Soul strikes some enchanting notes
The Kia Soul stands out on the road.

Back in Britain, where I lived until four years ago, they have a description for something that divides opinion - it's Marmite.

Marmite, in case you didn't know, is the UK equivalent of Vegemite (but not as nice) and generally people love it or hate it.

But why am I rambling on about yeast extract in a motoring story?

Well, in my week driving the Kia Soul, I discovered that it is very Marmite.

Anyone I spoke to either loved its quirky chunkiness or hated what they were convinced was a big box on wheels.

Me? Well I love it.

I reckon the Soul is Kia's most striking car, which is saying something from a marque that has produced some recent lookers such as the Sportage.

The front has that trademark Kia face but the rest of it is rugged right-angles. I particularly liked the long tail lights, which run most of the way down the squared-off rear end.

It's classified as a small car but it's big enough and muscular enough to compete in the baby SUV market against other headturners such as the Nissan Juke and Holden Trax - vehicles which it's taking on in the pricing stakes, too.

But like those, it's a two-wheel drive and not up for any bush driving. This Soul from Seoul is solely for the road.

Unusually, there's only one choice of variant with this Soul, the Si. Inside, Kia has moved away from the smart, standard styling that can be found in its other models and let the designers go to town. The instruments are big and funky, and it's all dominated by the cylinder speakers on either side of the dash, into which the air-con vents are somehow fitted. It's only let down here by a small touch screen - which means a tiny reversing camera - and the lack of sat nav (almost unheard of these days).

Still, the high driving position is topnotch and is the sort of thing attracting more and more drivers to cars to this class.

You get the choice of three steering wheel settings - Normal, Sport and Comfort. As in other Kias, I found Normal was best for suburban driving.

Talking of driving, there's only one engine, a 2.0-litre four- cylinder petrol, and I was in the six-speed automatic which costs $23,990 plus on-roads.

It was smooth as you like between the endless Perth traffic lights, only protesting if I really put the foot down. But it's a much better auto than the Trax and Ford EcoSport I tried last year, which were constantly searching for the right gear.

Behind me there was easily room for two big adults and in the smallish boot there's a secret under-floor compartment with dividers, where you can store all sorts of bits and bobs.

Meaning, once again, I'm sold on a Kia. And I'd happily keep it permanently parked in my driveway to divide opinion among the neighbours.

VERDICT
My kids will tell you I can't sing or dance but with this car you've got added Soul. It's a "look at me" vehicle that should appeal to quirky youngsters or older "dudes" who don't have to ferry kids and their gear around any more.

KIA SOUL
Model: Si
Price: $23,990
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Outputs: 113kW/191Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Thirst: 8.4L/100km

COMPETITORS
TOYOTA RUKUS
Model: Build 1
Price: $27,990
Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol
Outputs: 123kW/224Nm
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Thirst: 8.8L/100km

NISSAN JUKE
Model: ST
Price: $24,590
Engine: 1.6-litre four-cylinder petrol
Outputs: 86kW/158Nm
Transmission: CVT
Thirst: 6.3L/100km

FORD ECOSPORT
Model: Ambiente
Price: $22,790
Engine: 1.5-litre
Ouputs: 82kW/140Nm
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Thirst: 6.5L/100km

The West Australian

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