Diesel and fun? There was a time when this was an oxymoron, but the world has changed, and along with it there are many examples of former stigmas being shed – so it is with modern diesel engines.
itself is a contradiction in terms – stylish and hip, yet practical and comfortable; civil and refined, yet oddly blunt and purposeful. When it first came out, it was the kind of car we wanted – of course with one caveat: this thing would be nearly perfect with a small displacement, direct injection turbodiesel engine and six-speed manual.
We had to travel to Europe to find it, but waiting for us at the Hamburg airport in Northern Germany was a bright red Soul with a 1.6-liter common-rail, direct injection turbodiesel with a five-speed manual transmission. What? A five-speed? Well, two out of three isn’t bad.
There’s nothing like hopping in a car after 14 hours on a jumbo jet – not to mention a nine-hour time change – and charging onto the Autobahn. First impression? Wow, this engine is amazingly elastic. Flowing through the ‘burbs of Hamburg in search of said Autobahn, it is easy to appreciate how once you’ve launched the car, it just idles along in fourth gear at a comfortable city speed. Need to go? Fine, just drop it a gear and you’ve got instant access to 192 lb-ft of torque.
If there is one thing we love about diesel engines, it’s that the power is always there. You only need to have the engine running, and once you’ve hit a lowly 1,900 revs, you have it on tap. Until electric engines truly become a feasible reality, this is as good as it’s going to get in terms of low-end torque delivery and efficiency.
However, once on the Autobahn, it’s hard not to miss a sixth gear ratio. It would be so cool to run at nearly 100 mph with a couple hundred fewer rpms on the dial. Still, to have a car this size (while considered small in North America, the Soul seems downright huge when parked on a German street), flying at this speed, with week’s worth of travel gear in the trunk and an amazing 41 mpg… where do we sign up?
After a week with the Soul, it is easy to appreciate what a great all-around day-to-day driver it is. While some have complained about visibility – the rear pillars are pretty thick, we have never found that an issue, even though parking spaces in Europe are a lot tighter than they are in the States. Around town, it’s simply effortless. And while yes, the shifter could have shorter throws and a little more feel, we never had any trouble knowing what gear the vehicle was in or which way to go to select the next desired ratio.
Ok, the Soul CRDi doesn’t give you a precise snick-snick feel of running up the gears while charging along the road; it doesn’t particularly ‘charge’ anywhere, and at very high speeds, there’s some wind noise – not entirely unexpected given the Soul’s boxy shape. What really matters is that around town we frequently found ourselves smiling at the simple honesty of how effortlessly everything works together. The engine’s torque always matches with the next gear, and the clutch engages gently, allowing a smooth and never jerky driving experience. Such velvety progression may seem an odd thing to come to mind while driving a diesel Kia Soul, but again it provides another example of a wonderful contradiction.
The Soul CRDi doesn’t disappoint. In fact, if anything, it falls well within the under-promise-and-over-deliver segment of the automotive world – a place in which many cars with more prestigious badges fall way short.