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First drive: Kia Soul. Image by Kia.

First drive: Kia Soul
Looks the same, but really isn't: this is the rather likeable new Kia Soul crossover.

   



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| First Drive | Palermo, Sicily | Kia Soul |

Overall rating: 4 4 4 4 4

Kia's likeable Soul crossover has always been seen as a bit of an oddball, but the new model, despite its evolutionary approach to a redesign, deserves a much bigger market share. It's much more refined and of higher quality than before, there's more equipment and it looks great.

Key Facts

Model tested: Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi
Pricing: starts at 12,600 on-the-road
Engine: 1.6-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door crossover
Rivals: Fiat 500L Trekking, Renault Captur, Skoda Yeti
CO2 emissions: 125g/km
Combined economy: 58.9mpg
Top speed: 110mph
0-62mph: 11.2 seconds
Power: 128hp at 4,000rpm
Torque: 260Nm from 1,900- to 2,750rpm

In the Metal: 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5 4.5

Put a picture of the old Soul next to a snap of the new one and we can play a game of spot the difference. We'll give you a few minutes to try and circle a few changes... give in? OK, we forgive you for struggling but in actual fact every single body panel on the car is new. And as subtle refreshes go, this one has worked a treat. The Soul's LED-bejewelled front end is just a little bit less goofy than it was, while at the back there's some striking detailing to behold. Given that you can personalise the Soul, as you can with a MINI, Fiat 500 et al in this sort of market, you can also opt for some interesting colours - although you need to pick from the four two-tone paint jobs carefully, otherwise the car looks a bit odd.

The inner Soul (sorry) is excellent. Both in terms of design and the quality of the materials used, the Kia has a superb cabin with masses of room, clever storage cubbies hidden everywhere, some neat design details like the two front tweeter speakers on top of the air vents and the option of plenty of toys. We tried cars equipped with touchscreen satnav (nice graphics, easy to use), cruise control, leather and climate control. It doesn't feel like you have to accept an interior that's 'nearly as good as the competition' any more, that's for certain.

Driving it: 4 4 4 4 4

This Soul is based on the latest Kia cee'd platform and two-thirds of its body is made of ultra-high or high strength steel for 29 per cent better torsional rigidity overall. Kia has also relocated the front MacPherson suspension on its own sub-frame with four bushings, fitted longer, vertically-mounted shock absorbers at the rear and moved the steering box forward, all in the hope of making the car both more refined and better to throw about. In one of these areas, Kia has hit the bull's-eye.

There are two 1.6-litre engines on offer and two transmissions, but we'd avoid the normally-aspirated, 132hp petrol unit. Smooth though it is, it feels woefully limp at low revs thanks to its weedy 161Nm arriving at a high 4,850rpm. Thrash round the rev counter beyond 3,500rpm and it loses all composure too. It's sadly a very old-school unit and we're not sure why anyone would buy it when it offers next to no on-paper performance advantage over the diesel, yet much worse economy.

The same goes for the six-speed automatic. It hammers consumption, emissions and performance on both engines and while it's not terrible, it's not the most refined unit we've encountered. The best drivetrain by far is the CRDi 1.6 with the lovely six-speed manual. The Soul is no road rocket in this configuration but it certainly feels punchier at low revs, while you don't have to endlessly stir the gearbox for acceleration.

However, the real shining example the Kia sets in this segment is thanks to its refinement. Even on 18-inch alloys, there's a fluidity to its ride that makes cruising and town driving hugely pleasurable, and either engine is subdued once into sixth and on a trailing throttle. The diesel, of course, still has the upper hand here as it does around 2,000rpm at motorway speeds, the petrol recording a busier 3,500rpm.

So the harsher edges of the Soul's ride have been eroded, but it doesn't wallow on its springs as a result. The crossover resists roll very well for something so upright and high-riding, and it has more grip than you might think in the corners too - but the problem here, as ever, is the steering. There are three settings you can choose from but none of them offer any feel and they're all way too light. The brakes are capable enough but while the Soul's handling is good, it's not exceptional. Much better to drive the Kia as the vast majority of buyers inevitably will, in a more relaxed manner. That way, you can revel in its high-quality refinement.

What you get for your Money: 4 4 4 4 4

Prices start at 12,600 and go up to 21,550. There are five trim levels available - Start, Connect, Connect Plus, Mixx and Maxx - with the mid-range Plus expected to cream the majority of sales at 38 per cent.

With the exception of the Smart, all cars come with alloy wheels and new luxuries are available, such as keyless entry and go, the aforementioned navigation system with an eight-inch screen (it can suffuse the cabin with a night-time glow to let other road users know you've got a high-spec model), a panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated front seats and an Infinity premium sound system, among other options. It can also be fitted with various safety and convenience features, like high beam assist (a first for Kia in Europe), lane departure warning and a smart parking assist system.

Worth Noting

There's a Soul EV coming for those who want the ultimate in eco-motoring. You can only have it in blue or white and it has a more smoothed-off front end than the Souls with conventional engines, but it'll be priced to compete with Nissan's LEAF when it goes on sale in the fourth quarter of this year. Kia says it will come in one high-specification trim only as EV early adopters seem to go for lots of tech in their futuristic chariots.

Summary

Unless you're a really, really enthusiastic driver, if you pick a diesel, manual Kia Soul and then specify it in the right colours inside and out, with the addition of a few choice toys, it's hard to recommend anything that can do simple, comfortable motoring better. Possessed of a supple ride, quiet manners and the sort of ingenious use of space in a compact footprint that shows the MINI up for the chunky charlatan it is, the Soul is a hugely appealing machine as a day-to-day companion because it's not a Tommy Tryhard sort of car; it pragmatically invites you to take it as it is, a solid-but-small crossover that's great value. Throw in the manufacturer's mega seven-year warranty and keen pricing, and we think the new Soul is a real winner.


Matt Robinson - 9 Apr 2014



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2014 Kia Soul. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Kia Soul. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Kia Soul. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Kia Soul. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Kia Soul. Image by Paddy McGrath.

2014 Kia Soul. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Kia Soul. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Kia Soul. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Kia Soul. Image by Paddy McGrath.2014 Kia Soul. Image by Paddy McGrath.



2014 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.
 

2014 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.
 

2014 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.
 

2014 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.
 

2014 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.
 

2014 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.
 

2014 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.
 

2014 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.
 

2014 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.
 

2014 Kia Soul. Image by Kia.
 






 

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