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Driven: Kia Soul Sport. Image by Kia.

Driven: Kia Soul Sport
Kia goes crazy and drops the Ceed GTs 204hp engine into the boxy Soul crossover. We love it.


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Kia Soul Sport

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Good points: The sheer concept of the thing - putting a hot hatch engine into Postman Pat's van, indeed!

Not so good: Torque-steer, spongy brakes, DCT occasionally flustered, thirsty

Key Facts

Model tested: Kia Soul Sport T-GDi DCT
Price: Soul range starts from 14,310; Sport from 23,565
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol
Transmission: front-wheel drive, seven-speed DCT twin-clutch automatic
Body style: five-door crossover
CO2 emissions: 156/km (VED 500 first 12 months, then 140 annually thereafter)
Combined economy: 40.9mpg
Top speed: 122mph
0-62mph: 7.5 seconds
Power: 204hp at 6,000rpm
Torque: 264Nm at 1,750- to 4,500rpm

Our view:

Sometimes we'd love to be a fly on the wall of an automotive product-planning meeting. For instance, we'd have been thrilled to have been in Volkswagen's corporate offices on the day someone, when tasked with improving sales of the B5.5 Passat, tentatively stuck their hand up and, clearly delirious, went: "Erm, how about we slot a 275hp 4.0-litre W8 and four-wheel drive into it?" Or to have been present at Rover's HQ for the decision to revive the 25, 45 and 75 by re-branding them as the MG ZR, ZS and ZT respectively. Or, best of all, for the day Mercedes truly lost the plot and thought the R-Class MPV would be a good idea, especially as an AMG model...

The thing is, while all of the above cars weren't entirely sensible or particularly well-received in their day, they're super-cool now. A Passat W8 Estate is a thing of genuine lust and desire. We'd give anything for a ZT-T with the 190hp V6, or even that bonkers Mustang-engined V8 saloon MG did for a while. And as for the R-Class... well! Er... wait, nope, we're kidding no one; the R-Class is still truly awful. Even with an Affalterbach V8.

So is the Kia Soul Sport going to join this unusual but elite motoring group? It's not quite at Passat W8 levels of certifiable insanity, but the very idea of slotting the 1.6-litre T-GDi engine from the Cee'd/Pro_cee'd GT performance hatchbacks into a vehicle that looks like Postman Pat's choice of wheels has to be given some sort of kudos. So bloody weird is this car that, if we're honest, we didn't even know it existed until we saw another journalist testing it, and decided instantaneously that we simply HAD to drive it.

The Soul Sport, then, has a 204hp/264Nm motor that bestows a 7.5-second 0-62mph time on this appealing small crossover. Its rather more modest - but obviously irrelevant - top speed of 122mph is the biggest tell of the aerodynamic challenges the Kia is trying to overcome, yet we're more interested in the execution of the rest of the package. From what we can ascertain, Kia simply felt that dropping the 1.6 T-GDi into the nose of the Soul was enough, and that the brakes, suspension and steering of the regular range (which has no more than about 136hp to deal with elsewhere) would be up to the job of corralling all these rampaging horses (artistic liberty duly taken, there).

The net result is a notably compromised performance crossover. There's little else on the market which torque-steers so waywardly as the Soul Sport. You'd be forgiven for thinking it was trying to flow 350hp through the leading axle, never mind 204hp, such is the way the steering wheel tugs this way and that on adverse cambers under full throttle load. Then there are the brakes, which are as spongy as somebody called Bob that likes to wear square pants. Press the middle pedal firmly and it feels like there are several inches of dead travel before the anchors finally bite. And when they do, you'll be distinctly underwhelmed by their modest stopping power.

Moving on, the suspension lets the body loll about too much during fast cornering, the steering - when it's not trying to snap your wrists during full-bore first and second gear power - lacks meaningful feel or pleasant weighting, the engine doesn't sound any great shakes, it's an uneconomical car for what it is (31.1mpg average across 482 mostly motorway miles is terrible, really) and the seven-speed DCT fitted to our test car felt a touch dim-witted at times, especially if you decided to alter the throttle input during shifts or if you suddenly pinned the throttle to the bulkhead. There are sharper twin-clutch units than this out there, no doubt about it.

Thus, the Soul Sport comes across as ill-resolved; too much engine in too little chassis engineering. However, if you adapt your driving style slightly and stop thrashing the Kia as if it were an Audi RS 3, the rewards are there. Avoid full throttle in lower gears and you eradicate the worst of the torque-steer while not sacrificing much in the way of pace; it still feels decently, perhaps even shockingly rapid courtesy of the 264Nm torque. And if the DCT is playing ball, you'll find the Soul picks up pace in a hearty fashion. You can actually use the suppleness of the too-soft suspension to your benefit on rougher roads, as the Kia flows over the top of lumpy surfaces with all four of its contact patches on the ground at all times. That pliant chassis also makes for a deeply pleasant cruising ride. And there's actually plenty of mechanical grip here, which allows you to embarrass all sorts of machinery in this orangey 'PAT 1' machine if you're feeling a touch mischievous.

Throw in the attractive looks - we like the red pinstriping, twin-exit exhaust, Wild Orange paint, 18-inch wheels and the stance - and possibly Kia's best interior of the moment (featuring a brilliant JBL sound system and loads of other high-end toys as standard), plus a price tag of less than 24,000, and we are really rather fond of the Kia Soul Sport, perhaps even inordinately so. It's by no means perfect, even allowing for its limitations as a taller crossover, and its time is probably limited by the arrival of the Kia Stonic, but the sheer concept of installing the Cee'd GT engine in the Soul is a winning one. Even if, in 20 years' time, we'll all be looking back and going: "Seriously, what on EARTH was Kia thinking when it did that?!" Korean Passat W8, anyone?


Nissan Juke Nismo RS: The only alternative if you want a crossover with performance credentials, the Juke handles its power a lot better than the Soul, but the Kia is - strangely - more likeable.

SEAT Arona 1.4 TFSI 150: SEAT, as yet, hasn't announced a Cupra model of the Arona, so the 1.4 TFSI with 150hp is about as close as you'll get to a 'hot' one. Spanish machine has a superb chassis, mind.

Skoda Yeti 2.5 TFSI: Umm... well, we're struggling. So the only thing we can think of here is that mental one-off Skoda Yeti, into which someone has dumped an Audi TT RS engine rated at 510hp... look it up on t'internet if you're interested.

Matt Robinson - 22 Nov 2017    - Kia road tests
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2017 Kia Soul Sport drive. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Soul Sport drive. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Soul Sport drive. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Soul Sport drive. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Soul Sport drive. Image by Kia.

2017 Kia Soul Sport drive. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Soul Sport drive. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Soul Sport drive. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Soul Sport drive. Image by Kia.2017 Kia Soul Sport drive. Image by Kia.


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