Aug 10 2009 Alistair Coull & Val Jessop
Oddball Korean crossover targets young
THERE'S nothing shy or retiring about the latest urban crossover from Korea. Kia's supermini-sized MPV, or SUV if you prefer, is as in your face as a multi-coloured Lamborghini on tractor wheels.
A brief glance of the Kia Soul and the radical architecture is forever burned in the memory. Whether you like this dramatically-shaped oddball, is another thing.
For me it was love at first sight, from the moment I saw the Soul across a crowded French boulevard. And from the reaction of the local Breton farmers gesticulating ten to the dozen, our Gallic brethren were pretty made up about it too.
Wind forward several weeks, back across the Channel, and the reaction from the Brits as the Soul underwent its UK test was equally enthusiastic.
The new urban crossover has masses of visual appeal. It's so very different from anything that's gone before it, despite the growing number of brick-shaped models which now make it cool for vehicles to be square.
The curious profile is a cross between a shrunken Hummer and a MINI Traveller on steroids but the result is an oddly smart, ultra modern and individualistic car.
A tall roof, long wheelbase and wide track mean four tall adults can fit in comfortably. Three less willowy people can sit in the back so carrying five is fine.
The Soul is targeted at the young-at-heart and the spacious interior and elevated seating make it a versatile lifestyle car.
Powered by a 1.6, 124bhp petrol engine - there is also a 1.6, 126bhp turbo-diesel - it performs adequately if noisily at speed. Top speed is a moderate 110mph and 0 to 62mph is reached in 11 seconds.
Steering is precise and there's good feedback and the Soul handles better than you expect, but there is some lurching in bends, but nothing too dramatic.
The five-speed gearbox is fine, but the engine seemed to beg a sixth slot. The Soul grips well and the brakes were keen.
- Val Jessop
TOUGH but not rough. That's how Kia sum up their funky-looking Soul - an urban crossover that looks like a jungle-bashing off-roader.
The Soul certainly isn't for the faint hearted. It's a lifestyle statement which is no doubt why Kia says younger drivers will be the ones doing the 'Soul searching' about buying one of the high-riding SUV-style mini-MPVs.
Kia hopes to sell around 3,000 Souls in the UK this year.
The Korean car maker has long been known for turning out mechanically tough, durable cars but they were often let down by poor fit and finish and cheap interior plastics.
However, the Soul has been designed from the ground up with European buyers in its sights so it's well screwed together.
Two engines are available - one petrol, one diesel. Both are tried and tested smooth-revving units, almost sporty power plants, from Kia's cee'd range.
The test car was powered by a 1.6-litre 124bhp petrol engine pushing out 115lb/ft of torque yet Kia says it's able to average over 43mpg.
There's nothing particularly high-tech about the Soul. It's not over-loaded with complex gadgetry so reliability shouldn't be a problem.
The Soul might look as though it's a real mud-plugger but its natural habitat is the urban jungle, not the Amazon. Its high driving position inspires confidence. There is excellent all-round visibility and no nasty blind spots.
The car's light steering and tight turning circle make parking and manoeuvring in town an easy task. It's macho enough not to be bullied by other city inmates and it's nippy enough to make a quick getaway from the traffic lights.
I didn't think it was quite as impressive out of town. The steering felt a little sticky with too much weight at high speed. The suspension is firm but there was still plenty of body roll when the Soul was driven fast into corners.
The Soul is built like an SUV so there is plenty of ground clearance - therefore it has a high centre of gravity. You just cannot drive it through bends like a low-slung fast hatch.
On the motorway, it gets buffeted by side winds and I thought there was too much intrusive wind and engine noise as you kept up with the flow in the fast lane.
The 1.6-litre is lively enough getting away from traffic lights but it lacks mid-range pull and soon runs out of puff, particularly on long inclines. The Soul only has a five-speed gearbox which is fine for work around town but a sixth gear would lower the revs - and engine noise - when cruising.
Interior space is excellent with plenty of legroom in the back. The high roofline also means good headroom. It's a relatively wide car so there's bags of elbow room too. Three adults can fit in the back. There's plenty of luggage space - 222 litres with the rear seats in place, 700 litres with them folded flat.
Wide opening doors mean access to the cabin is easy - just what less agile owners will like. The flat boot floor and low sill makes loading a simple task.
- Alistair Coull
Kia Soul 2 1.6 5dr
Mechanical: 124bhp, 1,591cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving front wheels via 5-speed manual gearbox
Max speed: 110mph
0-62mph: 11 seconds
Combined mpg: 43.5
Insurance group: 5
CO2 emissions: 153g/km
BIK rating: 16%
Warranty: 5yrs/ unlimited mileage