We’ll admit to both excitement and apprehension when a bright red, dragon-emblazoned Kia Soul was dropped off outside the house.
Excitement because the car really did look quite funky; apprehension because despite one of the most impressive line-ups on the market, Kia still doesn’t quite have the sort of image that justifies them covering a car in dragons without doing it ironically.
But dragons aside, is the Kia Soul - here in Inferno spec and with a 1.6 CRDi engine - any good?
So yes - the Soul Inferno is covered in dragons. It’s part of Kia’s ‘Soul Originals’ line, which sounds like a compilation album but is actually a line of specially-attired Souls with unique attributes and high equipment tallies. Currently, the Inferno is sold alongside the more subtle ‘Quantum’, and is closest in spirit to the old ‘Soul Burner’, another dragon-themed edition.
Oddly though, it works. The Soul is a chunky, distinctive-looking car anyway, with some neat details - the LED daytime running lights don’t look like an afterthought, for example, and the ‘petal’ alloy wheels look incredibly intricate.
Painted red, with darkened rear glass and a darker red dragon on each side, and it becomes even more distinctive - we noted several people glancing at the car, but no unpleasant reactions.
The car’s boxy lines also hide its physical size quite well. It certainly looks and feels much more substantial up close than you’d assume from images, lending it impressive presence on the road.
You’ll not be surprised to learn that the squared-off exterior features endow the Soul with plenty of interior space.
During our week with the car we travelled down from Yorkshire to Oxfordshire for an ice hockey and curry-fuelled weekend. Not only was the journey down a relaxing one, thanks to the raised driving position and large windscreen, but the Soul easily handled four adults, and the rear seats even accommodated six-foot tall passengers with ease.
All found the Inferno’s leather seats comfortable too, appreciated the automatic air conditioning, and liked the practicality of the five-door body - no clambering through past front seats here. Interior quality isn’t bad and the naffest plastics are largely out of sight, while everything feels well-assembled.
The excellent stereo system also drew approval. Kia’s integration of portable audio systems is always fantastic, and whether you use the included cable or prefer Bluetooth, it was happy to sync with an iPhone. The Bluetooth connection is so simple to set up that we didn't even need the manual - other carmakers should certainly take note. Topping all that, all the passengers even liked the funky glow from the door speakers.
Coming under the “could do better” category, all found the 340-litre boot a bit small considering the passenger space, and one passenger actually managed to stab his hand on the worryingly sharp top to the rear doors - it’s not a worry if you have kids who are too small to reach the door top, but it’s an unusual quality control oversight.
A relatively tall profile is usually a sign that a car won’t be the most adept of handlers, but the Soul acquits itself well.
The steering is light and accurate but you don’t get a lot of feedback from the front tyres. In context that’s not such a bad thing as little about the way the Soul drives encourages you to take it by the scruff of the neck and throw it around. It doesn't purport to be a hot hatchback, so there’s little relevance to compare it to one.
Instead, it’s happier making steady progress - and by doing so, those aforementioned passengers are less likely to slide around the leather seats as you navigate roundabouts and tighter corners.
There’s enough grip to tackle your average B-road though, where you’ll also experience a level of ride quality that’s a little too firm. It helps prevent too much body roll, those stylish 18-inch wheels and low-profile tyres don’t do much to prevent bumps jarring through the cabin. It’s rarely uncomfortable, but it certainly could be better.
Things improve on the motorway, where the Soul feels stable at speed, even with the occasional crosswind. Refinement is average - the boxy shape does encourage a fair degree of wind noise, and the wide tyres contribute too.
Under the bonnet is a 1.6-litre, turbo-diesel four-cylinder engine. It makes 126 horsepower and 192 pounds-feet of torque, the latter available from 1,900 rpm. 0-60 mph takes place in a claimed 11.3 seconds, and top speed is 110 mph.
From the seat of your pants, it feels like it’ll struggle to hit most of those figures. There’s nothing drastically wrong in the way the engine delivers its power and torque - it’s fairly smooth, sound and vibrations are kept to a minimum, and the six-speed manual gearbox is slick - but it just doesn't feel that strong, particularly at motorway speeds.
Some of this is likely down to the car’s aerodynamics. There’s no avoiding the fact that the Soul is a bluff-fronted, tall, wide car, and at higher speeds the engine fights a losing battle. Maintaining 70 mph isn't too difficult, but if you like to travel any quicker then you really need to give it some beans - and fuel economy will suffer.
The car is much happier at town speeds, even with a full complement of passengers. There’s even enough torque to trouble the traction control out of tight junctions. We just wish it had a bit more oomph on the motorway.
Value for money
With a 138 bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine and in ‘1’ spec, the Soul kicks off at a tempting £11,795 on the road. Our range-topping Inferno starts at £17,695.
That sounds a bit steep, but the Inferno is well-equipped and actually undercuts similarly unusual rivals like the Nissan Juke and Skoda Yeti. The Citroen C3 Picasso is similarly-priced with an equivalent diesel engine, but arguably lacks the Soul’s youthful image. Likewise, plenty of makers sell regular 5-door hatchbacks, but if you’re considering the Soul for its styling and features, a bland family hatchback may not appeal.
The Soul should also be inexpensive to run. 129 g/km of CO2 puts the Inferno CRDi in tax band D, for tax of £100 per year. You also get Kia’s huge 7 year, unlimited mileage warranty.
Combined fuel economy is 57.6 mpg. During our test, the trip computer averaged around 50 mpg during a steady 70 mph cruise from north to south. In town driving with low traffic, low 40s-mpg was more common. Both are a little way off the official numbers, but both are more than acceptable for a car like the Soul.
We can’t really report any surprise that the Soul proved to be a fine companion over a week of tough tasks - Kia turns out some genuinely talented cars these days.
The Soul Inferno is spacious, comfortable and well-equipped. It returns good real-world fuel economy, doesn't cost much too tax and has a long factory warranty. It also drives well enough for most people in most situations.
It’s a shame the engine doesn't feel better-endowed, as with a more comfortable long-distance gait the Soul would be an even better all-rounder. As it is, it’s still a very good car and one we can recommend. You may even grow to admire the dragons…
What the press think
Much of the press largely shares our opinions - the Soul is praised for its styling, space and value, and knocked down for a slight lack of shove, a surprisingly small boot and a bit of noise on the motorway.
For more information, check out our full summary of the Kia Soul alongside reviews, stats, photos and videos!