Acid Green paint is an additional £490 over the OTR price of £17,500 for the as-tested Soul 1.6 CDRi manual

Acid Green paint is an additional £490 over the OTR price of £17,500 for the as-tested Soul 1.6 CDRi manual

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Bigger and again designed primarily for the US - California in particular - does the second generation Kia Soul work just as well in European markets?

According to Kia Motors Europe (KME), the segment in which its new crossover competes will expand from the 380,000 sales of 2013 to 600,000 by 2015. Just over a quarter of customers are British, too. Unlike some rivals, the Soul remains front-wheel drive only. KME's research found that while buyers love the semi-elevated driving position and perceived safety advantages of a 4x4, they don't want the higher fuel consumption and taxation which come with four-wheel drive.

In the UK and other EU markets, there are two engines. The 1.6 GDi is a 1,591cc direct injection petrol unit which produces 97kW (130bhp) and 161Nm of torque. The more popular choice, as was the case with the first generation car, will be the 1.6 CRDi. This has a cubic capacity of 1,582cc and produces 94kW (126bhp) with 260Nm of torque. Here's something unusual: you can have automatic transmission with the diesel but not the petrol. A six-speed manual is standard for both and the torque converter self-shifter has the same number of ratios. The diesel (manual) weighs in at 1,538kg, a 92kg premium over the 1.6 GDi.

According to official figures the 1.6 CRDi Soul reaches 62mph in 10.8 seconds as a manual or 11.8 as an automatic. Top speeds are claimed to be 112mph and 110mph. Manual versions have Combined fuel consumption of 56.5mpg with CO2 emissions of 132g/km. For the auto, the equivalents are 47.1mpg and 158g/km.

Europe-wide sales of the new model began recently, though the PS series Soul (the first one's development code was AM) was first seen at the New York auto show back in March 2013. As noted earlier, the US is easily the world's largest market for this model, with over 100,000 sold there during most years. The number is going to be big in 2014: read on.

In the US, trim levels are Base, Plus and Exclaim but in Britain, it's Start, Connect and Connect Plus. Two other variants will join the UK market from this autumn - Mixx and Maxx. Kia says they will have "even more extrovert styling and higher levels of technology". Expect 18" alloys, high-gloss black bumpers, 31mm wider wheel arches, LED rear lamps, darker glass and chrome-effect door handles, plus full leather trim for the Maxx.

The US and Canada's Soul is available with two four-cylinder petrol engines: a 130hp 1.6 and a 164hp 2.0-litre. Cars for North America went on sale during the third quarter of 2013 for the region's 2014 model year, with the Korean market launch following last November. All are built at Kwang-Ju (also known as Gwangju) in South Korea. Production at a second site is scheduled for later in 2014 when China's Dongfeng Yueda Kia JV switches one of its Yancheng plants over to the PS series car.

The styling was one of the things which research showed was the main reason for buyers choosing the old Soul so understandably, this was evolved, not radically changed. The wheelbase is 20mm longer and the aged MC platform was replaced by a newer architecture which we first saw when the Hyundai Verna/Accent was launched in 2010. This model, the Soul and the Kia Pride/Rio share not only a platform but a 2,570mm wheelbase.

The longer dimension between the front and rear wheelarches applies to the car itself, with length now 4,140mm and width increased by 15mm to 1,800mm. Height, however, drops by 10mm to 1,600mm. Boot volume is good, rather than great but at 354 cubic litres it's four percent larger than before. Flip the seats and this rises to a far more impressive 1,367 litres.

In the metal, the new model looks quite different from the old, with its size clear at first glance. Kia might says it belongs in the B segment but it's really more B/C - think Škoda Yeti. The doors open wide, there's abundant headroom and you're quite a distance from your front seat passenger, while those in the back sit upright and have lots of legroom as well as an especially clear view out from the large windows.

The dashboard's styling is supposed to remind you of the ripples which spread out when drops of water land on a pond. It might sound contrived but the effect is attractive, and novel. There's certainly a strong circular characteristic to many parts of the interior, but it's not overdone. There are soft-to-the-touch facings on the centre console, instrument panel, and door trims, leather covers the steering wheel and gear knob in all but the base Start, and from Connect trim upwards there's gloss-back finishings for the steering wheel, armrests and other surfaces. And if you liked the glowing coloured rings on the door speakers of the old model you'll be happy to hear they've been carried over.

A real effort has been made to tackle NVH but I have to say, despite all the engineering work, the diesel was (pleasingly) audible, in a way that some rival models' engines are not. What is claimed to be 'liberal use' of expansion foam features, and this replaces the previous block foam in the body's cavities. Officially, interior noise has dropped by just less than three decibels, helped too by a reinforced isolation panel in the cargo area and polyurethane-layered carpet.

Good economy, low CO2, great build quality and highly competitive pricing make for compelling reasons to consider this model, but let's not forget the seven-year warranty/100,000 miles. It comes as standard and is transferable to whoever the car is sold onto. This has helped the brand enormously, with sales up by 11% over the first four months of 2014, though the overall market has risen by 12.54%. But factor in the huge gains made in recent years and then look at how 27,574 cars sold so far this year compares to other makes - Hyundai is on 29,225 but a vastly improved Fiat (+22%) has sold just 23,542 cars, Honda has 21,308 registrations, Renault is on 21,110 (+65% thanks to the Clio & Captur) and while Škoda's sales, at 26,360, might be up by 28.5%, its total lags Kia's.

Britain might be the top market for KME and one of the brand’s best worldwide, but just have a look at what sort of numbers are being racked up in the US. In April, Kia Motors America sold its five millionth vehicle, with the monthly total up 12.9% to an astonishing 53,676, of which 14,403 were the Soul (47,071 for the Ytd) - that’s a monthly record for this car too. If KMA had the capacity at its West Point plant, it would surely be building this model there alongside the Optima, Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe. Brand sales for 2014 thus far total 186,682 compared to 174,488 for the year to end of April 2013.

As with the old-shape model, the current Soul should have a six-year lifecycle with a facelift at around the half-way point - it's likely for 2016 or 2017. A plug-in variant comes before that. This had its global debut at the Chicago show in February. KMA will begin selling the 2015 Soul EV during the third quarter, and the UK importer will launch it in November. Kwang-Ju is expected to have initial annual production capacity of around 5,000 units for the battery-electric.

How to sum up new Kia Soul? It's a pleasing drive, and for buyers with a growing family who also want something that looks the very opposite of a people mover, this is a tempting proposition. Prices range from GBP 12,600 to GBP 21,550.