RO-RO Your Kia Soul Gently Down to Crete

Recently your faithful "Drive...He Said" crew had the stars sufficiently aligned in our favor to be given a KIA's new SOUL sub compact CUV to play with in of all places, Greece. Despite that country's public debt service issues, we are still speaking of the glorious Mediterranean islands chock full of well-heeled Western Europeans and Russians, dropping coin in Rolex boutiques and where 80 foot sloops seem trivial compared to the 300 foot yachts with helicopters  moored in the marinas surrounded by all the white-washed facades. The shipboard helicopters are an absolute must for the magnate's quick getaway back to shore to fly off to the empire's central offices in Geneva.

For all the rest of us rabble, who need to slog it from the  mainland to the veritable paradigms of paradise on earth, we tried a more affordable form of transport for person and vehicle. It is the RoRo. In this case make it a RoRo Pax. The Pax signifying up to 1500-2200 passengers which these huge ocean going ships can carry .  The acronym, RoRo, signifies the Roll On / Roll Off method of moving some 600-900 cars and heavy trucks on and off board, which don't even get chained in place, unlike you count the parking brake. Pax clues the capacity for more than 1600 passengers.

With two tickets in hand, one for passenger one for car, we rolled our 2011 KIA Soul onto the Minoan Lines hi-speed ferry "Festos Palace" at Pireaus for the 200 miles voyage south to the big island of Crete. The parking crew, relying on the age old technology of the human eye, in frenzied fashion, expertly directed drivers  into some of the tightest imaginable parking spaces. The boarding and de-boarding of 600 cars was not much less impressive than the conduction of a symphony for the first time.

What is amazing is that Festos Palace (and the Superfast XII taken on the return voyage)  can haul ass. With more than  36,000 tons in tow these high speed super ferries can ford the sea at speeds of up to 35 mph. Four 12-cylinder turbo-diesel engines, connected to electric turbines, generate a total of 90,000 horsepower at 500 rpm.  Suffice it to say that the 200 miles trip from Pireaus, outside Athens, to Iraklion, the chief port city on the isle of Crete, takes just 6 short  hours.

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- The spec of 2011 Kia Soul we were provided had the 1.6L in-line four, which mustered 126 hp.  (For 2012 the 1.6L sports another 10 hp.)  Fuel economy demands get you a five speed manual with taller gearing and little torque available at low engine speeds. The four banger needed to be wound out for sufficient gallop on the Greek motorways to avert a slow-lane stampede of fast moving BMW X5 4.4.s (in a land where they expend $9 per gallon at the pump for black gold).

The Kia Soul benefited from some pretty wide [for segment] rubber: 225- 45  series mounted on  handsome  18" al-alloy wheels. Despite some fairly high steering effort at speed, there is little feel from the Kumho Optimos. The slightly under-sprung chassis was just barely up to the G-forces and wind buffeting developed at a pace of 170 kph (105 mph) on the motorways.  In customary Kia form, the four wheel disc brakes on the Soul offered somewhat feeble initial brake pad bite.

- While "posh" describes the lounges on the Ro-Ro Pax ferries, the same can't be said for that interior of the Kia Soul. Plastics are un-yielding and the switch-gear doesn't have such a substantial feel.  Rattles were starting to develop.  While the seat upholstery is of a sturdy nylon material, money would have better been spent on improved lumbar and thigh support for longer trips, than on the "SOUL" embossing throughout.

The good news is that adult rear passengers in the Kia Soul are spoiled with generous leg room for a sub-compact CAV.  The luggage compartment, which will accommodate a couple of overnight bags, does expand to accept at least one full size suitcase, courtesy of the split-folding rear seat.

- In the competitive European sub-compact market, the 2011 Kia Soul remains an economical proposition. For your estimated "as tested" price of 13,600 Euro, ($17,900 U.S.) you get 4 wheel discs with ABS and stability control, audible park warning assist, power windows, steering wheel radio controls, a sunroof and even I-pod connectivity. To maintain that low bottom line, Bluetooth and cruise control  were conspicuously absent in our Soul's kit.

- To make its mark, the Kia Soul has design expressiveness in spades. Lots of interesting trapezoids and curves here. Outside there are swept back  headlamps, which blend into a "Mini-esque" snout, then onto a high belt-line which rises towards a tapering roof line, finishing with over-sized vertical tail lamps. On the inside the Soul leans towards the circular, whether in the gauge cluster, a dash cover bin,  (where the optional center speaker would reside) and the hanging center stack. Fans of glowing red will especially appreciate the night-time LCD lighting which  bathes the infotainment display and center stack. Thanks to lots of glass, the overall feeling inside the Kia Soul cabin is one of airiness.

Clearly those whose innate selves are hung up on heritage, outre retro design, and a more visceral driving experience will pine for the Mini Clubman. The rest of the world should find a good deal of satisfying essence in the half-as-costly Kia Soul.

Drive..He Said" wishes to express its sincerest gratitude to Kia U.S.A., Kia Hellas, and Mr. Panagiotis Savas, of  P&R Davari,  for the (literally) 11th hour procurement of the test vehicle for this review.


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