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2 little Soul? Image by Kia.

2 little Soul?
Kia really does pin its brand transformation hopes - for the time being anyway - on the Soul. Is it really that good?


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| Week at the Wheel | Kia Soul 2 CRDi |

Inside & Out: star star star star star

It's getting boring and patronising to begin every Kia write up with some glib rhetoric about how it used to be a budget Korean brand, but now it's making decent little... you know the drill. The problem is, it's difficult to avoid that sort of thing because Kia is slap bang in the middle of a transformation: it very recently did make cheap, uninspiring cars (see our recent Magentis review for a reminder), but now it's trying to make inspiring cars cheap. The Soul is its first proper punt.

And a gamble it is, because the car treads a very fine line between ridiculous mini Range Rover pastiche and chunky city car crossover hero. We're still not sure where we stand on that, but at least Kia sent our test car in reasonable 'Soul 2' spec, because it strips away stupidity like vinyl graphics and glowing speaker cones available further up the range, and lets the Soul's basic shape do the talking. It's a shape that's actually quite small from axle to axle, but appears larger in the flesh because it's square-edged and the bonnet is tall. Inside, the high roof amplifies the feeling of space, but there's a mass of leg and elbow room anyway, so all-in-all the cabin feels almost impossibly spacious.

The problem is, it's all at the expense of boot capacity. Kia has made the Soul with young families in mind, but the car is significantly hamstrung by having a trunk that can't even swallow a medium-sized Phil & Teds, let alone take a couple of Louis Vuitton wash bags too.

Engine & Transmission: star star star star star

The 1.6-litre CRDi unit - one of just two engines available alongside a 1.6-litre petrol option - is acceptably quiet and smooth and delivers its torque in an even handed - if never quite urgent - manner. Up to 192lb.ft of torque is enough to pull the Soul along happily even with a full complement of kids and a boot full of nappies - and you should get close to its 54.3mpg combined fuel figure in real life usage too. The Soul's fuel gauge markedly resisted heading south during our week with the car, which is probably because it doesn't encourage anything other than fairly pedestrian, relaxed driving.

On that basis the transmission performs admirably, in that it's precise and its five ratios are spaced such as to make the most of the diesel's torque around town without having to change cogs constantly. That said, it could really do with a sixth gear for motorway driving because in fifth it sits about 500rpm too high at 70mph. That's a shame because it's otherwise refined, resisting the tendency to undulate and keeping wind whistle fairly hushed.

Ride & Handling: star star star star star

This is a comfortable car, make no mistake, but like most other tall, slab-sided shapes it doesn't thrive as a point-to-point plaything. Will it be bought for that purpose though? No chance. And actually, its body control is impressive given its proportions, so more spirited B-road driving isn't the embarrassment of fairground ride nausea you might expect. Pointing it left and right is more interesting than it perhaps might have been too, because the steering is precise and not over-light. The high driving position and large front screen makes visibility (and perceived safety) excellent too.

However, despite all that there's still a question mark over its composure on slower, more linearly challenged surfaces. We all know that the majority of Britain's urban road network, well, sucks, and the Soul isn't as good as it should be at compensating for that. It wobbles over urban juts and crevices without talking enough edge off them, which might prove tiresome for young mum and dad during their daily pottering.

Equipment, Economy & Value for Money: star star star star star

Although the interior décor is creatively designed and intuitive, it also reveals itself as rather bland when it's not accented with the outlandish accoutrements found in the top-whack models. The plastics are hard and cheap, though it is well equipped, with a good sounding MP3 and USB compatible stereo, air conditioning, 16-inch alloys and electric door mirrors all as standard on this model. Kia has attempted to ape the MINI's personalisation 'USP' by offering a myriad of personalisation options on top, but they can quickly begin to eat into the Soul's good value territory - so think carefully before blowing £1,000 on that body kit.

While it might not have the style of something like, say, an Alfa MiTo, it does have it's own flair and it is a very cheap car to buy and run given the cabin space - notwithstanding what we said earlier about boot space and options. Our Soul 2 test car comes in at £12,500, which undercuts a loosely equivalent Ford Fusion, for example, by a good couple of grand - and the Kia comes with a five-year warranty. On top of that it gets ESP and ABS as standard, plus six airbags.

Overall: star star star star star

You know, while appreciating that it might not be everyone's cup of tea - and that it's arguably ever so slightly camp - we like the Soul. We like it because it's a brave and inventive move for Kia, but mostly we like it because apart from a tiny boot it works really well. It's never exceptional - and the interior is drab in grey - but it's different. Anyone looking for a credible alternative to a pack of cars that are often utilitarian and boring (you know the ones), could do worse than check out a Soul.

Mark Nichol - 1 Jul 2009    - Kia road tests
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- Soul images

2009 Kia Soul specifications: (2 1.6 CRDi)
Price: £12,495 on-the-road (€21,295 for equivalent in Ireland).
0-62mph: 11.3 seconds
Top speed: 113mph
Combined economy: 54.3mpg
Emissions: 137g/km
Kerb weight: 1429kg

2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.

2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.

2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.

2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.

2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.

2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.

2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.

2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.

2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.

2009 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.


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