Steering Column 06.03.09
Kia Soul launch
I’d been looking forward to driving the Kia Soul since I first saw the pictures of the concept car.
It began as a design exercise, drawn up in California and unveiled to the world at the Detroit motor show three years ago.
One year ago I saw the pictures of the first production models and got even keener. Last month I was invited to the Thames valley to drive them. It was no disappointment.
If you ignore the pretentious drivel that comes out of the company’s marketing department there’s a lot of no-nonsense practical car to like here. It’s not “all about freedom”, it’s not “iconic” and it’s not a “lifestyle statement”. What it is, is a funky looking, practical, economical little road car that’s comfortable, surprisingly roomy inside and cheery looking on the outside.
Basically, it is an upright, two-box design, five-door hatchback that comes in a range of paint and upholstery options that range from the sedate to the patently mad. It takes up no more room on the road than most small hatchbacks yet driving it feels like you’re in a mini 4×4.
You’re not of course. It’s a front-wheel-drive road car that comes with either a 1.6-litre petrol engine that turns out a handy 124bhp and 156Nm of torque, or a 1.6-litre diesel unit turning out an equally handy 126bhp and a much more satisfying 260Nm of torque. The petrol engine is economical, turning in an official average fuel consumption of 43.5mpg which sounds fine until you hear the more powerful diesel will do 54.3 miles on a gallon of fuel.
Before saying what they are like to drive, it’s perhaps just as important to say what they look like. The basic design is a masterpiece of Tonka-truck simplicity. It’s chunky, solid and simple looking with good strong lines everywhere.
The nose is tall and there’s a black chin insert that makes the car look even taller. In profile it has a flat roof with a windowsill line that rises in a line from the bonnet up towards the tail, tapering the windows till they’re relatively narrow at the back. The back end has big, upright light clusters in the roof pillars and the hatch is a no-nonsense square with a big, rectangular window. The wheels are all pushed out close to the corners for stability.
It looks four-square and solid, an impression that’s helped by flared wheel-arches and the long crease down the flank. I love it, but it has to be said the colour can make or break the thing.
I’ve seen it in gold, ivory (vanilla they call it) and black with red detailing and a silver tattoo of a dragon down the side … no honestly I have. The gold one was a Soul 2 – the most sensible choice of car in that it has all you’d want in the way of equipment and, unlike the base-model 1, has the option of that lovely diesel engine. I’ll be honest though – the colour rather helped it blend into traffic and did the car no favours.
The ivory (or vanilla) model looked much better, more elegant, even if it was on a special model known rather unfortunately as the Soul Shaker. The black with the red-rimmed grille and silver dragon was the Soul Burner – the most expensive of the series so far, painted, trimmed and upholstered in nature’s danger colours which make the world think its either a hot-rod or being driven by a prat. My favourite colour scheme is red all over with black detailing and looks classy, chunky and chirpy all at the same time.
The only difference in performance of any of these cars is derived from the engine. My clear favourite was the diesel unit which pulled strongly away on hills that left the petrol engine gasping for a lower gear.
However, if you’re looking for a quiet ride, the petrol engine will be top of your priorities because the oil-burner for all its saintly road manners, is relatively noisy on the go.
The suspension is frankly firm, having been tuned by Lotus for UK roads so although it holds the car upright in the curves, it’s a solid ride on the flat and there’s a fair amount of road noise.
Prices for the Soul begin at just under £10,500 for the 1 and rise to almost £15,000 for the black-evil Burner. The cheapest diesel version is the 2 which costs £12,495 (a premium of £1,000 over the petrol model). An automatic gearbox adds another grand.
I very much hope the Soul becomes a regular sight on the roads of Shetland, for no greater reason than I think it looks fabulous. It is a spacious and practical wee car, cheap to buy, easy to run and something that makes you smile every time you go to get in.
Here, it will be available at J Burgess Kia. The company’s Colin Burgess said: “We’re very excited to be receiving Soul into our dealership; it’s the perfect response for those who want to lift their spirits and turn heads at the same time. The blend of innovative design and individuality will not come at premium prices, and will provide Shetland locals with a car that has real personality.”