Kia Soul Shaker

The Korean was the first to combine SUV looks with small car dimensions, so is the original Soul still the best compact crossover?

The urban crossover craze was kick-started by the Kia Soul. With its rugged off-roader inspired looks and supermini-sized dimensions, the Soul has helped the firm wave goodbye to its conservative image of old.

More importantly, the Soul’s mix of eye-catching style, family- friendly practicality and low running costs make it a tough challenger for the Juke. Despite being more than a year old, the Soul’s high-riding stance and boxy proportions mean it still manages to turn heads. Our Shaker test car’s large 18-inch alloys add to the concept car vibe, although the light beige paint won’t appeal to everyone.

Climb aboard, and it’s clear the designers have taken a low-key approach. Look past the brightly coloured plastic and distinctive seat fabric, and you’ll discover an entirely conventional layout. The dashboard is logical, and the interior uses decent materials. There’s also plenty of standard kit, with air-conditioning, an iPod connection and electric sunroof all standard.

The cabin is practical, too. There’s lots of head and legroom in the back, and the interior is littered with useful storage cubbies. Open the large tailgate and there’s a 340-litre load bay, which increases to 818 litres with the rear seats folded – only the van-like Skoda Roomster has more space. 

The Kia’s slightly coarse 124bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine is the most powerful unit here. But at the test track, the Soul was unable to match the Juke or Roomster for straight-line pace, and was only marginally faster than the smaller-engined Toyota.

In reality the differences are tiny, but the Soul needs to be worked hard to keep up with traffic, and that means making the most of the slightly clunky five-speed gearbox. The chassis delivers nimble handling, despite the car’s height, while direct steering and strong grip boost the feeling of agility.

Low wind and road noise help make the Soul a relaxed long-distance cruiser, and the car’s compact dimensions and standard reversing camera make it an excellent inner city choice. Sadly, the Shaker’s combination of large wheels and firm suspension means the ride becomes uncomfortable on bumpy roads.

It’s easy to forgive the Soul’s flaws when you consider its value for money. At £13,995, the Kia undercuts the less well equipped Toyota and Skoda by a healthy margin, while a seven-year warranty adds to the car’s appeal. 

However, the Juke is £200 cheaper than the Soul. Will this be enough to seize victory in our shoot-out?

Details

Chart position: 1WHY: The Kia is a talented all-rounder with distinctive looks, a spacious interior and a seven-year warranty.

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