Innovation is the way to go but sometimes the rate at which it’s going can get quite alarming. In recent years, carmakers have tried to break into niche segments of the market by creating all sorts of unique models. The Nissan Qashqai for example is a compact crossover, and has blurred the lines between a C-segment hatchback, an SUV or a mid-sized MPV.
Then the BMW X6 is referred to as a mid-sized luxury crossover but marketed as a ‘coupe with four doors’, hence calling it a coupe-crossover or a ‘Sport Activity Coupeâ’. Chinese car manufacturer Geely also came up with something meaningful of its culture: the Geely Panda – a supermini that has a face designed to look like a panda. Yes, the white one especially resembles that of a panda.
So what’s the latest?
The Koreans have also upped their ante and gone are the days of the Ferrari-lookalike sports cars. Kia has squeezed its creative juices and the result is the Kia Soul. On first glance, it looked like a MINI with its bulldog stance, but its height is taller than the typical hatchback. But yet it’s not tall enough to be a SUV or spacious enough to be an MPV.
This time, the Kia Soul is marketed as an urban crossover, targeted at more trendy drivers with its added spunk. Essentially, the KIA Soul is a four-door, front-wheel drive, five-passenger car that aims to establish a fresh new identity for Kia in the marketplace. It is targeted at the extremes of a niche segment: the younger end of 20-29-year-old buyers and the more senior end of 40-54-year-old buyers.
Elements of the Soul are youthful, practical and economical. Powered by a 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine that can also be found in the KIA Cerato Forte and KIA Forte Koup, the funk-on-a-bunk car delivers a maximum of 124bhp of power and 156Nm of torque. The Soul is driven by a four-speed automatic transmission that could do with another gear ratio.
But since it’s more of a lifestyle choice rather than a performance icon, the +/- manual mode should compensate a little. It’s not exactly the most exciting car to drive, but as I said, the focus is not on the performance but on the whole visual factor. So 12 seconds to get from rest to 100 kilometres per hour should be nothing of a surprise.
Its boxy shape gives it a very roomy cabin with generous head and leg room. The boot is spacious too and can be expanded by lowering the split-fold rear seats. There are also under-floor compartments to hide your pirated DVDs when you’re coming back across the Causeway.
The Kia Soul will come standard with digital climate control and a keyless system with a start/stop push button. It also has a factory-fitted audio system that of course comes with AUX, USB and iPod connectivity that can be controlled from the buttons on the steering wheel. Some of the materials within the cabin may come off as a tad inferior, but the red glow of the cabin ambience and the sound sensitive mood lighting on the front door makes up with some class.
I remember Kia had a range of loud and bold body themes for its Picanto in 2007. There was a cheese theme for the yellow one and a princess pink hearts theme for the pink one. Similarly, the Soul can be customised with themes like Wild, Tribal, Chill and Classic. You can also spruce up the car with options like an alloy sports pedal, a metallic fuel cap or leather upholstery for your seats.
I must say that the Soul will turn heads, because of its unique look. However, I don’t know if the visual effect outweighs the driving performance of the car for a price tag of $89,999. That’s quite a lot for a funky 1.6-litre basic mode of transport. So the question remains, how much will you pay for style?
Engine: 1,591cc 16-valve inline-4
Gearbox: 4-speed automatic
Max Power: 124bhp at 6,300rpm
Max Torque: 156Nm at 4,200rpm
0-100km/h: 12 secs
Top speed: 162 km/h
Distributor: Cycle & Carriage Kia
Price: $89,999 with COE (accurate as of 30 Dec 2010)