"A very unique small hatchback with a big cabin, big personality and SUV looks."
Pitched as a distinctive alternative to the likes of the Ford Fiesta and Skoda Fabia, the Kia Soul offers lots of interior space and the beefed-up looks of a 4x4 in a compact, easy-to-drive package. It's smaller than cars like the Hyundai ix20 and Ford B-MAX and is aimed at younger drivers, with an ever-changing raft of special editions, including Shaker, Quantum and Inferno. Each is themed in a certain way with particular colours and trim options, with top-spec models getting 18-inch alloy wheels, heated leather seats and parking sensors. Equipment levels are generous across the range though, and all cars come with Kia's famous seven-year/100,000-mile warranty. There are two 1.6-litre engines to choose from: one diesel and one petrol – with the quieter diesel being your best bet if you spend a lot of time on the motorway.
The raised driving position and large windscreen gives the Kia Soul excellent forward visibility. You can see the ends of the chunky bonnet so it's easy to manoeuvre around town and into tight parking spaces. The small rear screen hinders the view backwards, however, and the driving position suffers because the steering wheel doesn’t adjust for reach. Despite firm suspension, the car still rolls around corners due to its high centre of gravity – though the light steering and gearchange make the Soul feel effortless to drive. There are two 1.6-litre engines - a 124bhp petrol and a 126bhp diesel - and the choice of manual or automatic gearboxes. The petrol feels slow, whereas the slightly noisier diesel feels much more powerful, with plenty of response from the accelerator even low down in the rev range.
Stiff suspension settings mean the Soul bounces around on rough roads, and never feels particularly composed on anything but totally smooth surfaces. This is even worse on top-spec models fitted with 18-inch alloys, which cause a lot of extra shake in the cabin. It's not uncomfortable, but it is noticeable, so 16-inch wheels are better. On the motorway, the Soul's boxy shape means wind noise can be an issue, and the petrol engine adds to the din at higher speeds. However, space inside the car is decent, and you’ll find plenty of head and legroom in the rear – with enough room for three adults across the back seats.
The Kia Soul gets a large selection of safety equipment as standard, including airbags, anti-whiplash head restraints and electronic stability control. As a result, it was awarded a five-star Euro NCAP crash test rating putting it on a par with the Hyundai ix20 and Ford B-MAX. The quality of the interior materials is questionable, however with some hard and scratchy plastics covering the dashboard. It all feels built to last, though, and it's worth noting that all new Kias come with the company's industry-leading seven-year warranty.
Unfortunately, the Soul isn’t as practical as its proportions suggest. The 340-litre boot seems reasonable, but much of that comes from its height – there's not much in the way of floor space. Fold the seats down and you’re left with a disappointing 818 litres, which when compared to the 1486 litres available in the Hyundai ix20, looks quite stingy. Basic cars don’t even get the useful adjustable boot floor, which makes loading luggage easier. There's not much storage space in the cabin, either: the glovebox and door pockets are small, as is the compartment built into the dashboard. Rear seat space is acceptable though, with enough room for three adults thanks to the car's boxy profile and decent headroom.
Value for money
Starting prices for the Soul are quite high when you compare it to more conventional superminis like the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa. But it's bold looks are unique in the small car market and all models come well equipped. All cars get air-conditioning and electric windows, although base models have to make do with bland grey interiors and cheap dashboard plastics – so to give the Kia some personality you need to spend money on a higher-spec version or add some pricey options. Both engines are relatively powerful, and the 1.6-litre CRDi diesel returns almost 60mpg. Ultimately, the Soul is quite expensive compared to the likes of the Skoda Fabia and is on a par with the better-quality and more versatile Honda Jazz. There's not that many for sale on the used market, either.
Kia offers two 1.6-litre engines in the Soul, one petrol and a diesel. The latter is the smart choice if you cover lots of motorway miles, feeling quiet at high speed while returning more than 57mpg. The petrol model will only manage 44mpg, which is some way behind the frugal Fiesta 1.0-litre EcoBoost, which feels just as quick yet will do 65.7mpg. Kia's excellent 100,000-mile/seven-year warranty could help you avoid some expensive repair bills after a few years’ ownership, but Kia's tend to be quite reliable – with the brand finishing 12th in the 2012 Auto Express Driver Power survey.