FOR some people a compact car that is practical, economical and reliable is just not enough. Some demand a liberal dash of personality.

It is for those demanding folk that the fun-to-drive Kia Soul was created.

Designed to have the charm of the Oxford-built Mini and the desirability of the funky Fiat 500, with the flavour of a 4x4, the Soul has been given a top-to-bottom freshen up for 2012.

A massive hit in the United States, which has taken more than 40 per cent of all sales worldwide, the Korean-built ‘urban crossover’ now offers increased performance with lower fuel consumption and improved emissions, six-speed transmissions as standard on all versions and a boost to interior quality and specification.

Kia says there are two main types of customer – lifestyle buyers aged 18-39 and the young-at-heart aged 45-60, who are downsizing from a larger car.

Priced from about £12,500, the Soul is a five-door, five-seat, front-wheel-drive hatchback, but the key advantage of its unusually high roofline and generous wheelbase is that it gives the interior a whopping amount of space.

Slip in behind the four-spoke steering wheel, with its audio control buttons, and the first thing you notice is the high driving position – a much-loved feature of larger sports utility vehicles and people carriers. The cockpit, with its clear three-dial instrument cluster, is compact and sporty.

Standard specification on all models includes air conditioning, all-round electric windows, remote central locking and six airbags.

The test car, which sat on 16-inch alloys, was powered by a 126 horsepower turbodiesel engine linked to a six-speed automatic gearbox, which replaces the former four-speed transmission. Also available is a new direct-injection petrol engine developing 138 horsepower – up 14bhp on the previous 1.6-litre.

On the move, the Soul is quiet and refined on smooth roads, and keeps its composure well on uneven surfaces.

Safety systems are comprehensive, ranging from electronic stability control to anti-lock brakes. For 2012, these safety measures have been supplemented by vehicle stability management, which uses sensors to detect when one side of the car is on a more slippery surface than the other and then intervenes to stabilise the car and hill-start assist control, which stops the car rolling back on inclines.

Goodies inside include a six-speaker audio system capable of being linked to digital music players or other portable music devices. Further up the range, the hi-fi grows to eight speakers, including a boot-mounted subwoofer and a dashboard centre speaker, powered by an external amplifier.

The revised model offers a choice of two regular trim grades, badged Soul 1 and Soul 2, and two ‘Soul Originals’, the Hunter and Quantum. All versions have Kia’s seven-year, 100,000 miles warranty.

Auto facts Kia Soul 1.6 CRDi ‘2’ Auto

  • Price: £15,795
  • Insurance group: 19 (1-50)
  • Fuel consumption (Combined): 47.9mpg
  • Top speed: 110mph
  • Length: 412cm/162.2in
  • Width: 178.5cm/70.3in
  • Luggage capacity: 12 cu ft
  • Fuel tank capacity: 10.5 gallons/48 litres
  • CO2 emissions: 155g/km
  • Warranty: 7 years/100,000 miles