According to Ray Levin, CEO of Kia Motors South Africa, the company is riding the crest of the wave: it was recently found to be the “second best distributor” in the company’s global customer satisfaction index, which speaks volumes of the local operations’ commitment to after-sales and support.
As it stands, the outfit enjoys a 3.8% market share in South Africa, and Levin says it is well on its way to achieving its sales target of 22 000 units this year. Kia has also launched its second-generation Soul here recently and we were fortunate enough to sample the vehicle at its launch in Joburg.
The Soul retains the boxy design of its predecessor, which was launched locally in 2008, but is more evolved, with just the right tweaks to bring it in line with rest of the range. The headlights and lower-front skirt are perhaps the most radical changes, even though they are still quite subtle. For instance, the LED daytime running lights are now above the headlights as opposed to below; the bumper has been given Koup-esque black inserts and the fog- lights moved outwards for a broader stance.
Depending on specification (Start, Street, or Smart), there are two sets of alloy wheel sizes — 17- and 18-inch — and the R3 000 two-tone colour option means you can now tailor the vehicle to your taste. Apart from the reworked boot lid, which has a colour-coded insert on the rear screen, the back of the car is the same as in the first generation. The optional panoramic sunroof (R11 000) is only available on the flagship Smart. On the inside, though, the improvements are more significant — more chalk and cheese, if you will. Particularly in the Smart variants which I drove at the launch, it would seem that the designers have paid a great deal of attention to the cabin’s tactile quality and functionality.
From the dash-mounted tweeter speakers to the new steering wheel and the engine start button on the centre console, everything seems to have gone more up-market than on any other product from the marque. The noise vibration and harshness heard and felt in the cabin has been markedly reduced. The new generation is 20mm longer at 4 140mm, 15mm wider at 1 800mm, and 10mm lower than its predecessor. The wheelbase, meanwhile, has been extended by 20mm to 2 570mm. Boot space is 354 litres, which can be expanded to 994 litres by folding down the rear seats.
Three engine variants are available. The first is a 1.6-litre petrol with 91kW and 152Nm with a six- speed manual transmission (six-speed automatic available as an option). Then there is the 2.0-litre petrol engine making 116kW and 192Nm available in either six-speed manual or automatic gearboxes and, finally, a 1.6-litre turbodiesel pushing out 94kW and 260Nm through a six-speed automatic gearbox.
At the launch I had stints behind the wheels of the 2.0-litre petrol and 1.6-litre turbodiesel variants — and was impressed by the petrol’s power delivery and refinement. Although smaller turbo engines are trending among manufacturers for their ability to blend power and economy, this normally aspirated lump was fairly responsive during the launch jaunt.
I can perhaps give more credit to the transmission, which is smooth. Even though the engine tended to be quite vocal on kick-down, it still managed to keep in the meatiest part of the torque band. However, it was the turbodiesel I drove later that stole the petrol’s thunder. With more torque available at much lower revs, power was delivered with very little of the screaming of its petrol-engined brother. It is, without doubt, the pick of the two engine derivatives. Then there was the ride quality, which has a polish to rival some of the C-segment sedans, thanks to a reworked suspension and bushings, among other things.
According to David Sieff, Kia’s marketing director, the engineers tried to make the new model more refined and polished, so as to take on the likes of the Mini Countryman. In my opinion, the Soul certainly matches the Countryman and, in some areas, such as the ride quality, even surpasses it.
The model comes with convenience items that include keyless entry and go, electric driver’s seat, Bluetooth connectivity, and USB with auxiliary inputs, but it also has an alphabet soup of safety acronyms. Over and above the six air bags, these include HAC (hill-start assist control), VSM (vehicle stability management), ABS and BAS (brake assist) — depending on model. Kia has sold 5 000 of the first- generation Souls in South Africa and, according to Sieff, that figure will double with the latest model.
So, should you be in the market for either the Mini Countryman or the Nissan Juke, you would do well to also place the Kia Soul in your list of options. Pricing kicks off at R239,995 for the 1.6 MT Start while the flagship 1.6 AT DSL Smart costs R340,995.