Same difference – that’s liable to be your first thought when encountering the new Kia Soul, which looks very similar to its predecessor. It’s all new, though, and is aimed at filling the same urban-SUV remit as
the Renault Captur, which offers a marginally smaller, swoopier-looking and – in diesel guise – more efficient take on the same idea for similar money.
The recently updated Ssangyong Korando is the elephant in the room. It is neither that small nor very efficient (officially at least). Instead, it’s a more conventional boxy SUV that’s more comparable in
size to a Nissan Qashqai. It is, however, front-wheel drive, diesel-powered and can be yours for almost £1500 less than the Renault or Kia. It is also very spacious.
What are they like to drive?
The new Kia Soul is intended to be more fun to drive than the Cee’d hatchback on which it’s based – and in some respects it is. Body lean through corners is well controlled, it’s easy to place on the road and the steering is predictable. However, while there’s enough initial forgiveness in its suspension to deal with speed bumps the whole car fidgets around far too much over scruffy, rippled town roads.
Things are more comfortable in the Captur, which is settled on most roads, albeit still a bit lumpy over bigger intrusions. That spongier ride results in more body lean, although the Renault actually turns into corners more keenly than the Kia, and doesn’t wash wide quite as early in more vigorous driving.
The Ssangyong behaves much more like an old-school 4x4 than both of its rivals. It leans heavily through bends, and the steering feels like it’s connected to the wheels via a rubber band, being vague and too keen to self-centre. The Korando will also scrub wide through corners very easily – even at speeds that would seem mundane in the Kia or Renault.
However, when driven sedately, at least, the Ssangyong is stable and relaxing. It’s a shame it shudders over sharp-edged bumps quite so much, but it’s rarely uncomfortable.
The Korando is also the fastest of the four. Its engine is a bit flat below 1700rpm, but there’s enough torque from low revs that you don’t have to change gear that often around town. However, there’s a sudden surge in power when the turbo kicks in.
The Soul’s 126bhp 1.6-litre engine trumps the Captur’s 89bhp 1.5 diesel in the power stakes, and it’s usefully faster as a result, but both pull smoothly from around 1500rpm.
Refinement isn’t a strong point of any of these cars. Engine noise is especially intrusive in the Korando, while the Renault is quietest overall. However, the Renault and Ssangyong have unpleasant gearshifts, while the Soul’s is fairly light and precise.
What are they like inside?
The Ssangyong is much bigger than its rivals. It’s the largest car here in every respect except for rear headroom, but even tall rear passengers will be able to lounge in the back because it’s the only car here in which you can adjust the angle of the backrests.
The Korando is also the only one with adjustable lumbar support on its driver’s seat, which helps make long journeys reasonably comfortable, despite the absence of a rest for your clutch foot. It is, however, a bit tricky to judge the extremities of the car in tight parking spots.
Six-footers also will have plenty of head- and legroom in the other two cars – especially in the Soul, which has masses of headroom all-round. However, the Captur’s front seats are the least supportive on long journeys and the Renault also has the least rear legroom, even with the bench slid back.
Unsurprisingly, the Ssangyong has the biggest boot by a huge margin. It’s also has a boot floor that’s flush with the load lip, and rear seats that fold totally flat.
The Captur is the only car here with a height-adjustable boot floor, which gives a flat extended load bay when in its highest position and with the seats folded. You can also slide the rear bench forward from the boot.
The Kia’s boot, meanwhile, is deeper and wider than the Renault’s, but there’s a high load lip and a big drop over it to the boot floor. So, despite being bigger, the Soul’s boot isn’t as practical as the Renault’s – let alone the Ssangyong’s.
The Soul’s interior feels pretty classy. An instrument binnacle wrapped in man-made leather gives the cabin a real lift, as do the soft-touch materials and piano-black trim on the dashboard. The Captur, meanwhile, is less impressive, with a drab dash that’s hard to the touch and marks easily.
However, the Ssangyong feels even cheaper inside; elephant hide-style plastics dominate. It might be cheap to buy, but you’re constantly reminded of those cost savings.
What will they cost?
Haggle hard and you’ll get hefty savings on both the Soul and Captur, with the slightly larger discounts available on the Soul and its stronger resale values making it the cheapest if you sell it on after three years – albeit by less than £300.
While the Korando is the cheapest of the three to buy, it loses the most in depreciation over three years and also has the highest tax and insurance costs.
The Captur is the most economical car here by a big margin in real-world driving, and it’s also the cheapest company car. In fact, it’s the only one of the four that’s competitive with the plethora of low-emission hatchbacks available for the same sort of money.
All these cars get alloy wheels, air-conditioning and cloth seats, but the Captur betters the others with automatic lights and wipers and dual-zone climate control. The Soul also gets auto lights plus a rear-view camera, while you have to step up a trim level to get parking sensors and a camera in the Captur. Sensors cost £198 on the Korando, while a rear-view camera for it is £399.
The Kia and Renault both get a 100,000-mile warranty, but while the Kia’s lasts for seven years the Renault’s is only four. The Ssangyong is covered for five years with unlimited mileage.
It’s a close call between the Soul and the Captur. The Renault is noticeably smaller, particularly in terms of rear passenger space, and it’s also pretty slow. However, it takes the win here because it’s the cheapest for company car buyers, is virtually on a par with the Soul for three-year private costs and is also more refined and comfortable. Its impressive economy and standard colour touch-screen and satellite-navigation also count in its favour.
Having said that, there’s a lot going for the Kia. It’s a shame the ride is so unsettled around town, because otherwise it’s roomy, and nice to drive. If Kia could solve the ride issue and throw in their high-tech infotainment system (which is standard only on Connect Plus trim and above) at this price, the outcome here would be different.
The Ssangyong is not to be dismissed out of hand, though. Yes, it feels cheap, and yes, it’s not as good to drive as these rivals. Its whiney, gritty engine also means it’s the least refined of the three cars here.
Having said that, it’s impossible to overlook how cheap it is given the size, and in this respect it really is great value. Nevertheless, it’s by far the most expensive to own privately and run as a company car.
Glamorous it isn’t, but if a low purchase price and plenty of room for passengers and cargo are priorities, you could be surprised by how appropriate and inoffensive the Ssangyong is.
Renault Captur 1.5 dCi Dyn’ Media Nav
For Economical; cheap to buy and run; sliding rear bench; great standard infotainment
Against Poor rear passenger space; slow; rubbery gearshift
Verdict Not flawless, but still the best small SUV for the money
Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi Connect
For Passenger space; slick gearshift; tidy handling; classy-feeling interior
Against Ride is too choppy; others offer better equipment
Verdict Jittery ride aside, it’s one of the best small SUVs
Ssangyong Korando 2.0d SE 2WD
For Massive cabin; good practicality; decent performance; cheap to buy
Against Noisy engine; body control; cheap-feeling cabin
Verdict An inoffensive, very cheap and usefully large SUV