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Kia Soul 2 1.6 CRDi

Click to view picture gallery“When times are hard you may find
  that all you need is some Soul in your
  life. Kia’s new Soul could be just the
thing — and its blend of innovative
  packaging and individuality doesn
  come at premium prices

KIA HOPES TO SELL AROUND 3,000 of the new five-door, five-seat Soul an urban-crossover with SUV looks. On sale from 1 March, it has a bold, in-your-face upright stance fronting a boxy-shaped urban-cum-SUV body.

So far as the Soul's looks go, a picture is definitely worth a thousand words — the Soul isn't for the faint-hearted, which is no doubt why Kia feels young buyers rather than older ones will be doing some serious 'Soul-searching'. The Soul, says Kia, is a 'lifestyle statement' and 'tough but not rough'.

The front-wheel drive Soul is available with a choice of two 1.6-litre engines: a 124bhp petrol and a 126bhp CRDi diesel. An automatic transmission option, priced at an extra 1,000, is available for the Soul 2 1.6-litre CRDi version — the middle of three trim levels with the Soul 1 and Soul 2 being core models topped by a final tier of three 'Originals'.

These 'Originals' represent the first of a rolling programme of specifically equipped and decorated models designed to appeal to targeted types of customers. The first of the 'Originals' — named Samba, Shaker and Burner — are expected to nominally appeal to young families, female users and hard-core 'must-haves'.

Prices start at 10,495 for the entry-level 1.6-litre petrol Soul 1 and rise to 14,995 for the 1.6-litre CRDi diesel Burner model. Built in South Korea, the Soul range is covered by a five-year warranty. For the record, Kia's well-publicised seven-year cover only applies to European-built Kia vehicles.

Described as 'supermini' in size, it's actually a smidgen over four metres in length although in the metal it looks much larger and more upright. As such, it will do battle with the likes of the new Nissan Note, the just-launched Fiat Qubo and similar offering from Peugeot and Citroen.

Visually, the Soul's five-door body has a high bonnet, bulging wheel arches, a wide track and a high-rising waistline. The rear tailgate is flanked by stacked vertical light clusters. Due to the Soul's 1,610mm height, the rear sill is also high, so items for the load area have to be lifted up into the vehicle and then down into the deep boot. The three rear seats have folding backs so the load area can be extended from 340 to 800 litres. An optional extra-cost load area tray allows the boot floor to be raised to the level of the folded rear seat backs for better user-friendly load carrying. Most buyers will, like me, feel that this tray should be a standard fit item.

“The Lotus-tuned
suspension ensures
first-rate road-holding
and grip...”
The five commanding, high-up seating positions will be enjoyed by most owners because they make the job of getting children in their seats far easier; likewise for more senior in age buyers and the less able — access is always much easier with taller vehicles. The long wheelbase and wide track makes the Soul a surprisingly roomy vehicle, with headroom to match.

The interior is well equipped; a simple facia and centre console houses the easy-to-read and easy-to-use controls even if some areas of the dark plastic trim look a tad cheap. However, flashes of brightly-coloured plastic as I opened the glovebox and another facia storage box 'brightened up' my experience although it didn't enhance the overall quality of the interior. User-friendly, easy to get in and out of with excellent all-round visibility are the main features of the Soul's interior.

As for driveability, well, normally I find these tall, boxy, carry-all vehicles prone to rock 'n' roll. However, the Soul is positively different.
The Lotus-tuned suspension can, depending on the state of the roads and the size of the wheels, be harsh but generally it is very capable and, more importantly, comfortable.

The ride is flat, roll from side to side minimal and the road-holding and grip is first-rate. The steering, although it doesn't give great feedback, is at least consistent in its response. Throw in a slick five-speed gearbox and the Soul is an easy car to drive and park.

The choice of engines is just that; the customer's personal choice. The 1.6-litre, 126bhp diesel unit is marginally the best one: it feels a bit more powerful and has a lot more torque (192lb ft from 1,900rpm) so it's nicer and more responsive to drive and, of course, more fuel efficient with 54.3mpg possible. With the manual transmission it has a road tax Band C rating of 120 a year. The only issue is that the diesel engine costs 1,000 more than the petrol, so potential owners will have to do their sums.

For the record, the 1.6-litre petrol unit offers 124bhp and 115lb ft of torque. It revs freely but it always sounds busy and it really needs to be matched with a six-speed gearbox for open road and motorway cruising just to quieten the engine down. Doing so would also improve fuel economy as well. As it is, 43.5mpg is the target with 153g/km of CO2 earning it a Band D (145) road tax rating.

All Soul models have electronic stability control (ESP) as standard and all have a good sound system (RDS radio/CD player with MP3 compatibility plus six speakers, a 112 watts output, innovative PowerBass technology and a roof-top antenna) that varies in specification depending on whether you go Samba, Shaker or Burner. An upgraded hi-fi — complete with 'Sound Sensitive Mood Lighting', a 315 watts output, a large dash-top centre speaker, external amplifier and a sub-woofer in the trunk for a total of eight speakers — can be specified. All models also have air conditioning, four electric windows, remote central locking, six airbags and the peace of mind of a five-year unlimited mileage warranty.

The Kia Soul is definitely interesting and certainly different but it could be just too radical for today's nervous market. Getting people to buy new cars is already a serious issue and the stand-out styling will not appeal to all tastes. Other demerits are a noisy petrol engine and the indifferent quality of the interior plastic trim. That said, the mere fact of its interesting looks will, for others, be a major draw. Major plus points include a roomy cabin, easy of use, comfortable, good road holding and high standard equipment levels. And that five-year warranty. So, not so much 'Soul-searching' after all. — David Miles

Kia Soul 2 1.6-litre CRDi
| 12,495
Maximum speed: 113mph | 0-62mph: 11.3 seconds
Overall MPG: 54.3mpg | Power: 126bhp | Torque: 192lb ft
CO2 137g/km | VED Band C 120 | Insurance group 5