance the modest changes that were ushered in during 2014 seem like a classic “blink and you will miss it” update. For the most part you only notice a sleeker set of headlights and a redesigned front bumper and new look corporate grille.
Once you look closer you see little details that weren’t present in the first generation. The end result is you really don’t notice that the Soul is slightly wider and slightly longer. The Soul has retained as much inspiration as it could from the 2012 Trackster concept, and certainly, the second gen Soul is an eye-catching if quirky end result and that’s a good thing because quirkiness is never out of fashion.
The first generation Soul was let down by a plasticity interior, great to look at but rather miserable to sit in. That feeling of abject misery has been eradicated, although the interior design isn’t as inspired as the exterior, overall its solidly well-built.
The cheap first generation plastics have been replaced by higher-grade polycarbonate’s, posh plastics to you and I. It feels plush even more so when compared to its so called premium rival the Mini Countryman although it lacks the Countryman’s razzle-dazzle design.
And of course the interior is spacious up front and accommodating for rear-seated passengers, relative to its compact SUV form factor. Boot space is a very useful 354-litres which increases to an even more useful 994-litres with the rear seats folded flat. And the underfloor boot storage is thoughtfully integrated as well as adding an extra measure of practicality.
Prices for the Soul start at £12.5k and can rise up too £20k for the top spec models, 5 trim levels are available and now have names instead of numbers which I presume makes it altogether easier to choose from. The engine range consists of one petrol and one diesel unit split into 4 power variants. The 1.6-litre, 4-cylinder petrol and diesel engines range in power from 130bhp to 126bhp respectively.
The 1.6-litre GDi, 4-cylinder petrol unit in the test vehicle was introduced mid way through the last generation product cycle. The power figures look respectable, 130bhp and 161Nm of torque, power is perky in delivery but you’re always left wanting for more. To overcome this shortfall you have to exert full revs to extract that power because anything lower is as about as exciting as watching multiple repeats of The Big Bang Theory.
OK so the engine is chirpy but drive at these excessive rpm levels and you loose out on fuel economy benefits. The real world may be less exciting when constantly driven at 2,400rpm but doing so returns a healthy 42mpg on a combined run. The long-geared six speed manual gearbox, standard throughout the range, also helps.
The entry level Soul Start on test is quite decently specced, the key highlights are electric windows, DAB radio, USB & AUX ports, Hill Start and Steering mounted controls, hill start assist, stability & vehicle control and importantly air-con. That’s not too bad for £12,600 although this trim level only gets you 16” steel wheels which, thankfully, are hidden away by not too offensive looking wheel covers. Of course those steel wheels can be vanquished courtesy of the option’s list.
The engineers at Kia have improved the new Soul’s torsional rigidity. However those benefits have yet to filter down to the low speed ride, the suspension tends to ‘crash’ on suburban roads, the spring rates feel overly hard, though the ride improves on motorway journeys. The stiff suspension helps with the handling and to be fair the Soul is quite nippy in the corners., even though its at the expense of ride comfort.
Kia have introduced Flex steer which is a three mode steering system that allows the driver to select from Sport, Normal and comfort settings. I didn’t notice too much difference between each setting other than a slight increase/decrease in the weight of the steering feel. Kia’s use of electric steering systems has improved impressively over the years. The steering is now well defined, although this is no sports car the feedback gives you a confident appraisal of what’s going on in front of you.
Overall all the second generation Kia Soul is a big improvement over the first generation. Its improved in nearly all areas, it is more refined, has quirky looks but a rather dour-looking interior. Its also better built and well specced throughout the range with standard levels of kit that exceed more premium rivals such as the Mini Countryman and its even better value too by nearly £3k. Yes, the ride and handling is inconsistent, but for many that will not be too much of a deal breaker.