Saturday, January 10, 2009

Kia Soul Review

Financial crisis? What financial crisis? Kia is one of few carmakers to actually see its sales rise during 2008.

Offering long warranties, high equipment levels and a cost-effective ownership package, Kia is reeling in people who are downsizing from larger cars, trading down from more prestigious brands or buying a new-car for the first time.

The Soul is one of Kia's first models to be appealing on more than just cost grounds. Designed by Peter Schreyer, whose CV includes the original Audi TT, it's a high-riding, SUV-style mini-MPV with a tall roof and boxy outline. It's only four metres long, yet seats five tall adults happily and has room left over for luggage.

Highly customisable and urban-oriented, the Soul will appeal to young buyers in America and Japan, although in the UK it should attract older and more conservative drivers who normally favour the now-defunct Honda HR-V. These drivers will appreciate the Soul's high driving position, wide-opening doors and user-friendliness.

The Soul comes to the UK with a choice of 1.6-litre petrol and diesel engines. A fuel-saving stop-start system will be fitted later in 2009. UK prices start from around £11,000.
Reliability and Quality
Until recently, Kia was let down by disappointing fit and finish, cheap interior plastics and so forth, but the Korean-built Soul is well up to European expectations for a car of this type and price.

Kia has long turned out mechanically tough, durable cars; its record for reliability and aftersales support from dealerships is reassuring.

The engines are tried and tested elsewhere in the Kia range, as are many of its components. And the Soul's electronic and electrical systems are relatively low-tech by modern standards; it's not overloaded with over-complex gadgetry that could go wrong.
On the Road
The Soul's natural environment is in the city. The high driving position inspires confidence and contributes to an excellent all-round view, with no nasty blind spots.

The light steering and small turning circle help out when parking and maneuvering in tight spaces. The Soul is also tall and imposing enough not to be bullied or pushed out of lane and is nippy enough to make a good getaway from traffic lights.

It's less impressive out of town. The over-assisted steering feels a little sticky and artificially-weighted at higher speeds. Though the suspension is taut, there is still plenty of lean and body roll on fast corners. The Soul has high ground clearance and thus a high centre of gravity - this is all too apparent if you try and drive it like a low-slung hatch.

The Soul picks up on crosswinds at motorway speeds and can feel a little unnerving when buffeted. There's also lots of intrusive wind and engine noise.

The 1.6-litre petrol unit (124bhp, 115lb-ft of torque) is lively from the get-go, doing 0-62mph in 11 seconds and onto 110mph. But it lacks mid-range strength; it runs out of puff on long inclines in particular.

The 1.6 diesel (128bhp, 192lb-ft) has altogether more in reserve, with much better overtaking capabilities. It does 0-62mph in 11.3 seconds and the top speed increases to 113mph.
Both versions could do with a six-speed manual gearbox, however. The standard five-speed 'box works well around town, but an extra top ratio would have lowered the revs - and thus engine noise - at cruising speeds.
Safety and Security
All European-market Souls come with six airbags, ABS, stability control and traction control, plus two Isofix child seat mounting points, three three-point rear seatbelts and the option of tyre pressure monitoring.

Options include a neat reversing camera - which projects an image onto the rear-view mirror - and reversing sensors with audible warnings.

All versions have central locking and an immobiliser, with most getting electronic keyless entry.
Running Cost
Kia offers a comprehensive ownership package - including a generous warranty - and costs for servicing and maintenance should be affordable.

The petrol engine isn't particularly fuel-efficient. Official figures claim 42.8mpg (combined), but you'll struggle to reach that in real-life driving, with high consumption in the city but also when out on the open road. Another reason to opt for the diesel, which returns a more realistically-achievable 55.4mpg.

Carbon dioxide emissions are 153g/km from the petrol (Band D, currently £145 a year) and 137g/km from the manual diesel (Band C, currently £120 a year). We've not tried the diesel auto yet, but Kia says it'll do 48.7mpg and emit 155g/m (Band D).
Comfort and Equipment
Interior space is excellent for such a small vehicle: the well-shaped rear bench seat provides loads of legroom and the high roof makes for good headroom. The relatively wide stance gives decent elbow-room and you can comfortably seat three in the back.

Yet there's still plenty of luggage space - a square 222 litres with the rear seats in place, and 700 litres with them folded flat.

Access to the cabin is particularly good, thanks to high-set seats and wide-opening doors - just what older and less agile owners like. The flat boot floor and low sill make loading easy. Kia hasn't firmed up UK specifications as yet, but expect all models to come with air conditioning, electric windows, a CD/MP3 player and all the basics.

Adding details such as tinted rear glass, body-coloured bumpers and alloy wheels push the price up, but they do look good. Various styling packs with spoilers and body kit are offered, plus accessories such as roof boxes, cycle carriers and tow bars. There's a wide range of colour and trim choices, some of them brighter and more luridly patterned than others...

Wheels up to 18" in diameter are available, but we wouldn't recommend these - the ride is hard even with 16" alloys, and the 17" ones give a crashing, unforgiving experience. Shame: the ride and the intrusive engine and wind noise spoil what is otherwise a comfortable, well-thought-out car.
Used Value
It's a practical, roomy little thing and such cars are always popular secondhand. And demand for quirky small cars will probably rise further in coming years.

While the Soul is unlikely to worry the Mini, it should prove desirable - especially if Kia sells it with the full seven-year warranty it offers with the Cee'd.

The Cee'd will return between 32% for the petrol and 37% for the diesel after three/years 36,000 miles, but because the Soul is more stylish and practical it could perform even better than the mid-sized hatchback.

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