Steve Sharpe drives the new version of Kia’s Soul
The first incarnation of Kia’s Soul appeared in 2008, a small SUV crossover which paved the way for later big-selling models like Nissan’s Juke, Renault’s Captur and the Skoda Yeti.
These three in particular used the basic ingredients of a quirky, stylish SUV-type urban vehicle aimed at the younger buyer who wanted something a little different.
The Soul went on to become a market leader in the States and China. Unfortunately for Kia, here in the UK, these rivals picked up the ball and somewhat ran away from the Soul.
Aware that this is a rapidly growing sector of the market, Kia had a long think about things – in fact , did a bit of Soul searching (ouch, sorry) – and brought out a whole new version to try to regain the ground lost on its competitors.
The 2014 Soul keeps the chunky, boxy looks but is longer, wider and lower than its predecessor, being based on the same platform as the Kia Cee’d.
The designers took design cues from the 2012 Track’ster concept car, which resulted in the car getting a sportier, more muscular look than the outgoing model.
It comes in a number of trims, including the top-end Mixx and Maxx models brought out this summer, which have loads of extra kit, 18-inch alloy wheels, an “urban styling pack” of gloss black trim on the bumpers, side skirts and wheelarches and LED daytime running lights.
Mixx models can be specified with a choice of four two-tone designs with coloured roofs, while the flagship Maxx gets a panoramic glass roof.
All versions are front-wheel-drive, five-door crossovers – Kia reckons its research showed that while customers want the looks, semi-elevated driving position and perceived safety advantages of a 4x4, they don’t want the taxation and higher fuel consumption that four-wheel drives entail.
The company says the new version has increased road presence and there can be no doubt of that.
The Mixx version which I drove has contrasting body and roof colours, which resulted in it being described more than once as resembling a ladybird.
The Soul is a car that can take on a completely different look whichever angle you view it from.
It has elements of a Mini from some angles, a Suzuki Swift from others, a kind of Land Rover from another and a mix of all these and more.
It can be a bit in your face on first sight but it actually works, amazingly.
It’s certainly individual, and while many will lump it in with other deliberately quirky cars, many more will embrace its funkiness.
And while many special editions go over-the-top, the Mixx and Maxx versions seem to work even better.
Inside the cabin this quirkiness continues as themes from the Track’ster are also to be found in the interior, especially in its use of circular patterns, apparently inspired by the ripples in a pond.
Kia have made a real attempt to go more upmarket with the quality, and many of the surfaces are soft-touch and look hardy.
The switchgear is solid, the media screen large and clear and the gauges are easy to read. Everything you need on a daily basis is close at hand and easy to use.
Like the exterior it just seems to work and design touches like the stacked side air vents with speakers on the top manage to look interesting rather than just weird.
There are some extra fun touches in the upper grade versions, like the front speaker mood lights which glow in soft colours,
The Soul is a tall call and there’s plenty of headroom in the front, and even though the roof tapers there’s a good amount in the back.
Legroom is fine in front and back too, and there is easily room for three in the rear.
The new model provides more passenger and luggage space than the previous model and although the boot is quite small the rear seats can be folded down for more stowage space.
It makes for a light airy place to travel. There is a lot of window area to let the sunlight in and visibility is good all around.
The rear pillars are quite wide but reversing is simple enough.
The Soul is described as an urban crossover and as such will generally be a creature of the city and despite its increased dimensions the Soul is extremely flexible around town.
There is a really tight turning circle which makes late turns into parking spaces a doddle, while the 1.6 diesel engine I drove gives solid low rev push and is happy at low speeds around the town run.
Out of town the Soul copes with longer runs and winding lames well.
Despite being a tall, boxy shape, control around corners is good, while the steering is decent and well weighted.
There’s some rumble coming through the floor and a little vibration, and because of the stiffened suspension to improve cornering you can feel the deeper bumps and potholes, but on the whole the Soul provides a good, comfortable all-round drive. There’s decent acceleration for the motorway and the Soul will happily eat up the miles.
Economy figures are OK although some rivals can better them and, likewise, emission figures are higher than others, making road tax more expensive.
The diesel engine is nicely quiet, only rising in pitch as the revs increase, and the cabin is generally quiet.
Cars like the Juke, Captur and Yeti are big sellers and so to compete with them Kia have priced the Soul competitively, from £12,600 for the entry-level model through to more than £21,000 for the diesel Mxx version.
With a young, tech-savvy buyer in mind, Kia have made sure there are a lot of gadgets and hi-tech stuff throughout the range.
The five grades are Start, Connect, Connect Plus, Mixx and Maxx.
New standard features on every Soul are a DAB radio, Flex Steer variable power-assisted steering and a tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
Also fitted to every model are painted bumpers, door handles and side mirror casings, keyless entry, air conditioning, electrically adjustable door mirrors, electric windows all round, steering wheel-mounted controls, USB and AUX ports and six airbags.
The top spec Mixx version I drove includes a premium sound system, eight-inch touchscreen satellite navigation, leather upholstery, heated front seats and automatic air-conditioning.
The Mixx comes with roof coloured door mirrors and a reversing camera.
Additionally the Maxx includes a smart key entry system with engine stop/start button, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, front and rear parking sensors and panoramic sunroof.
It’s would be easy to dismiss this new version of the Soul as too quirky but the more you drive it, and indeed look at it, the more it appeals.
It’s extremely individual, with a smart interior, roomy and good to drive, it will be interesting to see whether the Soul can make up lost ground on its rivals.
Kia Soul Mixx Engine: 1.6 litre diesel
Transmission: Six-speed manual.
0-62: 10.8 seconds.
Top Speed: 112mph.
Economy: Avg 56.5mpg