Kia Soul Shaker
IT'S the Soul from Seoul.
The new funky Kia Soul, built just 60 miles away from the South Korean capital, is a car which defies convention.
Kia has been bold enough to create a new breed of car which stands out from the crowd. A car which appeals to people who prefer to be an individual rather than run with the pack.
While its length and width are those of a supermini the Soul offers far more space inside than others in that category thanks to its height, boxy yet sporty design and clever interior styling.
And it's that extra height - plus some 45mm greater ground clearance than your average compact - which gives the driver more of a feeling of being behind the wheel of an SUV or MPV.
The raised position of the seating means you have a better view over the surrounding traffic and it's far easier to get in and out of.
Kia has come a long way in the last few years and is growing in confidence by the day. Until December 31 last year the Soul came with a impressive five year warranty. Any new models bought now, however, come with a full seven-year warranty. A massive selling point in anyone's book and one which shows unrivalled confidence by the company in its product.
The Soul is available in a variety of specs, with even the entry level Soul 1 - at less than £10,800 - listing air conditioning, an electronic stability programme and ABS brakes among the standard features.
Step up to the Soul 2 or any of the 'Soul Originals' and you get far more.
My test car was one of the Originals, the Soul Shaker, which had a useful little feature I haven't seen before - a reversing camera whose picture is displayed in the car's rear view mirror.
Most cars with reversing cameras use a dashboard mounted screen to display the image of what is behind you but the Soul uses a small section of the interior mirror.
The benefit of that is that when looking in the mirror to reverse you not only see the normal image but also the expanded image revealed by the boot-mounted camera lens.
The Shaker also boasts an electric sunroof and 18 inch wheels, in addition to the standard features on the Soul 2.
Deeply tinted privacy glass on all the windows from the front doors back add to the distinctive appearance of the car, as well as making it difficult for anyone to see what is left on the rear seat.
There is reasonable luggage space for a car of this size and the rear seats are split 60/40 to enable you to carry large items. A useful feature is the underfloor storage tray in the boot area which has a variety of compartments, including one large enough for a briefcase or laptop.
On the road the 1.6-litre petrol engine is sprightly enough and quiet motorway cruising makes for comfortable long distance journeys.
The suspension of right-hand-drive models has been fine-tuned in the UK in conjunction with Lotus to give responsive handling with a supple ride. The long wheelbase and wide track helps provide stable handling and the Soul performs well in adverse weather conditions as I can testify after the recent heavy snows which hit the Midlands.
On the negative side I couldn't get close to the claimed average fuel consumption claimed by the manufacturer, although to be fair the conditions during my week with the Soul - as mentioned - were not ideal.
The Soul is said to be aimed at the young and young at heart, and both categories will enjoy the super six-speaker RDS radio with CD player which puts your average car stereo system in the shade. It comes with MP3 compatibility and USB and AUX ports are standard.
And just like the MINI the Soul comes with a massive list of items you can add to personalise it. Kia says every Soul has the potential to be as individual as the person buying it.
Certainly the 'Soul Originals' already come with a strong element of originality. My Shaker version, for example, had very distinctive Vanilla Shake paintwork, a colour living up to its name.
A clever touch from Kia is the plan to have a rolling programme of 'Soul Originals', refreshing the models every 12 months or so to offer even more variety. Sort of 'soul sensations', you might say.
Kia Soul Shaker
Mechanical: 124bhp, 1,591cc, 4cyl petrol engine driving front rear wheels via 5-speed manual gearbox
Max speed: 110mph
0-62mph: 11 seconds
Combined mpg: 43.5
Insurance group: 5
CO2 emissions: 156g/km
BIK rating: 17%
Warranty: 7 years/ 100,000 miles