We got up close with the production Kia Soul a couple of weeks back at the 2008 Paris motor show, but today CAR has driven the Soul in Korea. It’s a B-segment offering from Kia, a model the Korean firm hope will help build on the Ceed’s success while attracting a younger audience. Think of it as our Mini or Fiat 500, say the Kia people.
The Kia Soul looks good to me...
Certainly does. Thank ex-Audi designer Peter Schreyer for that. The Soul’s bold creases, chunky wheelarches and slabby sides lend it a sense of solidity while the blacked-out A-pillars and wing vents add a mini-me Range Rover feel. It doesn’t just look sturdy, though; slam the doors and it sounds quality too, a chunky thunk emanating rather than the kind of tinniness you might expect from a Korean product.
How about inside the Soul?
It can’t quite live up to the quality promised by the exterior and it’s off the pace when compared with European competitors like the new Ford Fiesta, but it’s not bad. In fact, as a whole it looks pretty good: clearly laid out controls, durable feeling fabric on the comfy (though unsupportive) seats and a tough-looking honeycomb design that covers the dash.
There’s even standard air-con and the option of an eight-speaker stereo (developed in-house) to please the funky urban types that Kia hope to attract – which sounds good.
But look at the parts that make up the whole and the façade falters – some of the lower plastics look cheap and scratch-prone while the door handles and electric window switches and surround look dated.
All top-spec models (possibly tagged Extreme and thought to account for around a fifth of sales) get a colour-coded dash with the upper sections of the front and rear seats coloured to match. It probably looks good on subtler hues, but our red test car was a tad too garish – a bit explosion in a Dulux factory for our tastes.
There are other options too: leather might be offered, but is not yet confirmed, while a range of so-called ‘character’ cars will be run for limited amounts of time. ‘Some might be more chic, others bling, girly or outdoorsy,’ said a spokesman. Quite.
Click 'Next' to read more of our Kia Soul first drive review
The Kia Soul looks tiny. Will I fit?
Yes, unless you play basketball for the Miami Heat team. Your tester measures up at 6ft 2in in a stout pair of heels and found plenty of head- and legroom for four similarly sized adults – though some may be frustrated by the steering wheel only adjusting for rake, not reach. But the real compromise is in boot space, which is tiny. It was a struggle to line up two size 10 shoes end-to-end lengthways so getting a pushchair or even a large suitcase heaved in might be an issue.
You have to wonder if the target 20-something buyer might not be better served by a larger boot for storing their snowboards/guitar amps/base jumping paraphernalia than with spacious rear seats that will rarely be filled. A small boot didn’t hurt the Mini, mind, and you do get split-folding rear seats.
How does the Soul drive?
Nicely. CAR Online sampled both the 1.6 petrol and 1.6 diesel that will come to the UK. Avoid the petrol – it feels gutless, never really hits a sweet spot and needs thrashing to get anywhere. Yet the diesel is a peach: it’s refined and packs a zesty turbocharged punch from just 1500rpm that continues through the mid-range.
The gearbox comes only in a five-speed flavour across the range and isn’t the slickest we’ve experienced – it feels particularly vague and long of throw when you’re moving across the gate from, say, fifth to fourth.
The Soul's steering is light, progressive and precise but it also has a slight over-eagerness to self-centre at low speeds while a bit of extra resistance through high-speed corners wouldn’t go amiss.
Nonetheless, the Soul is a fun car to drive with taut body control and an agile front-drive chassis that dances through corners. The steering remained free of vibration, there was no kickback through the column and the damping generally adds an underlying layer of suppleness, but it did feel slightly clattery on the roughest surfaces.
Perhaps the 18-inch wheels were to blame (standard on the top-spec, probably optional on the two lesser specs), but we were unfortunately unable to sample the 16s.
Click 'Next' to read CAR's verdict on the new Kia Soul
All in, the Soul is a good car, if not perfect. With an expected price range of around £12k-£14k, it has some tough competition in the B-segment (not least the new Fiesta), but its tough looks, entertaining dynamics and charcterful personality will no doubt see the 3000 units Kia hopes to shift annually in the UK snapped up quickly enough.
But are good cars like the Ceed and Soul good enough to shake Kia’s budget-cars-for-the-elderly image? We think so, but have your say by responding below.