Overall rating: 3/5
Kia's all-new Soul keeps the cool looks of the original, ramps up the cabin quality and refinement. Deserves a wider audience.
In the Metal:
The original Kia Soul really did look as if it had been rolled straight off the motor show concept car stage and into showrooms. It may be rather naff to describe a car as looking 'funky', but honestly, that's exactly how the new Soul looks - funkier than James Brown getting down in Funky Town with an electrified funking machine. Ahem.
The shape and even some of the detailing is lifted directly from the old Soul, but there's a sense of greater sophistication to the styling of the new model. The headlights are narrower, less geeky than before, the slightly lower roofline makes it look a touch sleeker and the only duff point is when you get around to the back and see that there's just too much happening on the tailgate - Kia stylists obviously thought that more is more when it came to the dark side of the Soul, but actually it just ends up looking a bit like a Fiat Doblo.
Inside though, things are rather a lot better and better by far than in the original Soul. The first gen car had a perfectly fine, but rather plastic, tinny cabin, which, even with Kia's then-new-fangled seven-year warranty, made you worry that bits were going to come off in your hands. Not anymore; the new Soul's cabin draws clearly and unsurprisingly from both the style and the parts bin of the cee'd and Carens and is all the better for it. The steering wheel is a particular high point, with a pleasantly chunky feel and tactile leather trim with contrast stitching. The dials look good and expensive and are very clear, the touchscreen in the dash is a little small but it is in full colour and all of the switches and plastics feel of good, solid quality. The drinks-can shaped air vents at either end of the dashboard are a nice touch and only the big, scratchy plastic panel atop the dash looks and feels any way poor, but it appears like it might be a prime candidate for replacement with a massive speaker for the stereo.
It's also very comfy in there - you sit really quite high and upright, but the seats are decently supportive so it's unlikely you'll get back or thigh ache (although it must be noted that we've only had a brief test drive so far).
Would you be surprised if I told you that under all that concept-car styling the Soul is entirely conventional to drive? Of course not, as all the oily bits are drawn from the Kia cee'd range - and that is very good news indeed. So, the Soul rides mostly gently, with decent body control and the steering is light, decently weighted and quite nice to use.
The 128hp 1.6 diesel engine is no fireball and a 0-100km/h time of 11.5 seconds shows that you're not going to be winning any traffic light Grand Prix. Still, once it's rolling the decent torque and slick-shifting six-speed gearbox allow you to keep everything nicely on the boil and I can't imagine that the Soul will give you any cause for upset on your daily drive. We'll spend more time with it in due course for a more detailed analysis.
What you get for your Money:
This has always been a traditionally strong point for any Kia and the Soul really makes its mark with decent value for money. Note though that that's value for money, as opposed to being actually cheap. Circa €25k is a fair chunk of cash for most people, but the good news is that it gets you such niceties as Bluetooth phone connection, rear parking sensors, 'mood lamps' for the stereo (how seventies!), privacy glass, climate control, cruise control and speed limiter, a reversing camera, one-shot electric windows all round, 17-inch alloy wheels, iPod connection and a bevy of safety systems. The only problem is that still makes the cheapest Soul more expensive than a mid-range Nissan Juke, which will surely be its strongest competition.
Kia hasn't, in making the Soul as stylish as it is, forgotten the practical side of things. So, boot space is up on the outgoing model by four per cent to 354 litres, while the tailgate opening is 60mm wider than before to make loading luggage that bit easier.
We always wondered quite why the Irish car buying public never took the really quite pleasant original Kia Soul to their hearts. Perhaps it's just a reflection of the general conservativeness of us as car buyers, so maybe the new Soul is already on to a loser here by sticking so closely to the template of the original. Kia won't mind too much, as its primary market for the car is the US, where well-heeled college kids just lap them up, but even so, it deserves to do better in Ireland. It's distinctive, nice to drive, reasonably practical and has a vastly better interior than before. If the price were just a touch lower relative to its closest rivals, perhaps then it would be a bigger hit.