You may laugh at the — lets say ‘brave’ — boxy styling. You may cast scorn at it. But this car is a star. A star because this Kia dares to be different. It's a car straight out of Marketing 101 — a car which is about as far removed as you can get from the whitegoods on wheels some car companies are serving up today.
So congratulations to Kia for being brave enough to give us the Soul — a MPV with attitude, aimed squarely at the darlings of Generation Y. No, it doesn't appeal to the masses, but it was never intended to do that anyway. The Soul's role is to make a statement that Kia, known for its cheap and cheerfuls, can be different and can be funky.
I'll confess when I first got into the Soul I thought I would be only driving it in the dark of night, least I be seen in something that looks so weird; a bit like a deformed Jeep. I'll also confess that after a week of ignoring the mirth of fellow motorists I actually got to like the Soul and appreciated it for what it is.
Pricing and market
It isn't such a bad thing to drive. You get a five-star safety rating for two of the three models and a reasonable level of standard kit for money, although with a price range of $20,990 to $30,890 this is no cheapie.
The Soul is a niche player in the crowded small car market. Kia so far this year has sold less than 260 of them nationally. To put that in context, Toyota has sold more than 25,000 Corollas this year and Mazda has delivered more than 23,000 of its Mazda3. Still, the cute Kia has outsold Fiat's Ritmo, both Proton models in this segment, the VW Beetle and Renault's Megane.
Styling and fit-out
The Soul was conceived in the United States, developed in South Korea and aimed at the Americans and Europeans who probably better appreciate the dare to be different look. Kia has deliberately designed the Soul to be tailored - buyers can add their own personality, with a range of 30 accessories and three option packs. The idea is that no two Souls will be the same. It may not be the most cost effective way for a company to sell a new model, but accessories traditionally carry a high profit margin.
So you can order your Soul dressed with LED mood lights, with wild graphics and an interior highlighted in bright red — or if you feel too much out of your comfort zone, there's a safer beige retro chic decor. With plenty of choice it pays to do your homework first before getting to the showroom floor. For a start there are three levels of specification the Soul, the Soul2 and the Soul3 before you add the extras.
There's a 1.6-litre petrol or diesel engine, both offering similar power — 91kW for the petrol and 94kW for the diesel. The diesel wins out on torque — 260Nm versus 156Nm for petrol and as expected the diesel is more fuel efficient at a claimed 5.2 litres per 100km against 6.5l/100km for the petrol. A five-speed manual is standard and a four-speed auto a $2000 option. The manual is the pick of the two transmissions.
The base version gets items like remote door locking, power windows and mirrors, a decent sounding, big base, six-speaker MP3/CD player with a handy USB port and iPod compatibility, power door mirrors and basic air conditioning. The safeties are covered by front, side and curtain air bags, active front headrests and anti-lock braking.
Missing, surprisingly, are electronic stability and traction control on the entry model, a trip computer, reach adjustment for the steering wheel, multi-stack CD system and cruise control. You do get stability and traction control in the next level up along with fog lamps, while a sunroof and rearview camera are optional. The base model misses out on the five-star rating because it lacks two important safety features.
Inside, the cabin, thanks to the Soul's boxy but highly practical design, is spacious with plenty of storage including an underfloor bin in the boot (thanks to the lack of a full sized spare wheel). The test car came dressed in black, but open the glove box or a storage bin on the dashboard and you are hit with vibrant red interior. Its not all good news though, rear vision is seriously hampered by the chunky D pillar.
We drove the turbo diesel version and came away impressed with its performance and driveability. It's got good low to mid-range pulling power and for a diesel is notably quiet. For such a tall, boxy design, handling is better than expected although Kia needs to revisit the level of steering assistance provided to give it some needed crispness. At the moment it's all a bit too rubbery. Do I like the Soul? You bet. Would I buy one? I'm too old.
Price: $20,990 to $30,890 plus on-road costs
Engine: 1.6l petrol, 91kW @ 6300rpm; 156Nm @ 420rpm; 1.6l turbo diesel, 94kW @4000, 260Nm @1900rpm.
Economy: 6.5l/100km petrol, 5.2l/10km diesel
Emissions: 154g/km petrol, 137g/km diesel