Can a Kia be a premium product? In the UK, some of its models are certainly now priced that way. After spending some time with the Inferno edition of the Soul, I see no reason why Mini and DS3 buyers shouldn’t be tempted by it.

The Soul is now in its last year of life, the second generation model will, I hear, have its debut at next March’s New York auto show (that car’s codename is PS and the current model is AM, if you’re interested), with an EV version to follow in 2014. It does seem hard to believe that the current model has been with us for just over four years now, though it was first seen in concept form at 2006 Detroit show.

While the US has always been the car’s largest global market – 93,356 sold there for the year to the end of September, helping the Kia brand to its 25th consecutive monthly sales record – the Soul is pitched differently there. In the US, it’s the brand’s second best seller but here it’s only number seven behind the cee’d, Picanto, Sportage, Rio, Venga and Sorento respectively.

Kia Motors GB sold a mere 1,079 Souls in the first half of this year according to the SMMT data that I examined but take into account the cost of this model: my test car, for example, is priced at just under £19,000. That’s a lot for a B-segment model, let alone a Kia. Mini buyers regularly pay far more than that for a car that’s admittedly better to drive, but let’s be honest, Countryman apart, no Mini is anything other than a 2+2. The Soul, on the other hand, has a big boot and loads of legroom and headroom front and back. I should add that the Inferno sits at the top of the range – the cheapest Soul costs only £12,500.

Kia has done a good job of keeping this car fresh in its relatively short lifecycle. First, we saw the arrival of a mid-life facelift at the New York motor show in April last year, with a smooth new 1.6-litre petrol engine replacing an older unit of the same capacity, while the former five-speed manual and four-speed automatic gearboxes were swapped for six-speed units in each case. Then at last month’s Paris show there were two minor changes: an updated Kia logo appeared on the tailgate, with a dark chrome-effect ring added around the grille.

I do find it interesting that Kia makes a point of pushing this car at younger buyers here in Britain – no doubt the Venga and Rio are meant to appeal to older folks. You’d be surprised to see a retiree at the wheel of the brightly painted Inferno edition that I was given to test, especially when the Tornado Red paint was overlaid with tattoo-style dragon graphics. I found myself liking this car for its unapologetic in your face looks especially when there has been effort to get the details right for the Inferno package: there are also black ‘petal’ 18-inch alloys, silver roof rails and dark glass on the rear windows.

The Ferrari red paint extends into the cabin too. You also get multi-coloured speakers in the doors – these change colour as you drive along and you can switch settings so that they throb in time to the beat too. Sounds like a gimmick you might tire of but I didn’t over the course of a week at least – in fact, the novelty of having an ever changing sound and light show in your car was kind of fun. On the point of interior lighting, I found one fault with the Soul which astonished me: there is simply no way to dim or brighten the instrumentation. I checked the handbook, searched high and low for a switch but no, there is none.    

This might be a pricey car compared to certain Ford and Vauxhall rivals but there’s a lot of gear for the money. The standard fit list extends to automatic air-conditioning, cruise control, rear parking beepers, heated front seats, electric folding and heated mirrors and electric windows in all doors. There also iPod and Bluetooth connectivity and MP3 compatibility, while the USB/AUX slots provide the inputs for an external amplifier to power the eight-speaker hi-i system. I was pretty impressed by the quality of the sound too and realised why the first time I opened the boot: there’s a subwoofer back there.

I saw an average of 44mpg from the torquey, 126bhp 1.6-litre diesel engine (the official Combined cycle number is 57.6mpg but I did a lot of stop-start driving and foot to the floor motorway miles). The car’s top speed is said to be 112mph and the 0-60mph dash takes 10.3 seconds, according to the manufacturer.

The CO2 emissions are 129g/km, which puts this car in VED Band D and that also means a free Road Fund Licence in your first year. As far as insurance goes, the Inferno is in group 19 and your service intervals are every 12 months or 12,500 miles. Then there’s that trump card which comes with every European market Kia, the seven year warranty which automatically transfers to subsequent owners. I simply don’t understand why Kia’s rivals don’t match it as it’s clearly something that has enormous appeal to the majority of new car buyers.

I gave the Soul Inferno back still pondering my original question: could you call this a premium brand car? Well, like the Land Cruiser which I recently and reluctantly returned, you don’t see many of these – the Inferno edition at least – and to many people, £19,000 isn’t a lot to pay for a B-segment hatchback.

Might let you make up your own mind as to whether or not any Kia can be considered posh. I don’t think it really matters, when we live in a Britain where the 3 Series and C-Class are so popular that each outsells the Polo and Clio (those SMMT numbers again). That people will now readily cross-shop Kias with BMW-developed cars just proves how far the brand has come in the public’s perception. And with the UK now Kia Motors Europe’s top market, it would seem that the Brits are in the vanguard of an ever-upwards sales and image trend for this brand.

Author: Glenn Brooks