Price: From £10,495
Top speed: 113mph 0-60mph 11.3 seconds (1.6 diesel)
CO2 emissions: 137g/km
Best for: Funky design
Also worth considering? Daihatsu Materia; Skoda Yeti (forthcoming); Skoda Roomster; Citroen C3 Picasso; Fiat Quobo
The Korean-based manufacturer Kia has enjoyed a remarkable rise to half-serious contender in the trench warfare that is the UK's new-car market. From its plant in Slovakia, it is already conducting a major assault on the Euro market with its class-competitive Cee'd range, armed with the sort of nice, trim interior materials you'd find in a VW or Peugeot, modern engineering and a seven-year warranty. (The 1.6 diesel is the one to go for, by the way.)
The Soul is Kia's latest weapon of war, and is a rather startling affair, rather like one of North Korea's rocket tests. The special-edition top-of-the-range "Burner" version we drove certainly scored highly on the point-and-stare scale – attracting more looks than a Bentley Continental Flying Spur, for example. This, let us face facts, is a car that has been given a Far Eastern "dragon" theme, with red all over the seats and dash, as if its last owners had been Bonnie and Clyde. And if all that red plastic wasn't quite enough for you, Kia offers on this version disco-style lights. Yes indeed, disco lights – a red penumbra on the door speakers that can strobe in time with the music ... ish – there's a little delay. But, like Oscar Wilde's talking dog, it's not so much that it does it badly, but rather that it does it at all. I ought to mention that there are cheaper, more sober versions of the Soul on sale.
What else is good? Well, the Soul shares the Cee'd's range of smooth-revving, almost sporty engines, and also feels reasonably well put-together. There was a slight creak from the top of the door when I rested my elbow on it, but I imagine that would settle down. The interior is big enough for most trips to Ikea, say, but not as flexible as some small people-carriers – there's no facility to move the rear bench back and forth, for example. The handling is pretty good considering its lofty stance, and the rise is a little harsh, thanks to some eye-catching alloys. That funny red insert on the grille, I imagine, is meant to be redolent of a dragon's breath, but to me looks slightly comical. If you've ever seen a playful kitten catch its tongue between its teeth you'll know what I mean.
You sometimes wonder if the Kia Soul is a car trying too hard to be funky. But that's hardly a sin. What's unforgivable is the fitment of shiny indicator stalks. Someone in the funky Kia design house has broken the first commandment of modern car design: "Thou shalt not do shiny stalks". Kia designers: May God have mercy on your Souls.