Were it not over-hackneyed, ‘X-Factor’ might have figured in Kia’s renaming of its strangely popular BEV model, writes Iain Robertson, as he reflects on a car that has been little changed since its original launch but retains its playful character.
The first time I saw a Soul, Kia’s chunkier alternative to the Hyundai i20, I had to admit to being allured by its outstanding funkiness. Okay. It was a tad boxy and conservatively bolt-upright but it possessed appeal beyond its model name. It had already appeared on the Motor Show circuit as the Mesa prototype, complete with ‘suicide’ rear doors but, apart from reverting to more conventional occupant access for series production, it was clearly a strong enough statement of intent for Kia to keep the rest of it as its styling team had outlined.
The first drive of a Soul that I undertook was based in the Thames-side town of Marlow. In fact, the black petrol model I drove was clad in enough oriental ‘shadow’ graphics that I felt significantly more self-conscious driving along the High Street than its moderate subtlety inferred. The truth was, it created more of a ‘double-take’ for observers, who would wonder what they had just seen, even if they could not ascertain precisely its details. Possessing a tart red interior, that Soul was every inch the night club, or boudoir renegade, complete with a bangin’ sound system that took no prisoners and party illumination around the speaker housings for added teenage visual impact.
Even as I snapped pictures for my 2010 newspaper test report, I was eminently aware of a need to allow natural light to play off the car’s exterior flanks, as the matt black stickers actually proved very difficult to see. The red interior was a different scenario altogether. Fortunately, for the tall driver, the Soul was an immediate winner, as it provided copious amounts of headroom, shoulder space and a decent range of driver’s seat fore and aft adjustment. While based on a somewhat smaller model platform, unlike the Skoda Roomster that was its primary rival, which used an Octavia front, Fabia rear hybrid construction, Soul simply stretched all of its dimensions for the best packaging possible.
Its 1.6-litre, 120-ish-bhp petrol motor (the turbodiesel was only marginally punchier) felt lethargic but the Soul was quite a hefty wee thing, I would venture to suggest, without insult, that it was an almost appropriate, automotive Aretha Franklin. While it was not about to win any acceleration quiz and neither did it deliver a fuel sipping tank return (c. 33mpg overall), it was stable, handled respectably and was moderately refined. In more ordinary paint and trim tones, it was that aforementioned box but none the worse for it.
The second generation arrived in 2014 but, fortunately, like all good things, the best elements of the car remained unaltered, while the dashboard benefited from a major redesign and its drivetrain, including engine choices, was developed for greater fuel efficiency. The car’s snout grew and the ‘tiger’s nose’ corporate radiator grille was incorporated. In the meantime, I had also managed to obtain a test drive of the first Soul EV, which was among the battery-electric pioneers of the period. Its range was restricted (of course) but it was zesty and, apart from the ‘electric whirr’ had lost hardly any of its character. Rather cleverly, Kia was trying to restrict sales to a London base.
In the intervening period, Kia has continued, as it does with several of its models, to make ongoing improvements to the Soul and the 2017 facelift amounted to little more than a titivation of what was pretty much an established and popular car in its UK line-up. In 2020, it was replaced by an even more focused model. Featuring slimmer front light clusters and an enlarged grille in the lower bumper area, it also lost the corporate signature grille that is starting to disappear from other Kia models and, thanks to a change in design boss, the most significant round of alterations has been bestowed finally on the Soul.
Interestingly, the Soul ‘Maxx’ EV replaces the existing ‘First Edition’ variant in the UK line-up that has been available since the car’s launch, which should not be regarded as an indicator of sluggish sales. Available for potential buyers to order right now, the Soul ‘Maxx’ EV is available from an impertinent £34,945 on-the-road, which makes it eligible for our government’s £2,500 Plug-in Car Grant (PiCG) and reduces the list price to a marginally more affordable £32,445. To be frank, I think that ‘market pricing’ is a saucy route to pursue but, then, Kia seems to be following a VW-led pricing schedule at present.
The Soul retains the same funky and distinctive overall design of the original models, with the ‘Maxx’ featuring the new Kia (or Via, as I think it looks) logo inside and out. It is comprehensively equipped and includes 17.0-inch diameter alloy wheels, black leather upholstery, both heated front seats and steering wheel, and Apple CarPlay® and Android Auto™ connectivity. ‘Maxx’ also receives two brand-new metallic paint colour options, in single-tone Snow White Pearl (standard) and a new two-tone Inferno Red body with Black roof (optional and additionally priced at £575), with a pair of other two-tone premium paint options – Quartz Black with Red and Neptune Blue with Black – also available.
The Soul Maxx EV incorporates both the design and playful characteristics of its predecessors and utilises the same long-range 64kWh lithium-ion battery pack as before, which delivers a promised and achievable range of 280 miles on a single charge. As a car that remains popular with early EV adopters, no fewer than 900 examples have been sold in the UK so far this year. It is one of two fully electric models offered by Kia in our market, alongside the e-Niro and both of them will be joined soon by the larger EV6.
Conclusion: The first customer deliveries of the Soul Maxx are expected in autumn 2021. As with all Kia cars, the Maxx benefits from the firm’s much-vaunted 7-year/100,000 mile warranty package.