Kia Motors SA has handed its range-topping Soul a new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Ryan Bubear tests the Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi Smart DCT...
It's not often that we make extended comment on styling — given the levels of subjectivity involved — but we've long held a particularly soft spot for the Kia Soul's charmingly boxy design.
Yes, this second-generation model stands out from the family car crowd, still gamely straddling the line between small MPV and subcompact crossover almost two years after its launch. It draws much of its oddball inspiration from the wacky Track'ster concept, yet remains surprisingly practical on the inside.
But the reason we're writing about the Soul today has little to do with its admittedly polarising exterior design. No, this test has been triggered by the introduction to the local line-up of the Korean brand's first in-house-developed seven-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT).
Replacing the six-speed torque converter automatic in the range-topping 1.6 CRDi Smart variant, this new self-shifting gearbox is touted to improve the updated powertrain's fuel efficiency, while also serving up a somewhat sportier feel when piloted in manual mode.
Of the former, there is little doubt. Indeed, we managed a final (and rather impressive) consumption figure of 6.3 litres per 100km, not too far off the claimed average of 5.4, despite plenty of time in traffic. But we're not in the least bit convinced by declarations of added sportiness.
To be fair, though, few 1.6-litre four-cylinder diesel engines lend themselves to such claims, regardless of their gearboxes. And, even though this 1582cc turbo-diesel unit is not especially refined — serving up an almost agricultural clatter at idle — it is certainly more than punchy enough, particularly in combination with the new pair of dry clutches.
The transmission itself is a fairly smooth-shifting thing, and automatic cog-swapping in the higher gears goes by almost unnoticed should you be judicious with your throttle inputs. Stomp on the loud pedal for a sudden splash of overtaking oomph, and the dual-clutch responds swiftly and decisively, although the lack of engine refinement is then cruelly exposed.
Still, the addition of the DCT to the powertrain equation has allowed the Seoul-based automaker to increase the oil-burner's peak outputs, which now sit at a pleasingly round 100kW (up six units) and 300Nm. The latter figure is the more important one here, having increased by an appreciable 40Nm and being spread evenly from 1900rpm through to 2750rpm.
As a result, the front-wheel drive Soul's obligatory sprint to three figures falls a significant 1.1 seconds to 11.1 seconds, while the largely immaterial top speed gains six units to 188km/h. A somewhat more competent traffic cut-and-thruster it now most certainly is, particularly when one factors in the fairly supple ride and city-geared steering.
Of course, the Kia Soul is also far more practical than its eccentric exterior design may at first suggest. Head-room is particularly capacious, while the rear bench boasts surprisingly decent leg-room, too. The luggage compartment, meanwhile, appears compact at first glance through the almost vertical rear screen, but is deep enough to swallow some 354 litres, or up to 1367 litres with the split-folding rear seats dropped.
The standard specification list, meanwhile, is generous, thanks to this particular model's positioning at the very summit of the local Soul range. Indeed, the 1.6 CRDi Smart DCT features 18-inch alloy wheels, six airbags, automatic Xenon headlights, air-conditioning, cruise control, a six-speaker audio system, Bluetooth, keyless starting, parking sensors front and rear, a reversing camera, leather upholstery, and electric adjustment for the driver's seat.
However, the screen cited in the centre of the dash — which also doubles as the display for the reversing camera — is absolutely minute by modern standards. And the so-called "music lighting", which sees the speaker lamps pulsate with the beat, comes across as somewhat gimmicky (but can thankfully be easily deactivated).
Still, there's no doubting the long standard equipment list. Thing is, it comes at quite a price. This particular model is pegged at a hefty R408 995, which is tellingly more than, say, the entry-level model in the BMW 2 Series Active Tourer line-up.
And, if you're specifically interested in turbo-diesel automatics in the MPV segment, there are also a few more affordable options — such as the Volkswagen Golf SV — out there.
But, if you're prepared to stomach the price and somewhat unrefined oil-burning engine, the Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi Smart DCT is unique in its blend of quirky styling, practicality, and standard kit. And the new seven-speed 'box certainly isn't a bad effort either.
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See page two for specs and pricing.