The weird express
This week’s test car is rather special to me for number of reasons, chief among which is the fact that the first ever official launch I attended was for the then-new Soul. It’s not the most amazing car on the planet yet I adore its individuality and cheeky, boxy shape.
In a market dominated by small hatchbacks, executive sedans and big off-roaders, the angular sight of a Soul in traffic always cheers me up. Your neighbours already bought a big white bakkie and round silver hatchback; why not plant a metallic green carton in between the lot?
Better yet, order a Tomato Red one and get yourself a black-and-white cat. Cars can be so much more than just a means of transport and the Kia Soul is high on my list of fun, funky, affordable ways to express yourself during the tedious commute to a drab office building.
Zip through the dark multi-story car park and position this little shoebox amongst the hordes of German and Japanese metal, then wait for the inevitable questions in the cafeteria queue. The general opinion of its looks won’t always be positive but at least you’ve struck a random conversation.
Quite a few of my acquaintances instantly dismissed the Soul as silly, weird or downright ugly. While everyone’s entitled to their opinion, a select few shuffled forward and inspected the Kia with glistening eyes, roaming fingers, perma-smiles and childlike enthusiasm.
Should any of the haters still be around, even they will be astonished by the specification levels and packaging of the little Korean. Especially after a recent update, this car offers rather impressive value for money with prices ranging from N$197,000 to N$244,900.
Two engines (1.6 and 2.0 petrol) and two gearboxes (6-speed manual or automatic) make up the range of four, all sold with a 5-year/100,000km warranty and 4-year/90,000km service plan. The 2012 updates have brought better technology, more powerful engines and a welcome sixth gear to all gearboxes.
Standard equipment includes power steering, power windows and mirrors, ABS/EBD brakes, multiple airbags, adjustable multi-function steering wheel, air-con, rear park assist, remote or keyless central locking, radio/CD with mp3/USB/ipod and Bluetooth, two 12V sockets as well as alarm and immobiliser.
The 2.0 models boast with extra toys like ESC and VSM stability management, hill-start assist, disc brakes all-around, 18-inch wheels, auto lights, LED daytime lights, cruise control, keyless ignition, leather trim, privacy glass, rear-view camera, subwoofer and amplifier.
Our test car was a 2.0 Manual and I would definitely recommend the high-spec model over its cheaper siblings, if just for the extra safety features. Other than these and the added luxuries, you also get extra oomph from the bigger engine with maximum outputs of 122kW (166hp) or 200Nm.
Kia claims 0-100km/h in 9.2 seconds which we undercut by 0.4 seconds; top speed is an alleged 186km/h. Average CO2 output is claimed at 165g/km and fuel consumption is supposed to be 7L/100km; we were closer to 10L/100km with a mixed driving style.
Not that the information was easily accessible – my biggest criticism of this car is its multi-display computer in the speedometer, with only the smallest amount of daylight it was completely and utterly unreadable. Other than that, most things were on their best behaviour.
Those snazzy 18-inch wheels and low-profile tyres make for a slightly choppy ride at lower speeds but add to the Soul’s fun factor. Handling is impressive by modern standards, the Soul leans quite a bit and the car’s got enough power reserves to wake the traction control.
Driven hard, there’s an occasional throttle delay after a red-line shift and driven sensibly, the gear ratios are well laid out to cruise quietly or power up an incline in a taller gear with low-rev torque. The motor idles quietly but gets going with a gruff bark – I thought this added even more fun to the funky Soul.
All seats are comfortable and offer decent space while headroom is of the extremely generous variety. The small 222L boot can extend to 700L, towing capacity is 450kg, maximum weight hovers around the same and the fuel tank takes a maximum of 48L.
The over-assisted steering is feather-light and offers a turning radius of just 5.27m. All pedals are equally easy to operate, although I didn’t always find the ideal clutch/throttle combo when pulling away. The headlights are good, so’s the sound system and I soon grew attached to my soulful test car.
You may be after a small hatchback or SUV but the Soul is just so different and cool. On top of that, it’s good value for money and fun to drive. If you don’t like its looks, I can accept that. But if you do and never test-drive it during your next car shop, I’ll find you and beat you with a cafeteria tray.
0-100m: 6.4s / 85.8km/h
0-200m: 9.9s / 108.8km/h
0-300m: 13.0s / 123.9km/h
0-400m: 15.7s / 137.7km/h
1/4mile: 15.8s @ 85.7mph (138.0km/h)
Climate Sunny, moderate breeze
Road Dry tarmac, level
Occupants Driver, no passengers
Fuel level 1/4