This Kia’s got the looks – and the Soul power too

The Kia Soul is one of the best-looking cars on the market, practical and spacious, with funky interior styling

Make: Kia

Model: Soul

Year: 2014

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: June 6, 2014

Wed, Jun 11, 2014, 01:00

   

Car designers should take great succour from Google’s self-driving car, particularly the unending sneers and derision from the engineering set. For all its sophistication, Google has chosen to cloak its world-changing new technology in a car that looks like it has escaped from the set of a Pixar movie.

So why not express the revolution in the design? Why anthropomorphise it into the motoring offshoot of a ladybird? Well, it needed to win hearts.

The same applies on every forecourt in the world. You can engineer the world’s greatest supercar, but if it looks like a crossbred warthog it’s simply not going to sell. Just ask Subaru. On the other hand, if you build a car with looks that make you just want to cuddle it, then you can probably get away with giving it the underpinnings of a shopping trolley.

At least that’s my theory, although it doesn’t hold up when you consider the vast array of nondescript cars that have topped the sales tables in Ireland over the last 20 years.

Some car firms are determined to put good looks at the heart of their message, and thankfully one of them is from a mainstream brand trying to make its mark. Kia may not have shot up the sales tables in the same way that Hyundai has done in Ireland, but model for model, it’s the best-looking mainstream car brand on the market.

Everyone following the motor industry is aware that the Koreans are now a force to be reckoned with. Kia’s sister brand Hyundai is now an established player on European markets, and in Ireland it’s up there with older brands such as Opel, Toyota and Nissan. Ultimately, Hyundai is meant to challenge the dominance of brands such as Volkswagen and Ford, while Kia is the brand with younger, more funky appeal.

For years that was hard to understand, particularly when you looked at its rather lacklustre model range. Asian brands were long criticised for relatively poor design, even while being praised for reliability and build quality. Kia has turned this on its head, and now boasts some of the best-looking cars around. Take the Optima saloon, a stunning looking family car that should sell much better than it does on the Irish market. Or the Sportage, a great-looking SUV crossover. Even the C’eed is better-looking than its Hyundai equivalent, the i30.

Breaking the mould
For me, the Soul is very much one of these, breaking out of the mould and offering a quality proposition at an attractive price.

The first Soul was such a revolution in looks that it’s understandable if this time the styling is more of an evolution. What they have done is smartened up its look to keep it current while retaining all the funky elements that won us over the first time.

It’s not just good looks: the Soul is remarkably practical as well. There’s a real spaciousness to the cabin, with a good distance between the two front seats and easy access to the rear, with plenty of legroom and good visibility from the back seats. The last point is important when travelling with children. Boot space has been slightly increased, but again it’s impressive and well able to cope with family life. The rear seats pop down with ease as well, so Ikea shouldn’t prove too much of a challenge.

The most impressive feature of all is the interior trim. We had the high-end version – still a good value deal – and it came with a stitched leather dashboard and protruding speakers that you would expect in an Audi, not some funky Korean family car.

To put some perspective on just how good this interior is, the industry journal Ward’s Auto World lists it as one of the Top 10 Best Car Interiors for 2014.

Prestige models
And it is in excellent company, sitting alongside prestige models such as the Mercedes-Benz S550 and Rolls-Royce Wraith.

The cabin also boasts mood lighting, linked to circular lights that ring the large speakers on the lower part of the front doors. You can have them gently change colour – mixing between reds, greens and blues – or switch them to change to the beat of the music on the car stereo. It all sounds ridiculous but it’s really rather fun. It also reflects the sort of audience the Soul has in its sights.

For while we see this as a family car, in the biggest market for the previous Soul – California and its neighbouring states in the US – it has become a firm favourite of young soccer moms and well-heeled college kids who choose this Kia for their first car. The Soul’s natural home is a West Coast college campus, not the car park at Dunnes Stores.

Yet the average Soul owners I have encountered in Ireland are often 60-plus and looking for something practical, spacious and easy to get in and out of. Perhaps the funky mood lighting is not to their taste but they can also be young at heart, and they appreciate the car’s practicality, along with Kia’s seven-year warranty.

It’s also great to break away from the mundane world of the family hatchbacks. Not everyone wants to stand out from the crowd, but for those that do the Soul offers some much-needed fun.

In terms of driving dynamics, the 1.6-litre diesel is ample enough for the car and it handles relatively well even if Kia’s steering still needs a little tuning to improve the feedback from the road.

Despite the looks, it’s still only front-wheel drive, but that’s fine for its market, where the extra cost and impact on fuel economy is simply not worth the added grip.

It’s not going to set the world alight in terms of performance – the 0-100km/h time is 10.8 seconds – but it’s no slouch up against any of its rivals. Of those rivals the closest is probably the Skoda Roomster in terms of pricing, but this is a much better-finished car, and it’s also arguably better than the more expensive Skoda Yeti.

Remarkable array
As it comes in two specifications, the entry-level EX is the one to go for at €24,495, as it already boasts a remarkable array of kit, including climate air-con, cruise control, LED running lights, parking sensors, Bluetooth and the like.

So far this year I’ve had the privilege of testing some impressive new cars – and several dishwater-dull models as well – but this is the best all-rounder I’ve driven this year.

From its looks to the premium-level interior and from the practicality to the price, this car ticks all the boxes.

The lowdown: Kia Soul 1.6 EX

Engine
1582cc 126bhp putting out 260Nm of torque with a six-speed manual transmission

Emissions
132g/km (Motor tax: €270)

Specifications
17-inch alloys; LED running lights; rear park assist sensor; front fog lamps; privacy glass; audio mood lamps; ABS; electronic stability control

Price
€2,4995 for EX (€28,495 for Platinum version)

Our verdict
Great looks, premium-level interior, and the best all-rounder we’ve driven this year