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ROAD TEST: Kia Soul 2.0
Kia's smallest crossover is appropriately named - it was one of the first vehicles to bring some much-needed 'soul' to Kia's modern line-up when it first hit the local scene back in 2009.
Yet armed with a run-of-the-mill 1.6-litre petrol engine, it was always going to be more about style and utility than outright performance.
That's all changed with the release of the facelifted Soul which adds a two-litre engine option to the mix, along with a small cosmetic nip and tuck that doesn't really change the basic look of the boxy but charismatic crossover.
Armed with this bigger 1999cc heart, which delivers 122kW at 6500rpm and 200Nm at 4800rpm, the Soul feels surprisingly feisty off the mark. It's no hot hatch, but if you keep it in the upper reaches of the rev range, the forward thrust it provides actually borders on exciting.
I'll tell you this - this Kia has a lot more sparkle than you'd expect in a small pretend-SUV-type-thingy, particularly if you opt for the six-speed manual model (a six-speed auto is also available).
In fact, if you're just buying it for the soccer mom sprints and parking on the mall pavement during silly season, you'd probably be happier just sticking to the more affordable (R196 995) 1.6-litre model.
FEAST OF FEATURES
Not that the 2.0 commands too much more of a financial stretch and at R233 995, it undercuts the lesser-equipped Sportage 2.0 by almost 40 grand. In fact, Kia was more than just liberal when packing features into this Soul.
In addition to all the basics that you get in the 1.6, the 2.0 comes with climate control, leather seats, rear-view camera, keyless entry and start, an upgraded sound system with subwoofer and external amplifier, as well as cruise control in the case of the auto model. The only significant option is a sunroof.
The cabin also has bags of space; rear legroom seems on par with the best Golf-class cars and that tall roofline gives you enough space to grow a scary afro. Boot space, however, is less than generous, with just 222 litres available with the rear seat-backs in place and 700 litres with them folded.
From the helm, the dash design is neat, functional and even a little funky, and there's an abundance of storage space in the centre console for keys and other odds and ends.
As we'd expect from this type of vehicle, the chassis is tuned more for comfort than excitement, which means the ride is cushy and compliant. It still feels safe and grippy enough through the corners, but the Soul's top-heavy stature does bring some body roll into the equation.
The front-wheel drive hatch, armed with electronic stability control and vehicle stability management, feels safe but uninvolving, basically.
And if the worst did happen, the Soul comes to the rescue with a structure that achieved a five-star EuroNCAP crash test rating - with an 87 percent score for adult occupant protection and 86 percent for child safety.
Its boxy design might divert opinion, but this Kia still has a lot of soul and the new two-litre engine provides the performance to match.