Matt Robinson20 March 2014

First Drive: All-new Kia Soul

Korean firm reinvents its crossover hatchback-thingy. Better built and better to drive

All-new Soul? It looks very much like the old one to me.

And well it might. Kia has decided that if it ain't broke, there's no use in pointlessly redesigning it. So the Soul's high-riding stance, square shoulders, large areas of glass and tail-lights up near the roof are all familiar - yet absolutely none of the body panels from the old car are carried over.

It's also got a shiny new interior, into which you can cram such highfalutin goodies as an eight-inch navigation system, cruise control, leather and various assistance features for the more cautious driver.

Shiny but cheap, I guess?

Wrong. Like parent firm Hyundai, Kia is no longer all about bargain basement motoring. The quality of the materials used has improved markedly and there's also more head, leg and shoulder room in the front, plus a bit more space for the lower limbs of rear passengers too.

However, choose your options carefully. You can mix and match some pretty odd colours inside, while there are 11 exterior hues and even four two-tone paint jobs to trouble the retinas of every pedestrian within a 500-yard radius. Get these styling combinations wrong and you'll find it difficult to sell your Soul in a few years.

What about underneath?

The new Soul uses a platform based on the latest Kia cee'd, with two-thirds of the re-engineered body shell made of super-tough steel for 29 per cent better torsional rigidity.

Kia has mounted the front suspension on its own sub-frame with four bushings (the old car had none), fiddled about with the rear dampers to give more suspension travel and even relocated the steering box, all in the hope of delivering both improved ride and handling.

Have they succeeded?

We doubt you'll be rushing to your nearest Kia dealership if you tear up Alpine passes on a regular basis, but as a relaxed road car the Soul drives fine. There's a choice of two 1.6-litre units, and it has to be the 126bhp, 192lb ft diesel every time: the normally-aspirated petrol option is utterly gutless.

Pair the diesel with the six-speed manual and, although there is no area where the Soul sparkles dynamically, drive it as the manufacturer intended and it proves supple, quiet and very refined. You can even safely opt for the 18-inch wheels, which were the crucifixion of comfort on the old model.

So should I buy one?

There's no reason not to if you're down with the Soul's looks. Quite aside from the seven-year warranty Kia offers on all its products, you can personalise your Soul to your heart's content. Though of course that's a mandatory requirement for B-segment crossovers nowadays.

That it looks good inside and out, and is very comfortable too, is more than enough recommendation.

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