Kia may not be the trendiest automotive brand in South Africa, but its new Soul could change perceptions about the Korean carmaker.
The Soul is what Kia calls a "crossover utility vehicle" (CUV) - or urban crossover… Well, it’s not much different from a small MPV but, after all, labelling is important and the last thing Kia wants to do is to portray it as just another mom’s taxi.
Also some time ago Kia recruited Peter Schreyer, who is one of the masterminds behind the original TT, as their design guru – and he crafted Soul, too.
Though Kia is keen to charm a younger, vibrant crowd - especially males between 25-35 - with Soul, the reality is that it will probably appeal to a more moderate, older audience. This is not because Soul doesn’t have the right DNA to attract a youthful crowd, but because local perception of the Kia brand is not quite where they'd like it to be.
And perception shouldn’t be everything as Soul isn’t just another dull Korean car. Reason is, (and apologies for the cheesy cliché, but it’s the only way to say it) Soul has soul…
The original Soul concept car, shown at the 2006 Detroit Motor Show.
From concept to production
Having made its appearance in concept guise at the 2006 Detroit Motor Show, the production Soul retains most of the styling cues of the stunning prototype.
Its squared-off styling features a narrow grille framed by prominent headlights, and sharp creases lie along the flanks, while the back is dominated by a flat tailgate and vertical lights.
So, with head-turning looks Soul could shake up the establishment.
Pricing is attractive too, and Soul retails for R189 995. Like other Kia models Soul has a five-year/100 000 km warranty and a four-year/90 000 km service.
Basically, the boxy Soul is a high-riding mini-MPV with some SUV ingredients. At only four metres long, it has space for five (tall) adults. Luggage capacity is 340 litres, but for the sake of versatility rear seats fold flat creating estate-like loading space.
Though the local Kia suits are adamant that Soul is an alternative to the Nissan Qashqai and new VW Golf, it is a more realistic rival to the Honda Jazz, Suzuki SX-4 and Daihatsu Terios 4X2. The Jazz might be the most sensible buy in this segment, but Soul dominates with sporty appeal.
Customisation is part of Kia’s plot to boost Soul’s cheeky credentials. A range of accessories are available to pimp up the car and buyers can choose several body decal designs, 18-inch wheels, spoilers, chrome trim and much more.
Besides the funky look, Soul - in typical Korean fashion - is packed with all the bells and whistles as standard kit, which includes a good audio system with an iPod jack.
The high driving position offers good visibility and the central console controls are user-friendly and simply laid out. Interior quality appears to be good, but hard plastics cover most surfaces.
Powered by a 1.6-litre petrol engine, with 91kW and 156 Nm on offer, the unit is capable of getting Soul up to speed. It lacks some punch in the mid-range, but overall Soul is fun to drive. Furthermore Soul handles well, has a smooth and comfortable ride, and the steering is light and precise.
The long wheelbase and wide track (1570/1575 mm front/rear) boosts the car’s ride and handling. It is also fitted with a fully independent front and twist-beam rear suspension system designed to deliver responsive handling and a supple ride.
Soul also achieved five stars in Euro N-CAP safety testing and dual airbags, ABS and EBD are fitted to protect occupants.
In the current market conditions South African car buyers are arguably flocking to more established brands. Kia should, however, reel in some buyers with Soul thanks to its long warranty, high equipment levels and price positioning.
Also, an automatic model is heading to our shores, while a diesel derivative might be on the cards too.
However, originality is what sets Soul apart from its rivals. Also, it is a car that has plenty going for it and Kia deserves credit for churning out an unusual people carrier.