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Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi Searcher

Click to view picture gallery“In Working Girl, Melanie Griffith
  tells Harrison Ford: ‘I have a head
  for business and a bod for sin.’
  While the Searcher is not in quite
  the same league, it does have
  a bod for fun
...”


KIA
'S DISTINCTIVE SOUL SEARCHER squeezes five doors and five seats into a compact, 4.1-metre urban crossover body with an SUV stance and MPV type flexibility. And although it appears as though it might have four-wheel drive, it's actually a front wheel-driver.

A hard car to pigeonhole so let's not bother! the Soul brandishes style in the same way as the Fiat 500 and the MINI: all three have far bigger images than their physical footprints. Wherever you park the only-available-in-a-brilliant-shade-of-metallic green Searcher, it shines out like a good deed in a dirty world.

It's not just the colour that draws the eye a high bonnet, rugged SUV-style panels, wheel-at-each-corner packaging, strongly-defined wheel arches packed out with silver 18-inch wheels and distinctive vertically-stacked tail lights with clear outer lenses all compete for your attention. Pub pop-quizzers will smile knowingly when you tell them that it was designed by Peter Schreyer, the very same as penned the first generation and, many would say, the best-looking Audi TT.

Pub pop-quizzers will
smile knowingly
when you tell them
the Soul was designed
by Peter Schreyer,
the very same as penned
the first generation —
and, many would say,
the best-looking —
Audi TT...”
The Searcher, it should be noted, is one of five 'special edition' models (Tempest, Shaker, Echo, Burner and Searcher) that are refreshed every 12 months or so less extravagant Souls are available starting from 12,130. But they don't have the inner and outer razzmatazz displayed by the 'famous five'.

Swing open the tall door and slip behind the wheel and the first thing you'll appreciate is the command-post driving position and very good all-round visibility that makes it easy to place on the road (and no soul-searching when you need to park, either). A thick-rimmed, leather-wrapped steering wheel is the second: it's good to grip and good to go. Remote voice, 'phone, audio and cruise controls are mounted conveniently on the wheel.

Dials are smart to look at and their large, reflection-free white-on-black graphics easy to take in at a glance. Sensible sized controls for the climate and audio make it safe to change settings on the fly. And while they only have one setting, the heated seats work a treat, warming from under thigh all the way to upper back. Large air vents ensure as much hot or cold air reaches you as you want. And large vanity mirrors make sure you get a good look at yourself.

After that you can take in the sassy cabin treatment, starting with a centre stack that appears to 'float' actually it's laid back over the textured fascia and is home to the climate control, audio controls and a large central speaker that hints at the Searcher's high-end audio system with PowerBass psychoacoustic technology that delivers a car-proof clarity of sound.

You can also take for granted a six-speaker RDS radio/CD with MP3 compatibility along with USB/AUX/iPod connectivity for portable digital music devices; as well as an upgraded 315-watt sound system, external power amp and boot-mounted sub-woofer all in all, not your average music box!

Individualists will also welcome the long list of colourful personalisation 'packs' that ensure that no two Souls need look alike. Talking of which, while leather upholstery is standard it doesn't just come in boring old black Kia goes one better and provides snazzy two-tone hide: in the Searcher it's a tasteful cream and brown mix complemented on the door panels and fascia with cream and black.

“You can also take for
granted a six-speaker
RDS radio/CD with MP3
compatibility along with
USB/AUX/iPod
connectivity for your
portable digital music.
As well as an
upgraded 315-watt sound
system, external power
amp and boot-mounted
sub-woofer —
all in all, not your average
music box!
The Soul has that often claimed but not always delivered 'small on the outside, big on the inside' quality. Given its high roofline, it's no great surprise that it's exceedingly roomy inside with plenty of headroom, shoulder room and legroom wherever you sit. The seats are large and supportive, with discreet bolstering that works nicely.

Setting a comfortable driving position is easy thanks to good reach and rake steering wheel adjustment and a height-adjustable driver's seat. And at fast motorway speeds it's a quiet, refined and relaxing cabin in which to travel.

Those travelling in the back are equally well treated. The rear doors open very wide and a low sill makes for easy access. A 5' 11" adult should have a good four inches of knee room; foot room is equally generous and that includes for a third rear passenger travelling in between two others. Three adults can easily travel side-by-side. The ambience is as good in the back, with nice trim plastics in black, cream and brown, and rear passengers can enjoy good views out as they ride.

Split 60:40, the back seats fold virtually flat with their headrests in-situ. Leave them up and you have a decent boot with room for 340 litres of luggage, easily accessed through a high-lifting tailgate; fold them and you have an 818-litre loadbay. In real terms that means with three rear passengers you can still carry a golf bag plus two travel bags; with just two aboard and the back seats dropped, there's room to park a pair of his 'n' hers 26-inch mountain bikes.

Everyday in-cabin storage for smaller items is as effective there are umpteen bins and cubbies where you can squirrel away all the bits and bobs that somehow seem to end up living in your car we once discovered a very realistic 12-inch tarantula lurking under the passenger seat that, thank goodness, was discovered when the vehicle was stationary!

Cubbyholes of various shapes and sizes include a useful two-tier glovebox, two big bins around the traditional handbrake and long front door pockets that take bottles along with maps, etc. There are small netted mag pockets on the front seatbacks and the rear door pockets also hold small cans and bottles with room to spare. Need more? Then lift the boot floor and you'll find a deep multi-segmented storage tray fitted above the space-saver spare wheel.

Talking of what's been found inside cars, inside the Searcher you'll find brown and cream leather upholstery, heated front seats, dual auto climate control, four electric windows, comprehensive trip computer, multifunction wheel, Bluetooth hands-free, electrically-adjustable, heated and folding door mirrors, privacy glass (rear windows and tailgate), cruise control, parking sensors, heated front and rear screens, height-adjustable front seatbelts and a full set of airbags.

Lotus fettled the Soul’s
suspension specifically
for UK roads —
It handles predictably
and tidily, rides
comfortably, there’s
decent response and
weighting from the
steering and brakes
and it feels
light and nimble.
With a little help from
its smooth, crisp
5-speed ’box, it zips
along back lanes quite
entertainingly...”
You also get Electronic Stability Control, black high-gloss A-pillars, front and rear bumper insert panels and door mirror housings, black bezels around the large headlamps, roof rails, 18-inch five-blade silver alloys and, topping it all off nicely, Kia's seven-year 100,000-mile warranty.

And as to that 'bod for fun' Lotus fettled the Soul's suspension specifically for UK roads. Of course that doesn't make it a Mille Miglia contender but it's nevertheless capable and drives very well indeed for a tall vehicle it handles predictably and tidily, rides comfortably, there's decent response and weighting from the steering and brakes and it feels light and nimble. With a little help from its smooth, crisp five-speed 'box, it zips along back lanes quite entertainingly.

You can have a Searcher with diesel or petrol power. Both engines are 1.6-litre four-cylinder units: a 124bhp petrol or, as tested here, a 126bhp turbodiesel with over half as much torque again (192 vs 115lb ft). Performance figures are close but the diesel is available either with a five-speed manual 'box or a four-speed auto. The oil-burner officially returns 45.6mpg in town, 54.3 combined, and 61.4 extra-urban. A week in the hands of MotorBar's road-testers saw an overall average of 48.2mpg.

In manual guise it runs to 113mph and will do the benchmark 0-62mph in 11.3 seconds. On motorways it bowls along without stress, the turbodiesel giving it the guts to surge up hills at the legal limit. It's a willing unit with a welcome 192lb ft of torque available from 1,900rpm; and responsive to drive whether you're just coasting along or have a 'plane to catch.

We'll state the obvious here: if you're a hardcore hot-hatchie then this won't be your particular poison. But for everyone else, this Soul can be a mate. The ride is compliant and, thanks to the Lotus tweaks, it feels very much at home on UK roads.

With its easy-to-drive, easy-to-live-with persona and smoothed-off 'box-back' styling, Kia's Soul Shaker offers its own inimitable appeal. Along with customers who already want a Soul mate, it's likely to attract some who might have considered a MINI but who'd prefer to drive something equally cheeky but far less commonplace.
MotorBar

Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi Searcher | 16,970
Maximum speed: 113mph | 0-62mph: 11.3 seconds | Overall Test MPG: 48.2mpg
Power: 126bhp | Torque: 192lb ft | CO2 137g/km