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Kia Soul Hunter 1.6 GDi

Click to view picture gallery“Soul Hunter. Sounds like a Van
  Helsing-style movie starring Hugh
  Jackman. But whereas a movie
  only lasts around two hours, Kia’s
  Soul Hunter will be around for
  a lot longer than that. No mystery
  this: the clue to its longevity is that
  it comes with a seven-year/100,000-
  mile warranty
...”

KIA'S URBAN CROSSOVER has just been revamped — inside, outside and in places you can't see — and now looks even more eye-catching with new LED daytime running lights underlining the redesigned headlamps cut into its high bonnet.

As before, it comes in a variety of trims: the regular Soul 1 and 2, and what Kia calls 'Soul Originals' first introduced in 2009, these popular Originals are special edition Souls each with a distinct style and personality. Conceived more in the spirit of a fashion collection, they're changed at regular intervals the current trio are badged Hunter, Inferno and Quantum.

And it's the Hunter we've been tooling around in for the past week. Our test car was the new petrol-drinking, direct-injection (GDi) 1.6 with a six-speed manual 'box. A same-displacement diesel unit (with an optional six-speed auto) is also available, but with the price of the black stuff going through the roof we thought we'd stick with cheaper unleaded.

“Eight days and seven
nights behind the
Hunter
s leather-rimmed
wheel saw an overall test
average of an impressive
42.1mpg — that
should keep your flexible
friend smiling!
There's 138bhp kicked-out from under the Soul's bonnet. And a pretty sparky 138bhp at that. Torque of 122lb ft keeps the all-aluminium four-cylinder engine nicely flexible for urban environments. And it's well matched to the six-speed manual shifter.

Top speed is a perfectly fine 112mph and zero to sixty comes up quickly enough in 10 seconds dead. Better still, the official combined cycle consumption is a useful 44.1mpg (urban is 36.7 and extra-urban 50.5mpg). Eight days and seven nights behind the Hunter's leather-rimmed wheel saw an overall test average of 42.1mpg that should keep your flexible friend smiling!

For those of you who haven't done any Soul-searching, here's what you need to know; it's a supermini hatchback with five doors and five seats but with an expressive and rugged high-riding appearance that makes it stand out, literally, head and shoulders above the rest. And within its 4.12-metre supermini-sized footprint is incorporated the flexibility of a medium-sized Multi-Purpose Vehicle.

Climb aboard and you'll find yourself in a very spacious place with light streaming through the standard-fit glass sunroof. Headroom is as accommodating as the Soul's high roof would lead you to expect, plus there's loads of room in all other directions. The seats (both front and back) are set high off the floor, so along with good lower leg comfort you also enjoy a commanding view out through the deep windows.

The seats are of a good size, firmly comfortable and supportive and upholstered in a distinctive tartan fabric. Fun, but also done in the best possible taste with the lively black, white and grey tartan used only for the top third of the front backrests, the full headrests and echoed on the door panels. The fascia and door cappings are covered in an embossed rubber that's silky-smooth to the touch and feels and looks good. Detailing, such as the filleting on the switchgear, is thorough, and fit and finish first class.

Climb in the back and you'll be equally at ease with a relaxing backrest angle and plenty of room to stretch out; there's also lots of room for your feet on the flat floor and under the high-set front seats. And it's a social back seat; one that three adults can share amicably.

The seats are a good
size, firmly comfortable
and supportive and
upholstered in a
distinctive tartan
(black, white and grey)
fabric — fun, but also
done in the best
possible taste...”
When it's time for a stint of cargo-carrying, the 60:40 split rear seats can be folded down to extend the 340-litre boot the seatbacks fold as close to flat as makes no difference, opening up a 818-litre loadbay.

The fabric luggage cover can be removed in seconds, rolled up and stored away with no space penalties. And while the cabin itself contains plenty of storage spaces, there's more hidden under the boot floor in the form of a six-inch deep, multi-segment tray.

Getting comfortable if you're the driver is easy thanks to plenty of seat and steering wheel adjustment, along with height-adjustable seatbelts. The airy glasshouse and commanding driving position (and the good-to-hold chunky leather-rimmed steering wheel) makes controlling and placing the Soul child's play, particularly when nipping in and out of urban traffic.

There's a generous flow of air (hot or cold) from the large fascia vents with key driver's information (mpg, range, etc) displayed in the speedometer, and anytime you hanker to see the sky the powered glass sunroof features one-touch operation. Drive-away automatic door locking is another convenience, as is the auto-dimming rear-view mirror and the on-demand powerfold door mirrors. More attention to detail: the traditional handbrake is mounted on the driver's side of the transmission tunnel (quite a few aren't) and consequently easy to use.

The rear screen is framed by wide pillars but a reversing camera ensures going backwards is a stress-free manoeuvre. The Soul's redesigned fascia and centre console not only look smart but on the move make for intuitive operation of the controls and switchgear, all of which are logically arranged and work smoothly and precisely. The three-in-a-line dial set benefits from beautifully clear, white-on-black markings.

The Hunter 'original' packs in a lot of kit AirCon, four electric windows (driver's one-shot down), AUX and USB sockets plus an iPod cable, Bluetooth, steering wheel controls for the upgraded eight-speaker hi-fi with 315-watt external power amp, dash-top centre speaker and boot-mounted sub-woofer, reversing camera (neatly integrated into the left-hand side of the rear-view mirror), powerfold heated door mirrors, tinted and rear privacy glass, electric sunroof, cruise control, LED daytime running lights, metallic paint, and 18-inch alloys.

Driving the Hunter is
enjoyable — it’s nimble
on its 18-inch alloys
and the firm-ish ride
benefits body control.
It grips keenly and goes
exactly where you
point it without fuss...”
Safety kit is equally comprehensive: Electronic Stability Control, ABS with Electronic Brake Force Distribution, Vehicle Stability Management and Hill-Start Assist provide a comprehensive level of active safety; passive safety is taken care of by twin front, side and curtain airbags.

Driving the Hunter is enjoyable it's nimble on its 18-inch alloys and the firm-ish ride benefits body control. It grips keenly, sweeping through bends reassuringly and without fuss; basically, thanks to decent steering, the 'squared-off' exterior styling and clear forward visibility, it goes exactly where you point it. Brakes, discs all round and vented at the front, are strong and stop you with no messing about just what you need these days.

Cruising motorways, it's quiet in the cabin and the Hunter's laid-back gait keeps you smiling as the miles go by. Power is put down through the front wheels via the new manual six-speeder and the smooth change action ensures you can get the most from the improved petrol engine. Overall, it's an easy driver and a pleasant car in which to travel.

The Soul's bold California-esque looks make for an exciting alternative to more traditional five-seater MPVs and family hatchbacks; it's also practical with an elevated driving position (a real plus in traffic), plenty of passenger space and handy load-carrying flexibility. And, best of all, you don't have to sell your soul to buy one. MotorBar

Kia Soul Hunter 1.6 GDi | 15,095
Maximum speed: 112mph | 0-60mph: 10 seconds | Overall test MPG: 42.1mpg
Power: 138bhp | Torque: 122lb ft | CO2 149g/km