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Kia Soul Sport 1.6 T-GDi 7-DCT

Click to view picture gallery“Along with a revamp Kia has added
  a MINI Cooper S-chasing ability to its
  über-distinctive five-door, five-seater
  compact urban crossover — making
  the Soul line-up’s new ‘Top Cat’ the
  hard-charging 201bhp Sport...”


IT'S NOT JUST THE 201BHP under its bonnet that counts but the 196lb ft of torque that gives it 'grunt' from a low-down 1,500rpm all the way through to 4,500rpm. In fact it's the same direct injection 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that's already in service with Kia's seriously well-fettled cee'd GT — in the Soul it takes you to the benchmark 60mph in a crisp 7.5 seconds.

Not that you'll be penalised at the pumps officially it's good for 40.9mpg in the Combined Cycle; over 600 real-life test miles we recorded an impressive 37mpg average.

Before we launch into the Soul Sport's dynamics a word about the beefier new looks. Defining the Soul's bodyshape can be contentious some swear it's a crossover pure and simple; for others it's an urban multi-purpose vehicle. Yet others see it as a California Dreamin' hottie. Whatever, one thing they all agree on is that it's distinctive.

Rowan Atkinson once
complained that he
didn’t enjoy driving a
high-performance
sportscar he’d bought
because people kept
looking at him.
So if you’re reading this
Mr A, don’t buy
a Soul Sport...”
Bumbling 007-spoofing secret agent Johnny English actor Rowan Atkinson once complained that he didn't enjoy driving a high-performance sportscar he'd bought because people kept looking at him. So if you're reading this Mr A, don't buy a Soul Sport. For the record they were, of course, admiring the car!

While the facelifted Soul remains resolutely cube-ish with angular lines contrasting with bulging wheelarch blisters over exclusive-design 18-inch alloys, it's still funkier by far than, say, Nissan's jazzy Juke crossover or even Citroen's catch-your-eye Cactus.

Flanked by new-style Xenon headlight units with LED daytime running lights, the Sport's thrustingly rugged front-end shows off a meaner version of Kia's trademark 'tiger nose' grille while a racy-red beaded strip caps the silver skid plate and runs back along the black side sills to add a suggestion of GT-ness.

At the back, the upright tailgate is flanked by tall rear lamp clusters that stretch almost from the sportily-remodelled bumper to the top of the wraparound glasshouse; a wide diffuser section with a set of twin tailpipes underscores the full-width, high-gloss black bumper panel and the Soul's 'backpack' styling. And while you can have your Soul Sport finished in gleaming metallic Quartz Black or Titanium Silver, you could also choose Wild Orange... if you do, don't expect to give Johnny English a lift anytime soon.

So, with 201 horses punching their weight, how does the Soul Sport drive? Very capably.

If you're expecting smoking tyres and outrageous trackday bangs and pops from the exhaust then, sorry, there's none of that. But what you do get when you press the pedal to the metal is muscular low-speed response, reassuring shove-in-the-back thrust, and heaps of driveability.

Power is put down through the Soul's front wheels via a seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox, and darting through the twisty bits its competent road manners keep it feeling confident and secure. Along with changes in the suspension set-up, larger front disc brakes also feature and stopping bite is as you'd want with this level of 'go' very reassuring.

With 201 horses
punching their weight,
how does the
Soul Sport drive?
Very capably.
If you
re expecting
smoking tyres and
outrageous trackday
bangs and pops from the
exhaust then, sorry,
there’s none of that.
What you do get when
you press the pedal
to the metal is muscular
low-speed response,
shove-in-the-back thrust,
and heaps of
driveability...”
It's easy to feel at home behind the flat-bottomed steering wheel and although paddle-shifters are noticeable by their absence you can shift gears manually just nudge the selector lever to the side from Drive and then it's up- or down-changing manually at will. All of which contributes to the driver feeling at one with this speedy Soul.

The driver can also pick the most suitable driving style finger-tap the Drive Select button on the multifunction wheel to switch instantaneously between Sport, Normal, and Eco.

Selecting Sport noticeably ramps-up the entertainment score by sharpening up the autobox's shift points and weighting-up the precise steering to make driving more sparky so much so that we tended to drive in Sport much of the time.

Do as we did and you'll enjoy bullish mid-range brio and hear a raspy-throated soundtrack from the twin tailpipes that while welcome is not rowdy enough to make you a person of interest at least, not to the wrong people.

So, were we penalised at the pumps for having a good time? Certainly our 37.7mpg test average doesn't seem like much of a 'punishment' for the performance, and is commendably close to the Sport's official 40.9mpg.

Given the Soul's now slightly bigger proportions and the Sport's B-road ability, Kia's engineers have managed to keep the ride pretty supple; cruising motorways it feels both planted and comfortable. In fact, whatever roads you're driving along, the seven-speed dual-clutch autobox is more than up to the task, shifting fluently and contributing to the refreshed Soul's more polished dynamics.

Life is easy with the Soul Sport. For a start you'll never lose it in a car park; not even at The O2. And no fumbling for keys as you approach keyless entry and push-button starting is standard. Slide in behind the sporty flat-bottomed wheel where you sit commandingly in a well-bolstered chair and you'll enjoy excellent visibility through the large windscreen with clear sight of the bonnet's corners. Placing the Sport accurately on the road is about as easy as it gets.

Inside the more spacious cabin (these latest Soul models share the larger platform that already underpins Kia's cee'd) the Sport gets an exclusive trim treatment including black leather upholstery with patterned fabric centre panels all dressed up with red contrast stitching.

Once you're comfortably settled the work of seconds: both front seats are power adjustable (8-way passenger; 10-way including power lumbar for the driver) and also have two-stage heating you'll have time to appreciate the cabin architecture: straightforward ergonomics with contemporary touches provided by fashionable gloss black finishings, plenty of soft-touch facings and just enough satin chrome.

Slide in behind
the sporty, heated,
flat-bottomed wheel
where you sit
commandingly in a well-
bolstered chair and
you’ll enjoy excellent
visibility through the
large windscreen with
clear sight of the
bonnet’s corners.
Placing the Sport
accurately on the road
is about as easy
as it gets...”
Build quality is first rate and the Soul Sport not only looks well screwed together but feels it too. Natty design touches include the audio tweeter-topped vertical air vents at each end of the fascia that, if you're in the mood, flash in sync to the music.

Pride of place centre-dash goes to a premium-look eight-inch colour infotainment touchscreen with TomTom SatNav and Kia Connected Services for full connectivity plus Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

To soothe your eyes there are crystal clear screen graphics, while mapping is made even better by a 3D bird's-eye view with automatic split-screen detailing for foolproof guidance when approaching a turn. For your ears, there's an 8-speaker JBL premium sound system with external amp and subwoofer. A DAB radio with USB and AUX ports is also standard-fit.

Given how quickly you can exceed the speed limit in this Soul, it's good to find a clearly-seen digital speed readout on the driver's information screen between the main dials. The steering wheel is comprehensively multifunction and hand-free-friendly with remote controls for cruise, the speed limiter, audio, voice, phone, and trip info. Most drivers will also be happy to discover that the leather rim is heated and that the handbrake is of the trad pull-up variety.

In-cabin storage is more comprehensive than you'll get when flying with Branson, with a deep chilled glovebox (an organiser section is also integrated in the damped lid), door bins with room for bottles and much more, a centre console cubby with big cupholders, a good-sized storage box under the front centre armrest, and a dropdown sunglasses holder.

As the Soul line-up's range-topper, the Sport comes generously kitted-out. In addition to the many items already mentioned there's automatic climate control, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth with voice recognition and music streaming, panoramic glass sunroof, heated rear seats, heated power-folding door mirrors (automatically on locking and leaving), four electric windows (one-shot at the front), auto-dimming rearview mirror, drive-away auto door locking, tinted glass (with privacy glass on the rear side windows and tailgate), and a set of 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in meaty 235/45 rubber.

Along with all the expected safety items such as a full set of airbags, height adjustable seatbelts, auto lights and wipes, headlight washers, and tyre pressure monitoring, you also get plenty of 'active' assistance such as Hill-start Assist, High Beam Assist (automatically maximises night driving visibility by using main beam as much as possible and automatically switching to dip when necessary), Electronic Stability Control, Blind Spot Detection, and the extremely useful Rear Cross Traffic Alert that detects and warns of approaching traffic likely to cross the rear of the car when you're reversing.

With its sunshade
fully retracted, the huge
glass sunroof gives the
impression of travelling
roofless — rear
passengers remarked
that they
d barely looked
at the sky so much
(and thoroughly enjoyed
it!) as when they were
riding around in the Soul.
And it
s more than just
a
glass ceiling — it has
tilt and slide and one-
shot op and a powered
blackout sunblind...”
The high glasshouse and squared-off rear cabin ensures that inside the five-door bodyshell there's more than ample room for five adults. Views out are good from the back thanks to high-set seating (passengers sit about six inches higher than those in front) and generous windows.

With its sunshade fully retracted, the huge glass sunroof gives the impression of travelling roofless rear passengers remarked that they'd barely looked at the sky so much (and thoroughly enjoyed it!) as when they were riding around in the Soul. And it's more than just a 'glass ceiling' it has tilt and slide and one-shot op and a powered 'blackout' sunblind.

And at night, if you're not star-gazing, eight roof-mounted spots ensure there's still plenty of light wherever you're sitting.

Getting in and out is an easy manoeuvre for kids as well as seniors. Headroom is fine and foot rooom, too, is good. Thanks to a minimal transmission tunnel three sets of feet can be parked side-by-side with no crowding better still, two adults can really feel at home in the well-shaped and nicely padded rear cabin thanks to relaxing backrest angles, a generous drop-down central armrest with built-in twin cupholders and heated seats.

Along with more power there's now more boot space: reached through a high-lifting tailgate is a wide, regular-shaped 354 litres for luggage or shopping; plus there are additional storage compartments under the boot all easily accessed via the lift-up double-folding floor panel.

If you need more depth but don't need the full loadbay's length then the lightweight one-piece multi-tray cassette under the boor floor can be removed, giving you a substantially deeper boot.

And when you do have the need for extended cargo space, just drop the 60:40-split back seats (the belts stay well out of the way) to create a 994-litre loadbay with a flat floor and practical mid-thigh load sill with no lip. You'll also be glad of the fact that with the tailgate open the rear lamp clusters are fully visible; so safer loading at night. Also handy when darkness falls is the portable LED light which left in-situ illuminates the boot.

A distinctive and classy 'cube' of individuality, the practical, comfortable and oh-so-easy-to-live-with Sport comes with the everyday Soul's driving enjoyment factor boosted by a 201bhp powerplant that makes it a real hoot to drive. ~ MotorBar
.
Kia Soul Sport 1.6 T-GDi 7-DCT
| 23,250
Maximum speed: 122mph | 0-60mph: 7.5 seconds | Test Average: 37.7mpg
Power: 201bhp | Torque: 196lb ft | CO2: 156g/km

.