Kia Soul review
The Kia Soul supermini MPV remains a niche choice, despite a facelift in 2011
The Kia Soul is priced to compete with superminis such as the Ford Fiesta and VW Polo, but it aims to deliver something different and distinctive. It's been designed to combine supermini dimensions, chunky SUV looks and MPV practicality. It ends up not exactly excelling in any one of these areas, so it's never been a top seller. It's also not quite as spacious as rival supermini-MPVs such as the Ford B-MAX and Hyundai ix20. But if you want to stand out from the norm, it's still a good choice. Buyers can pick from either a 1.6-litre petrol or a 1.6-litre diesel engine. They offer similar performance, but the diesel feels slightly more powerful. And as you'd expect, the diesel promises lower running costs for those covering high mileages. No matter which model of Soul you pick, you'll probably notice the fairly stiff suspension. While this ensures above-average handling on twisty back roads, it can make for an uncomfortable harsh ride on poor-quality roads or around town. Standard equipment is generally good, and Kia frequently releases special editions with extra kit at a good-value price. All Souls benefit from Kia's renowned seven-year, 100-mile warranty, too.
Our choice: Soul 1.6 CRDi 2
The Soul is a bit of an acquired taste from a styling point of view. It's a real mix of styles and influences, incorporating some elements of a supermini, MPV and crossover. The raised stance means excellent visibility for the driver and passenger, but the chunky off-road-inspired touches won't be to everyone's tastes. The Soul was facelifted in 2011, which saw it gain a revised bumper, stylish LED daytime running lights and refreshed rear-end styling, but the basic character remains. Unusual colours, large allow wheels and the special editions' stripes and graphics add further visual flair to the car.
You have a choice of 1.6-litre petrol or 1.6-litre diesel engines with the Kia Soul, and each has its pros and cons. Their power outputs are similar - 138bhp from the petrol and 126bhp from the diesel - as are their 0-60mph times (10 seconds for the petrol and just three tenths longer for the diesel). But in everyday driving, the diesel's additional torque makes it feel a good bit faster, although it does tend to be a little noisier. A large windscreen and raised ride height give an excellent view out the front, however the Soul's unusual styling means its rear screen is quite small, so reversing can be difficult. The steering wheel has no reach adjustment, which can leave some drivers feeling uncomfortable, but they'll find the light steering and gearchange easy to use. And while the Soul handles surprisingly well for such a tall car, the trade-off for this is an uncomfortably harsh ride on typical UK road surfaces.
Kia has become well known for its seven-year/100,000-mile warranty, which demonstrates the confidence the company has in its products and outstrips the cover you'll get from most other manufacturers. The cars themselves have a good reputation for reliability, too, with no major problems reported. The interior feels solid and robust, but some of the trim materials used look a bit cheap and scratchy, and could wear quickly amidst the rough and tumble of family motoring. Safety is another strong point for the Soul: multiple airbags and electronic stability control are standard across all models, and it was awarded the maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash-test safety score.
The Soul is undoubtedly spacious inside for passengers: the high roofline gives excellent headroom, even for tall adults, and legroom is generous, too. Unfortunately, it's not quite as practical as you might expect when it comes to carrying luggage. Boot capacity is 340 litres, but it's taller than it is long and there's not much floor space. Folding the rear seats down does increase capacity, but only to 818 litres - which looks poor next to the 1,486 litres on offer in a Hyundai ix20. An adjustable boot floor improves flexibility, but it's not offered on entry level models. Cabin storage is also disappointing, due to a small glovebox, narrow door pockets and lack of clever storage boxes or cubbyholes.
Unlike some other Kia models such as the Rio, there's no super-efficient EcoDynamics version of the Soul, so those looking for ultra-low running costs will be disappointed. The 1.6-litre diesel engine is the most economical choice, returning 57.3mpg, but its 129g/km CO2 output is on the high side. The petrol is less impressive, managing 44.1mpg and emitting 149g/km. The aforementioned seven-year warranty guards against big repair bills, but overall the Kia Soul simply can't match the class leaders for low day-to-day motoring costs.