Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi 3

IT'S fair to say that, when the Kia Soul compact crossover first emerged in 2008, it was as popular as Marmite.

By which, I mean you either loved it or you didn't, and that was mainly down to its divisive styling.

While I love Marmite, I couldn't quite swallow the Soul - it just wasn't to my taste. However, tastes change and so has my view of the Soul.

What's goin' on? Well, the latest Soul has received a series of upgrades which should certainly sweeten its appeal to potential buyers. These include updates to its exterior, with remodelled front and rear bumpers and a robust metallic skid plate.

A gloss black finish to the front and rear wheel arches and an ‘Urban Styling Pack' body kit emphasise its compact SUV credentials as do roof rails and a range of new alloys. Instead of ‘hold on, I'm coming', it's now a real funky diva.

The 2017 Soul range falls into line with other Kia models in offering trims badged 1, 2 and 3 alongside a new, more powerful Sport version.

The numbers of variants has been reduced from 14 to seven but all are still front-wheel drive, five-door crossovers.

They are powered by either a 130bhp 1.6-litre GDi petrol engine or a 134bhp 1.6-litre CRDi turbodiesel. The diesel can either be mated to the standard six-speed manual or a seven-speed automatic.

Fuel economy for the diesel, which develops an ample 260Nm of torque, is officially up to 58.8mpg - I achieved just under 39mpg - while its emissions are down to 127g/km.

With a height of just 1,593, it appears squat, sporty and purposeful. Yet it provides generous passenger and storage space. The tailgate opening is wide and provides access to a boot of 354 litres, or 1,994 with the rear seats folded.

Standard features include USB and AUX ports, a tyre pressure monitoring system, keyless entry, aircon, all-round electric windows and electrically adjustable door mirrors.

Jump to grade 3 and you get a crystal clear eight-inch infotainment screen, 18-inch alloys, heated door mirrors, automatic lights, cruise control with a speed limiter, privacy glass, a cooled glovebox, rain-sensing front wipers, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.

And, mercy, mercy, me, the leather seats are heated in the front as well as the driver's being eight-way power adjustable.

Respect to the design team who have also obviously been busy instilling a more premium look and feel to the interior. There are soft-touch facings on the instrument panel, centre console and door panels, the leather-covered steering wheel rim and gear lever knob and the high-gloss black finishings on the fascia panel. I particularly liked the stylish speaker-topped air vents at either end of the dash.

In the Soul 3 and Soul Sport there are also groovy front speaker mood lights too, which can strobe along with music from the JBL sound system with external amplifier and subwoofer.

The range now offers full connectivity with upgraded navigation and multimedia services on grades 2 and above. Kia Connected Services with TomTom is compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay for those that desire and understand that sort of stuff, once the system has been paired with a smartphone.

Behind the wheel, you sit reasonably high in SUV style and there's loads of all-round visibility. It's a decent drive too with very little body roll. There's no inner city blues about this Soul; even though its larger and wider than its 2008 predecessor, it remains compact enough to nip through city traffic and tuck into tight parking spaces.

This manoeuvrability is aided by Kia's Flex Steer variable power-assisted steering, which gives you a button on the steering wheel to switch between Sport, Normal and Comfort modes.

For parking or manoeuvring in narrow town streets the Comfort setting offers increased assistance, while for highway driving at speed the Sport mode reduces the amount of assistance to maximise feedback and stability. Normal is suited to most everyday driving conditions. Take it to the river.

Due to liberal use of expansion foam in the body cavities, a reinforced isolation pad in the cargo area and polyurethane-layered carpet, the cabin is surprisingly quiet and refined, and the Soul's increased proportions mean its feels more planted.

FAST FACTS

Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi 3

Price: £21,910

Mechanical: 134bhp, 1,598cc, 4cyl diesel engine driving front wheels via 6-speed manual gearbox

Max Speed: 112mph

0-62mph: 10.8 seconds

Combined MPG: 58.8

Insurance Group: 11

C02 emissions: 127g/km

Bik rating: 27%

Warranty: 7yrs/100,000 miles

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