2012 Kia Soul: What Is It
Since 2009, the Kia Motors has introduced a new car or crossover into just about every vehicle segment in the U.S., and leading the Korean automaker's coming-of-age product blitz was the Kia Soul back in 2010. This quirky and fun-loving five-door econobox was aimed directly at Generation Y, and buyers gobbled them up helping launch Kia as a major player in the automotive industry. Just two years after its introduction, the 2012 Kia Soul looks to make sure that it remains ahead of the competition with revised powertrain line-up, updated styling and improved cabin technology. While commercials with pudgy, dancing hamsters might be enough to get our attention, Kia dropped off its updated Soul for this weeklong road test and review to show us that the car is more than just a marketing gimmick.
2012 Kia Soul Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Assembled in South Korea, the 2012 Kia Soul is available in three trim levels (Soul, Soul+ and Soul!) with a starting MSRP of just $13,900. The car used for this review was the mid-grade Soul+ which starts at $17,300 when equipped with the automatic transmission, and it added a handful of worthwhile options that raised the as-tested price up to $19,845 including destination. Despite all the big changes made to the 2012 Soul, the MSRP saw only a slight increase over the 2011 model, and it is still considerably less than it key competitors from Scion and Nissan. Like many other B-segment cars, this as-tested price for the Soul creeps dangerously close to some well-equipped compact cars, but few, if any, C-segment cars (let alone hatchbacks) have the uniqueness or personality as this car.
2012 Kia Soul Review: What It's Up Against
Kia has placed itself in a great position to dominate the subcompact hatchback market with the redesigned 2012 Kia Rio aimed at more conventional hatchbacks and leaving the updated 2012 Kia Soul to go up against more unique hatchbacks such as the Scion xB, Nissan cube and Suzuki SX4. The Soul might be considered a niche car, but looking at its sales figures in 2011 proves that this car is definitely one of the top mainstream hatchbacks on the market. Last year, the Soul saw an increase in year-over-year sales by more than 50 percent, and with more than 100,000 Soul models sold, it was the second-best selling Kia in 2011. Even better, while Soul is flying off dealership lots faster than they can keep up with, the Soul's key rivals, the xB and Cube, were both down in 2011 by 16.4 percent and 37 percent, respectively. As this trend continues, one of the only hindrances to buying a new Soul might be the high demand for this car has lead to limited selection at Kia dealerships. The success of the Soul has spilled over to other Kia models like the Sorento, Optima and Sportage which helped Kia to a record year with 495,492 total cars sold in 2011.
2012 Kia Soul Review: Exterior
What's New for 2012:
- revised front end with new fascia, hood and headlights
- new optional LED taillights
- sportier rear fascia
- new wheel options
How It Looks:
By only tweaking small details, the 2012 Kia Soul gains a significant level of visual refinement while keeping the same overall attitude. Still present are the upward angled beltline and body creases as well as the blacked out A-, B- and C-pillars that give the roof a cantilevered appearance, but the front and rear ends of the Soul have been updated to better complement the car's look. The biggest change up front was a new fascia with larger, more sculpted fog lights and a different lower intake insert that matches the grille. Speaking of the grille, Kia's signature "tiger nose" design cue loses some chrome and grows slightly in size, and this styling element has also been mimicked inside the headlights which now feature a dual-beam halogen treatment. From the rear view of the car, Kia added a new fascia and redesigned taillights that no longer feature the amber turn signal lens, and on the top-of-the-line Soul! model, the car uses LED taillights. Kia even made some styling changes to areas that most consumers will never see: under the hood. One of our complaints about the 2010-2011 Soul was how unfinished the engine compartment looked, and for 2012 Kia gave the car a simple, yet effective, plastic engine cover.
2012 Kia Soul Review: Interior
What's New for 2012:
- updated styling with improved cabin materials
- optional Infinity premium audio system
- optional UVO infotainment system
- optional navigation system
How It Looks and Feels:
Kia obviously aimed to make as many improvements as possible inside the 2012 Kia Soul without getting rid of any of the features that distinguish this car from its competitors. This means that the optional light-up speakers and "Soul" lettering in the seats remain while smaller details are improved such as adding a leather-wrapped steering wheel now standard on Soul+ and fine tuning the gauge cluster a bit by swapping the engine temperature and fuel level gauge readouts; the driver is also given a smaller and more stylish shift lever on models with the automatic transmission. Aside from these new driver-focused updates, the rest of the five-passenger cabin is updated with improved cabin materials and softer touch points including the aforementioned "Soul" name now gracing the door panels in a textured lettering. Contrasting accents have also been added to the steering wheels, center console and door panels. One thing that definitely has changed inside the 2012 Soul is the spacious feeling that passengers are given as well as the ample cargo volume. With the rear seats up, the Soul can hold up to 19.3 cubic feet of cargo and with the seats folded flat, available cargo space swells to 53.4 cubic feet - almost as much as a Sportage.
2012 Kia Soul Review: The Extras
The 2012 Kia Soul+ is already well equipped in base form, but the car used for this review was also equipped with a handful of upscale options. New for 2012, the Soul now offers the Microsoft-developed UVO infotainment system as a part of a surprisingly affordable package delivering voice recognition, Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, a backup camera display and a one gigabyte hard drive for audio files. In the case of the Soul+, the $900 Audio Upgrade Package adds UVO as well as a seven-speaker, 350-watt Infinity audio system featuring the Soul's exclusive color-changing speaker lights. Our test car also had the $800 Power Sunroof and Fog Light package and $95 carpeted floor mats.
2012 Kia Soul Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
What's New for 2012:
- two new engines with improved power and fuel economy
- new six-speed manual and automatic transmissions
- low-cost Idle, Stop and Go (ISG) option
How Does It Go:
Although the 2012 Kia Soul is offered with an all-new, direct-injected 1.6-liter inline-four as the base engine, this test car came with the tried-and-true 2.0-liter engine that has been reworked to produce more power and fuel economy than the same engine in the 2009-2011 Soul. With an output of 164 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque, this is gain of 22 hp and 11 lb-ft isn't as noticeable as the vastly improved fuel economy numbers that now return an EPA estimated 26 miles per gallon in the city, 34 mpg on the highway and a rating of 29 mpg in combined driving (up from 24/30/26 mpg in the 2011 model). Other than the more advanced engines, a big factor in this impressive fuel economy is the addition of more modern transmissions. A six-speed manual transmission replaces the old five-speed gearbox and is standard on the Soul and Soul+, but the new six-speed automatic, which this test car had, is up two gears compared to the 2011 model and can be equipped on all three trim levels of the Soul.
2012 Kia Soul Review: How It Drives
Like the rest of the car, the 2012 Kia Soul was even given noticeable improvements out on the open road. While the handling and ride quality still give the Soul a fun, confident ride, the biggest improvement to the 2012 Soul was in an attempt to reduce the road noise entering the cabin. This noise reduction was achieved by adding a thicker instrument panel insulation, vinyl seals on the door trim, A-pillar sound-absorbing pads and an exhaust silencer. As for the Soul's performance, the new engine and transmission are more than enough to make this 2,778-pound Soul tester feel quick, agile and better balanced compared to other cars in this class that are solely focused on either styling OR fuel economy. As quiet as the cabin is, it is obvious that the Kia Soul is still designed to be more of an urban runabout especially when factoring in the car's short wheelbase that can lead to a bouncy ride and the electric power steering which feels jerky at highway speeds, but in the city, the Soul is probably one of the easiest cars to drive, park and maneuver through traffic. City driving is also where the Soul's new ISG system is most advantageous, and although we didn't have the chance to test out the ISG system for this review, we have driven the Soul Eco in the past and this low-cost ($500) stop-start feature is smoother than systems used on some non-hybrid models including the Porsche Cayenne and Panamera.
Pa2012 Kia Soul Review: Is It Safe
In addition to styling, fuel economy and comfort, the 2012 Kia Soul is also among the top in the segment when it comes to safety thanks to an overall four-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and being named a 2012 Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). These impressive ratings are due to an abundance of standard safety features in all 2012 Kia Soul models that include six airbags, active front head restraints, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, traction control, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), Vehicle Stability Management (VSM), Hill-start Assist Control (HAC) and tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
2012 Kia Soul Review: Final Thoughts
While the 2012 Kia Soul might be one of the most affordable hatchbacks on the market, it's funky, outgoing appearance means that "basic transportation" no longer equates to a boring, uninspired car. With its expressive styling, versatile cabin and fuel-efficient powertrain options, the updated Kia Soul now gives buyers even more to love from this urban-focused hatchback. The best part of the new Soul is that you don't have to be in Gen-Y to love this car. It could be just as loveable for small families or empty-nesters thanks to its abundance of passenger and cargo space... and the fact that they don't all come in Alien Green with pudgy, dancing hamsters behind the wheel. Those looking to stick with a subcompact that is a little more conventional or mainstream looking can always check out the Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta or even Kia's new-for-2012 Rio, but when it comes to buying a new car with a great mix of practicality, styling, technology and value, it is impossible to overlook the 2012 Kia Soul.
2012 Kia Soul Review: Pros and Cons
- more refined and fuel efficient powertrain options
- improved cabin technology options
- quieter interior at highway speeds
- high demand lessens choices or extends waiting periods
- delay on release of ISG option
Kia provided the vehicle for this review
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross