The life of an automotive journalist bears more than a passing resemblance to that of someone addicted to the concept of speed dating.
Each week, a new car arrives, and the admittedly rather delicious dance of getting to know one another begins all over again.
The thing is, after a number of years (and I’ve accumulated more than I care to remember) you begin to develop a finely tuned set of senses that allow you to judge what a car will be like even before you’ve climbed aboard.
Of course, we shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but somehow a collection of styling cues, a few lines on a spec sheet and a bit of insider knowledge coalesces into a fairly accurate picture of how a car will drive.
After a while it becomes a game to see how many deductions can be made that turn out to be true, and it’s a rare day indeed that a car defies all previous thinking.
And then the Kia Soul arrived.
This is a car that, at first glance, seems to have been styled during the cubist movement. It’s boxy, in a similar vein to the blue-rinse-on-wheels that is the Skoda Roomster, a car bought almost entirely by people who’ve already been given a free bus pass.
From that, one might assume that the Kia will be competent in the ‘ooh, very nice, dear’ sense of the word, spacious for those of a hat-wearing disposition, but will be otherwise thoroughly joyless to drive. Right?
You see, beneath the retina-searing Acid Green paintwork and quadrilateral proportions is a car with a distinctly endearing set of road manners.
Technically, because of its jacked-up ride height and vague SUV-ness, the Soul is what marketing types refer to as a ‘crossover’. Human beings, however, will probably find it easier to think of the Soul as a conventional hatchback in terms of practicality, but with the added bonus of a bit of extra ground clearance and a slightly elevated driving position.
Car nerds might be interested to learn that the Soul is now based on the same platform as the excellent Kia Cee’d, but more important for anyone who’s spent time in the previous Soul will be the efforts Kia have made in increasing overall quality.
Nowhere is that more evident than in the cabin, where the layout and quality of the plastics have both been much improved, although the liberal use of gloss black trim does nothing to change our opinion that this stuff shouldn’t be used anywhere near touch-points, such is its predilection for accumulating scratches and fingerprints.
Also improved is the quality of the switchgear, with the column stalks and other buttons now well and truly up there with the best. All but the entry-level model get a fabulously chunky leather steering wheel that feels great in the hands, and is finished off with a fine piece of contrast stitching.
The instruments are beautifully clear, and all but the most basic model have a reversing camera as standard. Connect Plus models and above are fitted with an eight-speaker Infinity sound and navigation system that includes a sub-woofer in the boot, a pair of B&O-style speakers at either end of the dash, and what Kia calls ‘mood lights’ on the front door speakers that change colour with the music or pulse gently to themselves like a pair of psychedelic Mysterons.
Gerry Anderson influences aside, the Soul is blessed with an abundance of space and a generous range of adjustment for both seats and steering wheel. The spacious theme continues into the rear, where back seat passengers will find the almost inevitable gallons of headroom given the Kia’s distinctly upright styling, but might be surprised at how much legroom is on offer. The almost completely flat floor means there’s plenty of foot-space, too.
Cargo space doesn’t let the side down, either, with 354 litres available with the seats up, rising to 1,367 litres with the seats folded. There is something of a load lip to be negotiated, and the seats don’t fold flat, but the sheer height of the space on offer means that suitcases can be carried upright making more efficient use of the space available.
Litreage under the bonnet is more modest, with a choice of two 1.6-litre engines. The first – the petrol unit – develops 130hp, while the diesel offers up a near identical 126hp. Its performance is broadly similar to the petrol (0-60mph in 10.8 seconds versus 10.6 for the petrol), but with its lower emissions (132 vs. 158 g/km) and greater fuel efficiency (56.5 vs. 41.5 mpg) it’s the more sensible choice.
Although a little clattery from a cold start, it settles down well once warmed up, and from inside the cabin noises from the engine bay a fairly well subdued.
The diesel is optionally available with a six-speed automatic transmission, but as standard it’s mated to a six-speed manual with a very slick shift action. Coupled with the well balanced clutch, it makes the Soul not just easy to drive, but a pleasure, too.
Kia has tuned the Soul specifically for Europe and that means it benefits from a slightly sportier edge than its US counterparts. Thankfully, this hasn’t been at the expense of ride comfort, and around town the little Kia admirably smoothes away the bumps without disturbing those in the cabin.
For such a tall car, body movements are well controlled, with both pitch and roll kept on a short leash. Although piling into a roundabout at speed will be rewarded with liberal helpings of understeer, on a favourite country back-road the Soul will prove itself to be a more willing companion than you might at first imagine.
It responds keenly to inputs through the wheel, too, although despite three separate settings for steering assistance – comfort, normal and sport – each is still a touch too light for our liking.
But these are minor niggles, and at no point do they detract from the considerable charm with which the Soul conducts itself.
If you’re partial to a spot of automotive speed dating, the Kia Soul might not immediately set your hair on fire.
But two things we can say with reasonable certainty: in a car park full of me-too hatchbacks, the Soul certainly stands out, luminous paint job or not. And, given the opportunity, the little Kia will happily demonstrate its easy-going nature and endearing personality.
After all, isn’t that the basis of all the best relationships?
|Entry-level Price||£12,600||Price as tested||£17,990|
|Engine||4-cyl turbodiesel, 1582cc||Transmission||Six-speed manual|
|Power||126hp @ 4,000rpm||Torque||260Nm @ 1,9-2,750rpm|
|0-62||10.8 secs||Top speed||112 mph|
|Economy||56.5 mpg||CO2||132 g/km|
|Dimensions||4140 x 1800 x 1600 (LWH)||Kerb Weight||1538 kg|