Breathless petrol engine makes hard work of things in Kia’s new baby crossover. Good value – but still not a good choice

What is it?

The second-generation Kia Soul, powered by petrol. Offering a peak 130bhp and coming to market at well under £13k in entry-level form, it both undercuts and out-punches equivalent entry-level petrol versions of pretty much all of its competition – Peugeot 2008, Vauxhall Mokka and Ford Ecosport included.

And since the vast majority of Kia Souls will be sold via retail deals to private owners, it could represent the bigger chunk of the overall sales mix than the more frugal diesel.

Normally aspirated and directly injected, the 1.6-litre engine motor is partnered as standard to a six-speed manual gearbox (another advantage over many rivals), with a six-speed torque converter automatic version an option.

Advantages this petrol has over the diesel, meanwhile, include weight (the GDI’s almost 120kg lighter than the CRDI), weight distribution (which can only be better in the petrol), and – in principal – steering responsiveness (the petrol gets a slightly quicker steering rack).

What's it like?

Striking, and quite appealing. Having been so bold with the design of the original Soul back when there was really no crossover supermini mould to break, Kia’s smoothed the wrinkles and refined the details of the car’s styling, and has added freshness and artistry without eroding the distinctiveness.

And it’s the distinctiveness that’s all-important here; Soul owners will be people who like something a bit different. Even though there’s been an explosion in bestilted B-segment runners in the last three years, the Soul continues to play the eccentric well.

On the inside, the car’s roomier than it was, particularly for heads, as well as richer and better furnished and finished. Equipment levels have significantly improved, too. The fascia could do with more colour and life about it, and the boot could be bigger. That apart, the Kia Soul’s cabin is an impressive place.

So much is true, of course, of a diesel-powered Soul. The petrol engine idles quietly and fairly smoothly, and operates at low revs with little noise or fuss. But the next thing you’ll notice about it is how hard you have to work to get any kind of briskness or urgency back.

Peak torque isn’t produced until near enough 5000rpm, and even beyond that point in the rev range there’s limited acceleration to tap into, and plenty of straining and screaming from under the bonnet. The diesel makes a much quicker car in the real world, and because it's more flexible, it’s also much easier to drive.

So much for the performance argument. The other argument for petrol power might be refinement, but the Kia Soul GDI has little more of that than the CRDI. That’s largely because the diesel’s laudably quiet and smooth however, rather than because the petrol’s particularly noisy. On fuel economy, our test car just about bettered 35mpg on a mixed run: poor enough to be another fine advert for the diesel.

You’ll look long and hard for a dynamic reason to pick petrol over diesel. Since both versions of the car are quite stiffly sprung anyway, there’s no better body control on offer in the petrol model, and the Soul’s handling seems little better balanced or more incisive in petrol form.

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The steering may be a touch quicker, but it’s no more feelsome or natural, and still overly light. The ride still feels naggingly restless over bad surfaces, short on compliance and under-damped at times.

Should I buy one?

Not unless your budget makes that absolutely necessary. The CRDI diesel’s a much better example of the Kia new Soul breed and is easily worth the additional outlay. Meanwhile, there are many better petrol-engined supermini crossover rivals you could plump for if you’re wedded to unleaded.

A better petrol engine would be a good place to start for Kia Motors when it comes to a mid-life refresh for this car – particularly if private buyers remain at the heart of its business case.

Kia Soul 1.6 GDI

Price £12,600 (est); 0-62mph 11.0sec; Top speed 115mph; Economy 43.5mpg; CO2 151g/km; Kerb weight 1212kg; Engine 4 cyls, 1591cc, direct injection petrol; Power 130bhp at 6300rpm; Torque 119lb ft at 4850rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

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fadyady 23 March 2014


I hope Kia has something up its sleeve when it comes to clean engines. So far its cars are lagging well behind the European rivals.
Andrew 61 23 March 2014

Kia need to adopt turbo's and

Kia need to adopt turbo's and boost toque in these applications, like many other makers have done already.