The outgoing Kia Soul was a distinctive car with distinctive looks and an average chassis; that upright, boxy body might have made it easy to drive in the city but few would have chosen one for an early morning cross-country blast.
Yet funky looks, generous equipment levels and a seven-year warranty earned the Soul a loyal following. The trick then, with the all-new Soul, is to retain the aficionados while attracting a new crowd to the Kia family; once captured, buyers generally remain surprisingly loyal to the brand.
So we travelled to the jewel of the north (Leeds - what, you needed to ask?) to drive the new Soul across city and dale to see if Kia has got it right.
The new Soul might look remarkably like the old one but it's lower, wider, and longer, benefitting passengers and the driver alike and while few will notice a boot that is four percent larger than the old one at 354 litres, most will benefit from a tailgate opening that is 62 mm wider.
The overall effect is still very much the Soul that buyers have come to know and love; tall, boxy, and upright (but never uptight) with the emphasis on a distinctive SUV look that is calculated to appeal to the younger car-buying sector. Its an evolution of the older car that works well, being fresh but familiar.
The interior of the new car is a vast improvement on that of the outgoing model but it still at least one facelift away from premium. Its roomy though; Im well over six foot tall and with the drivers seat set well back for me to get comfortable behind the wheel there was still plenty of legroom for those in the back.
The new Soul offers five trim levels: Start; Connect; Connect Plus; Soul Mixx; and Soul Maxx (I know). The key points are 16-inch steel wheels, tilt-and-reach steering adjustment, air-con, cloth seats, body colour door handles and mirrors, remote entry, and a DAB radio for the Start.
Trade up to the Connect and you get 17-inch alloys, heated and folding door mirrors, auto lights, a reversing camera, Bluetooth, cruise control, and artificial leather trim. Auto air-con, sat-nav, and a premium sound system with colour changing and pulsing door speakers are all standard in the Connect Plus, which was the trim level I drove.
Step up into the Mixx and you gain 18-inch alloy wheels, a two-tone body, chrome door handles, high-gloss black bumpers and door mirrors, privacy glass, projection headlights, heated front seats, and an Urban styling pack comprising front, rear, and side skirts. The Maxx adds Premium 18-inch alloys, front and rear parking sensors, a panoramic roof and leather seats.
The Soul handles and goes rather well, which youd have every right to expect, given that it shares the Ceeds chassis. The new platform has greater torsional rigidity than that of the old Soul, allowing the suspension to do its thing in isolation without excessive flexing of the body and chassis platform corrupting it.
Bump absorption is good and the cabin is well insulated and the resulting ride is soothing rather than stimulating. Thats probably a good thing given the cars target audience but I couldnt help wanting a bit more precision and spirit to the chassis. Its not that there is anything wrong it turns in well and body roll is well contained, especially given the raised stance of the SUV-inspired body - but when you drive it with spirit along twisty country roads it does feel a bit flat.
The 126 bhp 1.6-litre diesel engines emissions 56.5 mpg and 132 g/km of CO2 for the manual, dipping slightly to 158 g/km and 47.1 mpg for the automatic. Thats good, but not class leading, as is the performance. The Soul can hit 62 mph from rest in 12.2 seconds and go on to a top speed of 110mph. Having said that, itll cruise easily at an indicated 70 mph with some within easy reach, should you need it
The engine noise at tickover is louder than we are used to but it quietens down at speed and the engine is generally willing and tolerably quiet at any sane speed.
It also produces 192 lb/ft of torque, which makes it very flexible and relaxing to drive, especially when you need to overtake slower traffic. The six-speed gearbox is lovely to use, but it is far better to be able to rely on a big, fat wad of torque and not have to change down constantly when you want to get a move on.
Oh, and if you want an electric Soul, you can have one of those too if you can wait until the end of 2014.
Value for Money
The Soul range starts at 12,600 for a manual Start with the petrol engine and rises to 21,550 for a top-of-the-range Maxx diesel. All models are well equipped; add in the seven-year warranty and modern Kias make a lot of sense, although I cant help thinking that the Soul makes more sense as a cheap, rather than an expensive, car.
There is a lot to like about the diesel Soul; its quiet, roomy, and loaded with equipment and the seven-year warranty is very reassuring. Those funky looks can only add to its appeal, but dont forget to have a look at its competitors before you write the cheque, especially the Renault Captur and the Nissan Juke.
Head over to our full Kia Soul review page for more reviews, photos, videos and statistics.