The Kia Soul is a bit of an odd duck. Not quite an MPV, with just five seats, and not quite a crossover, with its sedan-like ground clearance. Instead, it occupies a niche filled with other peculiar vehicles like the Nissan Cube, the Toyota bB and the Honda Element. Elsewhere, that is. Here in the Philippines, the Soul stands alone.
The recent influx of compact crossovers and subcompact MPVs, however, gives the Soul a raison d'être, as Kia's sole offering in a new and exciting class of small, odd and spacious motor vehicles. But how does it perform?
The Soul's lines never seem to age. From the side, there's no mistaking the boxy running-shoe shape for anything else on the road. The only concession to Peter Schreyer's new design language is a Tiger Nose grille tacked on up front. Pumped-out fender flares suggest driving excitement, though small alloy wheels and balloonish tires suggest otherwise. Up front, that massive swathe of black grille seem a bit overdone, considering how little ventilation the diesel engine under the hood actually needs. Out back, however, the huge rear hatch is cleverly masked by stylish glass detailing.
The Soul's interior is lovely, with funky front speakers bookmarking a modular dash. Cost-cutting means no subwoofer in the big dashtop mount, and lots of matte-black plastic. Fit and finish trail newer rivals, but it's still a pretty interior, with supportive seats and exceptional storage space. High-mount seats and an even higher roof provide good comfort for the tallest of passengers. Rear-seat ingress and headroom trump both the HR-V and the EcoSport, though the HR-V has it beat for rear legroom and overall trunk space.
Where Kia didn't cut costs is under the hood. None of the Soul's competitors has an engine nearly as good as the 1.6-liter the Soul shares with the Accent. With the six-speed automatic, the Soul returns 23-25km/L on the expressway at 80 kph, measured by tank-to-tank fill. In heavy traffic, we averaged 9-11km/L, without using Active Eco mode (given the traffic on EDSA these days, that's pretty good). While transmission response in Drive is a bit sluggish, the Soul is a blast when using the manual +/- mode, thanks to the diesel's punchy torque and thirst for revs.
RIDE AND HANDLING
The Soul has an excellent chassis and lots of mechanical grip, but it's a far cry from the EcoSport or even its own rather sporty predecessor. Spirited driving reveals a mushy suspension and speed-sensitive electric steering that feels artificially light. Once past 80kph, however, the steering switches abruptly to artificially heavy.
On the plus side, the ride is good, though the cabin booms a bit over sharp bumps. The Soul's high vantage point, big glass, and narrow profile are well suited for local streets, and the wide, upright doors make egress from tight parking spots relatively painless.
Our LX unit comes with USB and auxiliary ports for the stereo, but lacks steering-wheel controls and phone integration. Sound is clear, but lacking in oomph. While it's pretty bare on the entertainment side, Kia didn't skimp on the important stuff. Isofix mounting points are provided in the rear, while parking sensors and a standard alarm round out the package. There are even gas-charged struts to hold up the hood when you're checking your oil.
The Soul sits in an odd position between the Honda HR-V and the Ford EcoSport. Sadly, it lacks the ground clearance that buyers in this segment are looking for. And the de-contenting of features is sure to turn some off. But the boxy form makes it roomier than its competitors--the HR-V has more rear legroom, but its low ceiling and tight door opening minimize this advantage--and the Soul's trump card, that 1.6-liter diesel, puts it at the head of the pack in terms of both engine performance and economy.
Beyond that, the curb appeal of the Soul remains undiminished after all these years. It certainly stands out in a sea of increasingly edgy, soap-bar-shaped competitors. Well, at least until Kia releases its own subcompact crossover sometime in the next two years.
SPECS: KIA SOUL LX CRDi
Engine: 1.6-liter U-II CRDi-VGT diesel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Power: 126hp @ 4,000rpm
Torque: 260Nm @ 1,900-2,750rpm
Drive layout: FWD
Photos by Niky Tamayo