What is it?
Now, bear with us on this one – you’re probably looking at the images of this week’s test car and wondering if we’ve lost our minds.
This is a Kia Soul, the ever-improving Korean brand’s compact crossover that, with its Cubist shape, clearly places it in a class with similarly boxy contenders like the Skoda Yeti and Jeep Renegade.
It is normally powered by modest petrol and diesel engines, and – with the manufacturer’s usual seven-year warranty – it provides stolid family motoring for people who want to stand out a little from the crowd. But exciting, the Soul is not, so ordinarily it’s not our sort of car here at Lincolnshire Business…
Why are you driving it?
Ah, because this Soul is a little bit different. It’s called the Sport and that’s not just a meaningless marketing tag. Whereas other models in the line-up hover around the 136hp mark, the Sport benefits from the 1.6-litre turbocharged T-GDi four-cylinder engine, as found in Kia’s pioneering hot hatchback offering, the Cee’d/Pro_cee’d GT.
That means 204hp and the ability to go from 0-62mph in a superb 7.5 seconds. The Sport is denoted by red pinstriping on its exterior, a twin-exit exhaust at the back, big 18-inch wheels, a choice of three bespoke colours – this Wild Orange being the most eye-catching – and an interior that is lifted by a red-stitched, flat-bottomed steering wheel and half-leather sports seats. Other than that, though, it’s your usual Soul offering: lots and lots of space, lots and lots of toys, and lots and lots of likeability.
What do you like about it?
It might be slightly unassuming in its general overall shape, but the bright colour of the Soul Sport and its specific exterior detailing actually gives it a slightly, um, sporty stance. From the rear three-quarters, it looks suitably muscular and pleasingly attractive, if you like this sort of bluff, upright appearance. Which we do.
And the cabin is genuinely lovely. Kia is making huge strides in interior finishing and the Soul has one of the company’s best cockpits, enlivened here by circular detailing – note it in the big scalloped shapes on the door cards and on the tweeters atop the front speakers of the rather excellent, standard-fit JBL sound system. There are even circles of light around the door speakers that pulse in time to the music, if you want them to; disco and Soul, all in one package.
The Sport is packed with kit, including heated seats front and rear, cruise control, plenty of driver assist systems and a full navigation-loaded infotainment system, but what we really like is the performance. The Soul Sport will take many, many people by surprise. It has a wealth of torque spread across the midrange and then more than 200 horsepower at the top end, meaning it feels indecently quick for something that started life as a square, pragmatic machine. It also has decent steering, strong body control coupled with an acceptably firm ride and a DCT ‘box that largely gets shifts right… most of the time. It proves to be a very enjoyable car to drive quickly, mainly out of the sheer shock value of commanding something that looks so innocent but which goes really well.
The Kia, while likeable enough as a performance machine, is a little rough around the dynamic edges. There’s quite a lot of torque-steer if you plant the throttle on adverse cambers, the steering wheel tugging in your hands as the suspension struggles to cope with the torque flowing through the front wheels alone.
The brakes have spongy pedal feel and they’re not the strongest stoppers in the world, so sometimes the Soul Sport can feel like it is running away with itself as you approach a junction. The DCT, as we touched on above, is in the main a fine transmission but it can get flustered if you alter the throttle input during gear shifts, while asking it for full power really flummoxes the gearbox’s software.
And the Soul Sport seemed pretty poor on fuel. We only got 31mpg out of it during a week at the wheel, with a lot of long dual carriageway running included in that, and the car’s thirst is not helped by a misleading fuel gauge – made up of an arc of digital cubes, it doesn’t move off ‘full’ for miles and miles and miles, lulling you into a false sense of security, but then it swiftly extinguishes all the blocks in short order, no matter how carefully you drive. If you’re on half a tank or even a quarter of a tank, don’t expect to get too far without having to visit a petrol station for an essential top-up. Twice in the space of less than 500 miles, we had the distance-to-empty read-out down to single-digit numbers and that’s not like us at all, trust us.
What’s it like as a business vehicle – are there any tax benefits?
Well, on paper it’s claimed to be a little better than the fuel economy reality, returning up to 40.9mpg officially and emitting just 156g/km. That means a fairly steep first year’s VED figure of £500, although the sub-£24,000 list price means it quickly drops to £140 per annum. And that modest purchase fee means a low P11D value, helpful as the Soul Sport is in the 30 per cent Benefit-in-Kind bracket – although that’s nothing to write home about, in this day and age.
Where does it rank in class right now?
There’s little else like the regular Kia Soul anyway, so a 200hp+ performance version of an unusual car makes it the class leader in a segment of one. But don’t dismiss the Soul Sport on the basis that it’s just an oddity; OK, if you actually want a car like this, then you’re going to be financially a lot better off with the 1.6-litre diesel model, which doesn’t perform anything like as well as the Sport but which will be more than adequate on motorways, big A-roads and in town – and it’ll cost a lot less to buy, tax and run.
Nevertheless, there’s something delightfully perverse about having a car which looks a bit like Postman Pat’s van and yet which can surprise so many other road users with its unexpected turn of pace. Add in a cavernous, high quality interior laden with luxuries and a reasonably comfortable ride, and what you have here is an appealing, idiosyncratic take on a performance car by Kia. One that we really, really approve of.
- Model: Kia Soul Sport T-GDi DCT
- Price: Soul range starts from £14,310; Sport from £23,565
- Drivetrain: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, front-wheel drive
- Economy: 40.9mpg
- CO2 emissions: 156g/km – £500 VED first 12 months, then £140 annually thereafter; 30% benefit in kind
- Top speed: 122mph
- 0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
- Power: 204hp at 6,000rpm
- Torque: 264Nm at 1,750- to 4,500rpm