| First Drive | Rome, Italy | 2010 Kia Venga |
Kia tells us that the name of its new mini MPV is derived from the Spanish word meaning 'to arrive'. That's all well and good, but we'd have preferred its name to have been derived from the Geordie word meaning 'to leave', then at least we wouldn't have cheesy '90s dance songs spinning around our heads every time it was mentioned: we'd have called it the Kia 'Hadaway'.
...Damn! Oh well. You'll be pleased to know that, unlike the aforementioned pair of cheesy recording artists, Kia's new car is guaranteed to last for at least seven years and you won't be labelled a tasteless idiot for buying it. The Venga is one sensible little car.
In the Metal
If it seems odd to you that in the space of a year Kia would bring two B-segment cars to market, both of a similar size and price, know that it does to us too. And to be honest, the Soul
and the Venga do essentially the same thing at a barely different price once you boil them down.
However, think of the pair as twins separated at birth: the Soul went off in search of fame, started dressing above its league, hit the party circuit, married a Division One footballer then opened an account at the Botox clinic in order to stay young; the Venga, on the other hand did well at school, studied physics at university, got a PhD, settled down with a doctor in a suburban semi and now spends its weekends wearing a fleece on biking holidays with the two children. Who'd you rather be friends with?
Basically, the Soul is the 'looker' (if you can call it that), and the Venga is the practical one, which despite having a footprint smaller than its sister actually squeezes in more useable space; there's barely any less legroom in the back, masses of headroom and a boot that seems about twice the size. The rear seats - which easily accommodate two burly grownups - slide forward by some distance to liberate even more luggage area too.
And up front there's a distinctly Soul-ish vibe as well. Though the cabin layout is sufficiently different to look original, the general ambience is the same: the plastics are well glued together, but they're all hard, hollow and grainy. It's an intuitive, smart layout though, and it's evidently conceived for ease of use. The high driving position is spot on too, giving that commanding feel and increased all-round visibility that buyers of mini MPVs crave.
What you get for your Money
The prices have yet to be confirmed for the Venga's February 2010 on-sale date, but they'll start at about £11,500 and rise to £16,500 or so, which actually makes this slightly more expensive than the Soul. There'll be three trim levels called '1, 2 and 3', with all versions getting air conditioning, a six-speaker stereo with USB compatibility, remote central locking and electric windows. Level 2 adds a leather steering wheel, 16-inch alloys, iPod connectivity and a multi-function steering wheel, while 3 replaces the air con for proper climate control and brings a panoramic sunroof and tinted windows.
Three engines will be offered: a 1.4-litre 89bhp petrol unit and a turbodiesel of the same capacity and power output. The former is linked to a five-speed gearbox, the latter with an extra cog. There's a 123bhp 1.6-litre petrol option too, though that'll only come with the four-speed automatic found elsewhere in Kia's stuff. We didn't drive that one on this occasion.
To be confirmed. Seriously. We can tell you all about the Venga's practicality, styling, cabin ambience and equipment, but what we can't really tell you yet is how the right-hand drive version will drive.
That's because the suspension and steering of the test cars Kia brought to the Rome launch were set up differently to the way they'll be in UK cars. And to be honest, we're pleased about that fact because the ride of the particular Venga we spent most time with - a 1.4-litre petrol - was its Achilles' heel. It lolled about in a fashion typical of tall cars that are too softly sprung, never quite settling down and unable to deal with any surface imperfections without throwing the body around like a 50p Postman Pat ride in a supermarket car park.
The steering was too slack around the centre at low speeds too, though thankfully that's easily changed via a software tweak. Interestingly enough, however, the suspension setup of the European test cars differed from petrol to diesel, and the diesel model we briefly drove handled body control with much more equilibrium than the petrol. The difference was marked, and enough to convince us that Kia will sort out the ride and handling for UK cars.
Of the two engines we sampled, the diesel is the best from a performance and running costs perspective, though both are slightly frustrating in their own ways. For a start, neither car has particularly good pedal feel, with an oversensitive throttle and brake servo, and the gearchange, solid as it is, occasionally challenges you to a minor wrestling match before it does what it's told.
There's nothing fundamentally wrong with the two 1.4-litre engines, but they're just not that civilised. The diesel in particular has two layers of noise: the familiar chug you'll hear of any compression ignition unit, but it's backed up by a metallic rattle. It's torquey though, which makes it more flexible then the petrol alternative, and it is of course better on fuel and lower on CO2
(45.6- vs. 62.8mpg and 147- vs. 117g/km). The diesel version achieves those figures partly by way of standard ISG engine idle cut-out technology. With those figures in mind - and the fact that the petrol unit needs to be revved to get the most from but doesn't actually like to be - we'd pay the bit extra for the oil burner.
The process of making the Venga's suspension and steering suitable for the particular tastes of the UK market has been ongoing since March. You'll agree that's quite a lot of time (it's December as we write this), but, as one Kia insider told us, if you get a car right for the UK it's probably going to be fine everywhere else. We were interested to hear that the steering development focused purely on software tweaks too - because even steering racks have an ECU now. Weirdly, by doing nothing more than plugging a laptop into the car, Kia engineers can actually make the Venga's wheels turn lock-to-lock with only an inch of steering movement either way. We'd like to try that.
Even if Kia doesn't make the ride more composed and doesn't give the steering more life - though we're sure it will - the Venga is still yet another small Kia it's easy to justify buying. What it lacks in the Soul's character it makes up for by being more useful, just as well put together and enticingly economical. All that combined with a long warranty make it an appealing little family car. Who's it for then? It's for buyers who let their heads dominate their hearts.