Kia was a very different company when the first Kia Soul was launched in 2008. Then it was a budget brand that appealed mainly to the type of people who would also buy “sensible shoes”. Utterly practical transport, Kia cars appealed to those who used their head, not their heart, when choosing their next car.
Suddenly Kia took the wraps off a car that was anything but sensible, or middle-of-the-road. The Kia Soul was designed to be funky and bold. Its appeal was directed at those who wanted to ‘make a statement’ and stand out from the crowd.
It may not have been a runaway success in the UK, or even in Europe. But, the Kia Soul was popular in the USA, where it was originally designed by Kia’s Californian design team. The Soul, Kia tell us, was well established in the top five in its class in the USA and the rapidly growing Chinese market.
Six years after the launch of the first Kia Soul, I am standing beside the second generation model. While it very obviously follows the design direction of the original, this is an all new model. But the familiar-looking appearance is no accident. If your car is one of the best sellers in two of the world’s biggest current and emerging markets, you don’t want to upset the aficionados, do you?
But there has been an interesting, but subtle, shift in design direction with the new model. Based on the new Kia Cee’d platform, Kia has taken the Kia Soul a bit further down the ‘crossover’ path by injecting a bit more SUV style. This is all about looks, though, like so many crossovers, there is no four-wheel-drive or mud-plugging equipment installed.
As other manufactures have found, people like the higher driving position and perceived safety advantages of a 4x4, but without the higher purchase prices and fuel consumption that usually comes with them.
You can certainly understand the thinking. Keep the style of the existing model and you hopefully keep the existing Soul market happy. But, by adding a bit more of the ’crossover’ SUV image, you add new potential buyers.
The new Kia Soul does feel bigger and more spacious and it should do. Passenger and luggage space have both been increased with significant growth in shoulder room and headroom.
Interior looks nicely up-marketed from the previous model. Sure, you can still tell that the trim materials are selected to fit a budget, but along with the general move up-market, the test car had a couple of very notable luxury touches.
Given that the driver spends all (or at least most) of their time holding onto the steering wheel, the feel of the wheel is really important. The Kia Soul I drove had a very nicely judged wheel rim clothed in stitched leather.
I got laughed at by fellow motoring writers for highlighting what I thought was another clever bit of ‘up-marketing’. As a driver, your gaze is for much of the time at, or above, the instrument binnacle. Again on the the test car this binnacle has been given the ‘leather-look’ with a binnacle skip featuring prominent stitching right in line of sight. Whisper it, but it reminded me of an Audi TT!
One of the biggest improvements to the interior is the new seats, which have greatly improved lateral support and thigh support.
The final element of the charm offensive is improved refinement. Motor manufacturers talk about NVH, which stands four noise, vibration and harshness. This, Kia say, has been one of their big action areas with the new Soul. It certainly seems more refined, although the 1.6-litre diesel engine does still makes its presence heard, particularly under power.
The ride can be a little restless, but the handling and steering have been adjusted to align better with the youthful buyers who are attracted to the Soul’s funky image. I was glad of the better lateral support in those seats as I found the new Kia Soul more ‘checkable’ than the old, although the steering feels more in tune with the American market, than European tastes.
The other engine is also 1.6 but a petrol unit. On paper it puts out marginally more power at 130 bhp, compared to the 126 bhp of the diesel. However, the diesel is the more economical with a combined fuel economy of 56.6 mpg. In my real-time drives on a mixture of city and out-of-town roads, I found 45 mpg to be quite feasible.
So, the new Kia certainly has more appeal. That should stand it in excellent stead to maintain its success in the USA and China. The UK and Europe will be much tougher markets to crack, but this new version should win over some converts.
Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi 126bhp
Carbon dioxide emissions: 132 g/km
VED band n/a
Combined fuel economy 56.6mpg
Top speed: 132 mph
0-62: 10.8 secs
Power 126 bhp
Engine size 1582cc diesel
Boot capacity 354/994 litres (rear seat up/down)