Soul was an important addition when it was added to the Kia stable in 2008. It showed that the company had a sense of style and amusement.
Soul was a successful car but importantly it showed the world that Kia was about more than just cost-sensitive sensible motoring with astoundingly long warranties.
Now new Soul is here to carry on the fun. And what better place to launch the new car than Yorkshire? OK, so Kia chose Leeds over Bradford but the test route did take in Ilkley, Otley and Bolton Abbey.
Soul is much improved: it’s bigger, better equipped and has much better ride and handling. Kia say the styling is more dramatic. I say it is more grown up and all the better for it. It is still a cheap urban motor, though, with prices starting at £12,600.
Soul is what the motor industry calls a crossover. That is, a mixture of SUV and estate car with a touch of people carried thrown in.
The biggest improvement is the cabin. The first Soul was a little, well, soul-less inside, betraying its cost-conscious style, but new Soul is a plusher affair.
The sharper driving dynamics are thanks to a new chassis based on that of the Cee’d. The new Soul is available with a choice of two efficient engines and five trim levels and it draws extensively from Kia’s highly praised Track’ster concept car from the 2012 Chicago Auto Show.
The first Soul from 2008 showed how Kia could design and engineer cars which were out of the ordinary, without losing a focus on practicality and value for money. It went on to become a top five car in its class and market leader in the United States and China. In 2012, the last full year the original model was in production, Kia sold almost 165,000 cars, despite the arrival of several newer competitors.
New Soul model arrives at a well-timed moment to take advantage of the boom in the compact crossover market. Annual sales of this type of car in Western Europe are forecast to rise from around 380,000 in 2013 to more than 600,000 by 2015. Just over a quarter of buyers are British. Who says we all want saloons and hatches?
All versions are front-wheel-drive five-door crossovers – Kia research says while buyers like the appearance, the raised driving position and safety advantages of a 4x4, they do not want the higher fuel consumption and taxation that four-wheel drive entails.
I would beg to differ. I bet in rural parts of Otley and Ilkley where we drove this car last week, the lack of 4x4 ability will lose a few sales. I imagine a 4x4 version would snap at the heels of Juke and Mokka rather well. As with the previous model, the new Soul offers buyers a choice of efficient 1.6-litre direct-injection petrol and turbodiesel engines tuned for effortless driving flexibility. The diesel Soul has CO2 emissions as low as 132g/km and fuel economy as high as 56.5mpg. Kia has already announced that towards the end of 2014 there will be a fully-electric version of the car, called Soul EV – the company’s first global commercial EV – with zero tailpipe emissions.
There are three regular trim lines – Start, Connect and Connect Plus – which will be joined in the summer by the Soul Mixx and Soul Maxx, with even more extrovert styling and higher levels of technology than ever before. The square profile of Soul is distinctive, but it has a 20mm longer wheelbase which stretches the car in all directions.
It helps the ride and handling which is noticably more refined. And from £12,600 it’s well worth a look.