First drive: Kia Soul

* First impressions of new Kia * Supermini with 4x4 looks * On sale next spring from £11,000...

First drive: Kia Soul

It's always nice to be first and Kia has stolen a march on rivals with the Soul the first of a raft of supermini-sized, 4x4-a-likes coming to the UK.

They all promise space, style, value and something different to the norm.

Expect similar offerings from Citroen, Skoda and Toyota over the next 12 months, with Mini and Nissan expected to join the party before too long.

Kia sees the Soul as its Mini you can have your Soul pretty much any way you like it.

Accessories range from the sublime (iPod connection, navigation system, reversing camera with screen in the rear view mirror) to the ridiculous (flashing lights in the speakers, lairy graphics, headlamp 'lashes').

The temptingly low start price of around £11,000 is exactly that a start price, but you should still get a decent stack of safety and luxury kit in every model.

Kia may also introduce Soul 'collections' that change with the seasons, so with all the personalisation options you shouldn't expect to see another Soul that looks like yours.

What lies beneath

Behind all that glitz and the funky looks lies an enormously practical supermini.

The Soul is a little longer than a Fiesta, yet it offers as much passenger space inside as another favourite faux-by-four, Nissan's Qashqai.

The boot will cope with a decent amount of shopping or luggage, and there are hidden compartments under the boot floor. The seats fold flat easily, too.

As you might expect, you can choose from a range of interior colours and seat fabrics.

Cabin plastics aren't the last word in quality especially the indicator and wiper stalks, and around the base of the seats but at least some thought has gone into making the inside as stylish as the outside. It's a cool and comfortable place to spend time.

When it comes to engine choice there are only two either 1.6 petrol or 1.6 diesel, both with 125bhp and both developments of those found in the Kia Cee'd.

Of the two, we'd pay what will probably be around a 700 premium and go for the diesel.

The petrol could do with a bit more poke and drones a bit on the motorway. On the other hand, the diesel is flexible and reasonably refined with bags of pull.

On the road

Sadly, the rest of the dynamics let the side down. The ride is poor, especially on cars with 18inch wheels, and it can get irritating for anyone in the back.

There's not much in the way of body lean, which is a good thing, but there's not much steering feel, either.

It's a shame really if the ride was less of an issue, this could be a car we'd be willing to, er, sell our soul for!

Kia Soul
Price from: £11,000 (est)
On sale: March
For: Style; value; interior space; personalisation
Against: Rubbish ride; interior quality could be better