What is it?
According to Kia, the Soul is an ‘urban crossover passenger car’. But if that sounds as confusing to you as it does for us, it may be better to think of it as a tall, wide – but short – hatchback. And one which looks smart and funky.
The Soul is also Kia trying to become cooler. Up until now the brand has been closely associated with well-made cars that are easy to drive and inexpensive to own. Yet the company’s marketing men unashamedly mention the Mini when talking about the Soul.
This is a car that we’re meant to buy for its looks and image rather than just the warranty, something borne out by a long list of Mini-like ‘personalisation’ options.
Underneath, the Soul is a little more prosaic, being based on the same front-drive platform as the Hyundai i20 – a package that will also underpin future models including a new Kia supermini. UK buyers will get to choose between two 125bhp 1.6-litre engines, one petrol and one diesel. A start-stop system will be offered later.
What’s it like?
The driving experience doesn’t quite live up to the billing of the design, but the Soul is competent, safe and sensible. The diesel engine is undoubtedly the better choice, with torque enough to motivate the Soul’s relatively chunky kerbweight – a drive in the petrol confirms it needs to be revved hard to give its best.
More good news: it’s a refined cruiser. And on twistier roads it seems to resist body roll well for such a tall, short car. The penalty for this composure is a constantly ruffled ride.
Even on standard 16-inch wheels the Soul crashes uncomfortably over any major road scar, and on the optional 18s it’s even worse. We were testing the car on poor-quality South Korean roads, but the lack of composure doesn’t bode well for life in Britain.
The design of the cabin isn’t nearly as dramatic as the exterior, but the dash looks good, is well ordered and there are plenty of places to stash things.
Downsides include some of the plastics not looking or feeling top-notch - even though they’re nicely textured – and the steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach. Nevertheless, it’s pretty easy to get comfortable and the high seating position gives a commanding view of the road ahead.
The Soul’s height and width also ensure loads of cabin space. Kia claims more passenger space than a Nissan Qashqai, despite the Soul being 200mm shorter. Rear-seat knee room and headroom are particularly impressive, although fitting three abreast across the rear bench seat will be a tight squeeze. Luggage space is on a par with most superminis too.
Should I buy one?
The Kia’s killer blow, apart from its looks, will be value for money. The range will start just under £11,000 – keen for a car that looks genuinely different from anything else on the road, which is packed with generous standard kit and backed up by the best warranty in the business.
Yes, this is the first Kia that deserves consideration on the basis of image alone. And although we can’t help wishing that the driving experience was as compelling, if it grabs your attention then you’re probably going to want one, no matter what.