It’s billed as an urban crossover, but the Soul’s size and practicality make it an alternative to established supermini-MPVs. It has performed well against the likes of the Skoda Roomster, and the Nissan Note and Citroen C3 Picasso, yet Kia insists it’s aimed at more style-conscious buyers. That puts it on a collision course with the MINI Clubman. Can it really compete in this elevated sector of the market?
The Soul certainly stands out. With its chunky, off-road styling, pronounced wheelarches, angular lights and boxy tailgate, it’s more adventurous than the Urban Cruiser. And it follows the opposite approach to the retro MINI. One thing’s for sure: you’ll either love it or hate it.
The Kia is the largest model in our trio of test cars, and it unsurprisingly provides the most interior space. Passengers travelling in the back get plenty of head and legroom, while useful storage cubbyholes are dotted around the cabin. Up front, the SUV-style driving position provides excellent visibility, and buyers won’t feel short-changed when it comes to quality either. The cabin seems as well put together as the Toyota’s. Although a few pieces of hard or shiny plastic let things down, generally the dash is modern and easy to use.
It can’t match the MINI’s feelgood factor, though. True, the vanilla colour scheme inside our test car won’t suit everyone, but even in more subdued trim, it doesn’t have much sense of occasion.
Still, the generous standard equipment tally more than compensates for this. A reversing camera, privacy glass, LED mood lighting and multifunction steering wheel are all included. You get more for your money under the bonnet, too, because the Kia’s 1.6-litre engine gives the Soul a power advantage over its rivals.
The Soul doesn’t press home this superiority, though, as performance is compromised by its five-speed box, as well as its 1,245kg kerbweight – the heaviest in this test. As a result, it completed the 0-60mph sprint only six-tenths quicker than the MINI, in 10.1 seconds. And the Clubman was more responsive in-gear.
At high revs, the Kia’s engine sounds strained, and although the light controls make it easy to drive, they don’t provide much in the way of driver involvement.
Nevertheless, the Soul is safe and composed, body roll is well controlled and grip is consistent. What it’s missing is the fun and dynamic polish needed to truly compete with the MINI.
However, the Korean has a softer, more comfortable ride than the Toyota.
The dampers don’t stop the suspension fidgeting on bumpy surfaces, and knocks can enter the cabin, but from behind the wheel the Kia is the better car of the two. The Soul is convincing on paper, too.
Add a five-year warranty and competitive pricing to the bulging kit list, and it’s a tempting choice. The question is whether it’s desirable enough to win this test.
Chart position: 2WHY: With its off-roader-style appearance, Kia’s Soul makes a bold statement – but does it say the right things?