There's nothing on the market quite like the Kia Soul with its funky faux 4x4 styling and super-practical box-shaped cabin. June Neary checks out the second generation version.
Will It Suit Me?
I'm not a big fan of 4x4s. Especially when they clog up town centres. Of course they have their good points, otherwise why would so many people buy them, but how many people actually need the 4x4 bit and all the bulk and weight that goes with it? What about a car with a funky 4x4 look but conventional front-wheel drive running gear? That's the idea behind the little Kia Soul. The Soul isn't a 4x4 but it looks like one, it has the driving position of one and it has lots of the practical features that have helped make 4x4 models popular. Think of it as a supermini that looks and feels a bit SUV and you'll have a decent idea of where the Soul is coming from. The second generation version picks up where its predecessor left off: it's still a cutie.
I must admit I have a soft spot for cars that dare to be different and the Soul is certainly that. Few genuine 4x4s will turn as many heads and, if anything, this MK2 version is even more distinctive. The theme remains appealingly tough and rugged, from the chunky bumpers and flared wheel arches to the roof bars and the setsquare rear end. The interior, too, shows a level of imagination not normally associated with Korean cars. The plastics quality is still open to question in places but the revised centre console looks a lot smarter and there's a wider choice of interior fabrics. And the cabin always feels light and bright thanks to some extrovert colour schemes. I liked the soft-touch materials on the instrument panel, centre console and door panels. Finishes like soft-grain leather and piano-black trims are also available. The Soul now benefits from a larger cabin with incremental increases in front leg room, rear leg room, front headroom and front seat shoulder room. This MK2 design also offers a 13mm lower hip point and a step-in height that's reduced 5mm, allowing for even easier getting in and out. And the Soul's boxy proportions help it trump any supermini you'd care to mention for interior space. I really appreciate the boot's huge opening and compartments beneath the floor, while space in the back seats is also plentiful. Overall cargo capacity is increased from 340 to 354-litres with the rear seats in place.
Behind the Wheel
One of the best things about the Soul's 4x4-aping shape is the high driving position. All right, it makes you sit a little more upright than you might be used to but it gives you a decent view out over the stubby bonnet at the front. It's a shame that the C-pillars are so chunky and don't help visibility rearward but the Soul's flat back makes it relatively easy to park. As before, the Soul is offered with a choice of petrol or diesel power. The engines comprise 1.6-litre petrol and diesel engines and a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. Both units are carried over from the outgoing model, but have been tweaked to offer improved efficiency and more competitive emissions.
Value For Money
Unlike Kias of old, the MK2 Soul models don't significantly undercut its rivals on price but when you take the level of standard equipment into account, the value proposition - at asking figures starting from around £13,000 - still seems very robust. All models get a DAB radio, Flex Steer variable power-assisted steering, coloured-keyed bumpers, power windows and mirrors, air conditioning, USB and AUX-in ports and six airbags. Further up the range, there are features like a premium Infiniti sound system, a reversing camera, sat nav and front speaker mood lighting, plus the contrasting roof colour and door mirror casings that will really set your car apart. The top Soul Maxx gets a huge panoramic glass roof, leather upholstery and smart key entry. And it's hard to ignore Kia's excellent warranty package.
Could I Live With One?
Kia's products may be getting seriously good, but no one could accuse the Korean company of lacking a sense of fun. Still the funkiest offering in its line-up, the Soul is no longer the poor relation when it comes to powertrain efficiency and quality. But the Soul's big idea - bringing the more palatable elements of 4x4 design to a front wheel-drive supermini-sized vehicle - is still a winner in my view. If I were in the market for a practical small car with a bit of style, I could see myself being easily be seduced.