The Soul is based on the Cee’d, although you’d be forgiven for not spotting the influence of the more humdrum hatchback in the dramatic lines of this small SUV. It stands out a mile from more rounded rivals such as the Peugeot 2008 and Renault Captur, and even the basic models look pretty striking. We’d advise you to ignore the most basic Start model, which doesn’t have alloy wheels, in favour of the smarter-looking Connect or Connect Plus versions. Go for the Mixx or Maxx models, which sit at the top of the range, things get even more striking. Both feature 18-inch alloys, with details such as contrasting colours on the roof and door mirrors and chrome door handles. The Mixx also adds an ‘urban styling pack’ (front, rear and side skirts, as well as wheelarch extensions), while the Maxx has leather upholstery and a panoramic sunroof
The cabin is fairly stylish – if not as striking as the exterior – with a suitably chunky dashboard bookended by a pair of speaker pods sitting on top of the air vents. It’s all nice and easy to use, too, with large buttons to control all the most important functions and a very decent touch-screen system on higher-trim models. As you’d expect of a car like this, it has a slightly higher driving position than a regular hatchback, giving a good view over most other traffic. And, with a good range of adjustment on the driver’s seat and steering wheel, it’s easy for most people to find a good driving position.
There’s plenty of space in the front for a couple of a tall adults, and even with the seats set for a couple of six-footers, you can get two more in the rear seats – and with headroom to spare. The boot, too, is a decent size, but unless you have the movable floor set at the right height, you have quite a lip to lift luggage over. There’s nothing all that clever about the way the back seats fold down, either, so it’s not as versatile as rivals like the Renault Captur.
Ride and handling
This is an area in which the Soul struggles to impress. The biggest problem is the ride, which feels jittery, even over smooth surfaces, and which thumps uncomfortably over bumps and potholes. The diesel version feels a shade smoother than the petrol, but neither version is anywhere near comfortable enough to trouble the class-leaders. The payoff for the Soul’s firm ride is decent body control in bends, but even so, this isn’t a car you’ll enjoy flinging about. The steering has a detached feel and inconsistent weighting, and grip levels aren’t particularly impressive, either. In fact, the Soul EV – the all-electric version – is actually the most enjoyable version to drive. Its suspension has been fettled to handle the vast amount of extra weight it needs to carry, and this gives it a more settled and comfortable low-speed ride.
Although there is a choice of two regular engines – 1.6-litre petrol and diesel units, with similar performance on paper – Kia expects that more than two thirds of buyers will choose the diesel, and it’s easy to see why. It has much more pulling power low in the rev range, which makes it feel far more responsive in everyday use and consequently less demanding to drive. By contrast, the petrol engine only develops its peak pull at high revs, which means you need to work it much harder. The difference is noticeable around town, but it’s even more obvious on the open road, where relatively slight gradients will force you to change down a gear or two to maintain momentum. Neither engine is particularly refined, either, both sending a fair amount of noise and vibration through to the cabin. You’re also subjected to a fair amount of wind and road noise on the motorway. That’s also true of the EV, but obviously, the engine noise is completely eradicated, with just a faint whirr to accompany your progress. It feels punchy, too, building speed in a nice, consistent manner.
The Soul looks well priced against its most obvious rivals, and it should retain a good proportion of its value over its life, keeping overall running costs down. It’s not as expensive to insure as some of its rivals, either. However, things are a lot less impressive on efficiency. The petrol model barely scrapes over the 40mpg mark, and while the diesel does a lot better with a claimed average return of more than 56mpg, it’s still not a patch on what you can get from a Renault Captur or Peugeot 2008. Obviously, fuel costs aren’t an issue with the EV version, but it’s far more expensive to buy than the other versions, and in fact, prices sit pretty close to some very desirable electric-car rivals.
Kia doesn’t have the best score in Warranty Direct’s ratings, scoring a little worse than average, but it’s hard to beat the company’s warranty package for peace of mind. The Soul is covered by a transferrable seven-year/100,000-mile warranty that covers all labour and parts (except wear and tear).
Every model in the range has the same safety specification, with twin front, side and curtain airbags. Stability control and a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System are also standard. Euro NCAP have tested not one, but two, versions of the car – the regular model and EV electric model – and both received the same four-star score, with the EV actually scoring a slightly higher score for adult occupant protection.
There are three main trim levels, and even the most basic Start comes with air-conditioning, a DAB radio with steering wheel-mounted controls and four electric windows. However, this specification only comes with the petrol engine, and we think it’s worth stepping up to Connect trim, which adds alloy wheels, automatic lights, Bluetooth, cruise control and smarter interior trim. Beyond that, Connect Plus brings climate control, sat-nav and a premium stereo system, while the extras on the range-topping Mixx and Maxx models are mostly style-related.
The Soul will sell mainly on its looks and its practicality, and for good reason. It’s also well-equipped, competitively priced and comes with a sensational warranty package. That alone will be enough for some buyers, but if you want a small SUV that’s more comfortable, more peaceful and more enjoyable to drive, we’d look elsewhere.