First drive: Kia Soul
What is it?
The second generation of Kia's overtly funky compact crossover, which aims to inject a youthful sense of fun into the rapidly growing compact crossover sector. With an all-new platform - shared with the Ceed hatchback - and a revised suspension setup, it promises greater refinement and space and a more grown up driving experience. With the previous generation going down well in other markets, the Korean brand has not altered the design drastically, and has adopted an evolutionary approach. The subtle modernising touches they have bestowed upon the Soul have been a success, though. This is one good looking car, and even better when finished in a bright paint scheme. Its not all style and no substance, however, so whether you're looking to make a style statement or simply want a practical family car with a mildly commanding driving position, the Soul seeks to deliver.
What's under the bonnet?
Two 1.6-litre four-cylinder engines are available, in petrol and diesel flavours. Carried over from the Ceed hatchback, they are mated either to a six-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic gearbox. Both offer near identical power, at 130bhp for the petrol and 126bhp for the diesel, and consequently have similar performance figures, with the slower (on paper at least) diesel taking just 0.2 seconds longer to cover the benchmark 0-62mph sprint, at 11.2 seconds. Currently there has been no confirmation whether further engines will join the line up, but the brand's UK director is keen to see a performance 'GT' version, so a watch this space.
What's the spec like?
At the time of writing, Kia was yet to confirm full UK price and specification details for the Soul. What it did reveal was that a total of five trim levels will be available, with prices starting at around £12,000 and topping out at £20,000. Some choice toys are offered, too, including a heated steering wheel, ventilated electric seats, DAB digital radio and a plethora of safety aids such as lane keep assist and automatic high beam control.
Regardless of whether you go for the bells and whistles version or the cheap and cheerful option, you'll be greeted by a surprisingly roomy cabin, which offers plenty of leg, shoulder and - thanks to the car's boxy silhouette - acres of headroom. The interior is also as funky as the outside, with some nice design touches, including speakers built into the air vents, and a pin sharp display nestled between the dials. The chairs are worth particular mention too, as they're comfortable, supportive and accommodating of larger frames. There is some evidence of cheaper plastics in the lower reaches of the cabin, but on the whole, quality remains high and is competitive for the market territory the Soul occupies.
The Soul enters a crowded marketplace with most manufacturers now offering a high-rise model based on small hatchback platforms. At the cheaper end of the scale, key competitors include the mad looking Nissan Juke and Ford Kuga. Those working with a slightly large budget may want to consider the charismatic and commodious Skoda Yeti, or the sporting drive of the Mini Countryman.
Ultimately, for many the choice is likely to be made on aesthetics alone. This being the case, we'd recommend the Soul for its box-fresh and eye-catching design.
What's it like to drive?
Much like the Ceed hatchback, the Soul is a relatively refined and relaxing place in which to spend time tackling long distances. In the corners too, it remains stable and composed, with no histrionics evident as you up the pace. It's a little short on driver entertainment - the steering relatively slow and a lack of grunt front from both engines soon sees a more laid back driving style being adopted. This is not to say the Soul is boring, however, and is no worse than the majority of rivals when it comes to being an engaging driving experience.
While the petrol and diesel engines are closely matching in terms of power, the diesel offers a surfeit of torque (some 99Nm more), which makes for easier progress both around town and on the open road, particularly when the car is fully laden. The diesel is no less refined than the petrol option, either, and would be our recommendation, especially with its lower emissions and fuel consumption.
One sticking point we did have with the Soul was its overly firm ride. It's been softened up over the previous generation, but simply doesn't offer the compliance needed for this sort of car, particularly over poor road surfaces, which can send unseemly jolts ricocheting through the cabin. Test cars were all shod in the largest alloy wheel options, a reduction in which could see an improvement. However we'd say try before you buy incase you find the ride quality just too harsh for everyday use.
The AOL Cars verdict
There really is a lot to like with this new Soul. Roomy, well appointed and with a likeable individuality, we expect it to win a lot of fans. Kia itself has remained conservative about just how many units it expects to sell, but this is a credible package that offers something unique in the increasingly homogenous crossover sector.
Model: Kia Soul CRDi Manual
Price: TBC (£16,000 est)
Engine: 1.6-litre, four-cylinder, turbo diesel
Power: 126bhp, 260Nm
Max speed: 112mph
0-62mph: 11.2 seconds
MPG: 58.9mpg (combined)
Emissions: from 125g/km CO2