The Kia Soul has been relaunched with many impressive new features which are underpinning the brand’s growing success.

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Good advice.

Because while some might go for the cubist look, many people won’t be won over by the funky appearance of the Kia Soul.

Call it boxy. Call it ugly. The car park attendant at work called it “crap”.

The Soul is certainly a car that sparks opinions, good and bad.

But beneath that polarising exterior lurks a thoroughly likeable small car. Or hatchback. Or wagon. You can probably call it any of those things and not be out of line.

Kia urges its potential buyers to “think outside the box” with is a strangely perverse way of looking at it.

The Soul made quite a splash when it first arrived on the Australian market a few years back with its unorthodox, squared-off design.

At the time, its maker Kia was still in the throes of establishing its brand credibility in Australia – so perhaps that brand snobbery drew a few extra sneers for the Soul.

But if its purpose was to draw attention to the brand, it certainly did that. While its sales in Australia were a relatively modest 1,779 in five years since its launch, the Soul has sold more than 750,000 units worldwide in that time.

In the years since the Soul’s arrival, Kia’s brand of futuristic, cutting-edge styling has spread its way across the Korean maker’s range – delivering perhaps the most attractive array of small and medium cars currently on the Australian market. In that company, the Soul continues to stand apart.

But along with its corporate twin Hyundai, Kia is quickly establishing its place as one of the real brands to watch.

Fittingly, then, the Soul has been relaunched – with a refreshed but still rather cumbersome shape – but also with many of the impressive new features which are underpinning the brand’s growing success. Quality finishes, smart engines and transmissions, along with the sharp value we’ve come to expect from Korean makers.

So don’t be too quick to write the Soul off.

Look deeper and you’ll find an engaging little machine whose peppy engine, smooth-shifting transmission and sharp handling make it quite a pleasure to drive.

We tested the Soul in automatic guise – there are only two model choices, the other being a six-speed manual – and ended up liking it more than we expected.

Painted, as it was, in the most garish shade of lime green you can imagine, I wasn’t initially all that fussed.

But the Soul quickly won me over.

The interior, for a start, is a welcoming, attractive place. It’s roughly based on Kia’s Track’ster concept car – and features a theme of circular shapes in its cockpit – from the deeply recessed instrument panel to the little round tweeter speakers perched on the door sills. Square outside, round inside. Again, not to everyone’s taste, but it seems to work. Interestingly, the first Soul was designed in the United States and the updated model also hails from the brand’s California design studio. It might look very similar to the outgoing models, Kia says no body panels are carried over. Styling apart, it’s nicely fitted out for a car in this price bracket. Six airbags, reversing camera, cruise control, electric windows and mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity and tyre pressure monitors are among the kit.

A trip computer that sits between the speedo and tachometer allows you to scroll through information ranging from average speed and consumption to an instant readout of your driving efficiency, as well as the familiar distance-to-empty calculation.

The dials, too, are crisply displayed and easy to read.

There’s a chunky, attractive multi-function steering wheel allowing you to adjust audio settings, cruise control, answer your phone (via Bluetooth connectivity), scroll through the trip computer information and even switch the car’s set-up from “normal” mode to “sport”.

That, in turn, delivers some slightly amped-up performance from the sweet little two-litre, four-cylinder engine – as well as slightly sportier transmission settings.

In either format, the Soul jumps away from the traffic lights and rattles through the gears seamlessly.

The engine pumps out a respectable 113 kilowatts and 191Newton metres, and does so in impressively quiet fashion. Its performance is more impressive than the figures would suggest.

Ride is well resolved with bumps readily absorbed, and handling is completely without vice. It turns in reliably and feels nicely centred and stable, belying its rather ungainly gait.

Its impressive handling and performance should come as no surprise – the Soul, after all, shares its drivetrain and running gear with successful models like the Cerato and cee’d (which we’ll test in this space shortly).

Kia boasts that this second-generation model enjoys improved cabin quietness, better-quality finishes and materials and improved passenger and luggage space.

The Soul’s chunky design means interior space is impressive for what remains a relatively small machine.

Wheelbase on this new model has been stretched by 20mm – the car’s overall length has grown by the same amount and it’s 15mm wider – but its roofline is 41mm lower. The net result is more room for front and rear-seat occupants.

That odd-looking squared-off rear end brings an added benefit – cargo space is up four per cent to 238 litres – or a useful 878 litres with the rear seats folded forward. Kia says you can fit 1251 litres of cargo if you stack it all the way to that flat roof, which will be welcome news to those looking for a funky little commercial wagon.

Just as welcome is the Soul’s price – the manual model can be had for as little as $23,990 plus onroads, the automatic version will cost $2000 more.


DETAILS: Five-door, five-seat compact wagon with four-cylinder petrol engine and six-speed manual or automatic transmission.

TECH STUFF: 2-litre, four-cylinder all alloy petrol engine delivers 113kW and 191Nm; six-speed automatic transmission has manual shift function and sport mode; six-speed manual also available.

FEATURES: Front, side and curtain airbags (six in total); electronic stability control with ABS and brake assist; hill start assist, vehicle stability management; tyre pressure monitors, cruise control, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, Bluetooth connectivity, airconditioning, electric windows and mirrors.

THIRST: 7.6L/100km (manual); 8.4L/100km (auto).

VERDICT: Not pretty, but pretty effective.

BOTTOM LINE: From $23,990 (manual); $25,990 (automatic) plus onroad costs.