What is it?The Kia Soul, a car that combines SUV stance, mini-MPV practicality and Mini Cooper-chasing style and personalisation options. This one’s called the Soul Burner. It comes with a 126bhp, 192lb ft 1.6-litre turbodiesel engine and tops the range at a steep-sounding £16,145, though shouts about it via some mildly lurid graphics and trick alloys. More subtle Souls (and a 124bhp, 115lb ft petrol engine) are available from £11,500.
Technical highlightsIts dynamics were fine-tuned for the UK in conjunction with Lotus. That doesn’t mark a car out as unique these days, but it does show Kia’s commitment to tailoring its cars specifically for their markets. It’s the first of the firm’s cars to have had such a bespoke treatment, and as a result it feels worlds apart from Kia’s budget offerings of the past. US and European Souls get different set-ups, too.
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What’s it like to drive?Very capable. It’s easy to approach a car like this expecting tyre squeal and understeer at every corner, and while that’s the case if you really push on, 95 per cent of the time the Soul handles predictably. The ride is supple and the key controls – gearchange, pedals and steering wheel – all have impressive weighting for such a car. It’s clearly not hardcore driver material, but compared to a rival like the Citroen C3 Picasso, it’s a pleasant and welcome surprise.
The engine is its main sticking point, though. The diesel unit feels strained even at seven-tenths. Its claimed outputs feel optimistic, as does its 11.3sec 0-62mph time. Once you’ve trained yourself to make the best of its five-speed gearbox you can make swifter progress, but you’ll be a gear lower than normal on every corner and will need to go as low as third to pass lorries on dual carriageways effectively. The 1.6-litre petrol is the better choice.
How does it compare?This is one of those cars that fits into a number of markets. It’s better than a Citroen C3 Picasso or Nissan Cube if you’re comparing it to a direct, practical rival. It offers its own unique charm compared to a Mini or Citroen DS3, and will pull away buyers who prefer its boxy looks. Both of those cars are better drives, though. If you want a sub-SUV, we’d pick a Skoda Yeti. It’s a better drive than the Soul, has superior engines and, unlike the Kia, can be specced with four-wheel drive.Anything else I need to know?Like the Mini and the DS3, personalisation is key. Base-spec cars have 15in steel wheels, mid-range cars get 16in alloys, and the range-topping special editions, like this Soul Burner, get seemingly oversized 18in alloys. You can replicate parts of its look on lesser models, though, where you’ll find a better ride and the more pleasant petrol engine.
|Engine||1582cc, in-line 4-cyl diesel|
|Max power||126bhp @ 4000rpm|
|Max torque||192lb ft @ 1900-2750rpm|
|On sale||Now, £16,145|