Kia’s quirky little sales hit known as the 2012 Soul is visually fraught with a vast array of style, design and coloring choices which in a logical world should never, ever be construed as “fashion forward.” For instance, our test 2012 Soul in the “!” trim level (yes, that’s what they call it) came to our door in an eye searing lime green hue known as “Alien.” Just imagine turning up the contrast all the way on your old crank-dial color TV as a kid while watching Kermit the Frog on “The Muppet Show” and you will have some idea as to how this downright insane exterior color choice looks.
But somehow, Kia’s Soul is so sub-zero hipster cool that we wound up appreciating this extroverted and otherworldly paint color which on other cars would have appeared laughable. Or in Kermit’s case, croakable. So what started all of this fashionable madness for boxy compact cars? Yes, we know that Nissan took a swing at this market with the Nissan cube but unfortunately the latest version looks like they let Roger Rabbit design it as it really only looks at home in a place called Toontown. Which is, of course, fictional.
To find the impetus for boxy becoming the new black when it comes to cars, one only need look back to the first generation Scion xB which parent company Toyota originally thought would not sell well in this country. Much to the befuddlement of product planners, however, the xB sold very well far outpacing the original xA which was supposed to be Scion’s volume model. The 2012 Scion xB we are testing here against the Soul is the second generation variant which featured rounder edged exterior styling that apparently caused the oft mentioned but mainly mythical Gen-Y new car buyers to flee from the brand en-masse. We are still not sure if that wasn’t the xD’s fault.
Now, the 2012 Soul doesn’t quite look like a refrigerator box on wheels as did the first Scion xB but it was the first car that people ever bought from Kia because of the way it looked and not just for the low price and warranty. Truly, the Soul was a turning point for the now red hot Kia motors so much so that for 2012 it was given an all-new engine and transmission, upscale feeling optional leather, in-dash navigation and even the excellent UVO in-vehicle infotainment system which we have raved about before in the Optima.
But before you rush down to your local Kia dealer to cut them a check for your Soul (only Satan can give that back to you and he doesn’t take checks), don’t count out the surprisingly more affordable and slightly more usefully utilitarian 2012 Scion xB. It may not be as boxy as it used to be but we still think this Scion can haul plenty of boxes for you. Come on people, it’s either this or a U-Haul Truck.
Exterior Design Comparison
Although much of the exterior design for the Kia Soul was complete before ex-Audi designer Peter Schreyer took over at the South Korean automaker, many of his signature touches adorn this vehicle like the aggressive razor blade front grille and highly stylized headlamp designs. The Soul also doesn’t just stick to the “boxy is good” formula what with the upsweeping side character lines, the attractive vertical tail-lamp design all the way down to details such as the LED lights used as “positioning lights” according to Kia. Hmmm. Doesn’t Audi use a lot of LED lighting front and back in most of its models? We do wonder where Kia got that idea.
The 2012 Scion xB isn’t ugly but suffers from a frumpier appearance much like a woman on the beach wearing an oversized Mumu. Quite simply, the 2012 Scion xB’s exterior design looks like a cover up meant to hide something societally unacceptable like a hunchback or Paris Hilton’s singing voice. Also, if you want your xB to really look cool then you will need to set aside a bit of your budget to spend on dealer installed options like alloy wheels or an oversized spoiler mounted above the rear hatch but it is possible to go a bit overboard here as the xB can become pricey if you have the strength of will akin that of a slutty contestant on “The Bachelor.” Overall, the Kia Soul needs no extra adornment so it wins this battle.
(Winner: 2012 Kia Soul)
While some may lament the demise in 2012 of Kia’s “Sport” version of the Soul what with its retina and taste searing red interior, we thought that using such a garish tone of “streetwalker red” was an utterly hideous way of ruining a perfectly good car’s interior. The last time we saw any new car with an interior that color it was a mid-1970’s Buick wagon with all vinyl seats that your legs stuck to in the hot summer months during an era when “The Steve Miller Band” was still relevant. And while the “!” model we drove still boasted offbeat houndstooth (sort of looks like a chainmail design) seat fabric and taupe plastic interior trim, the overall look is much classier especially when you order the leather seats.
Thanks to the availability of this very high quality leather new for 2012, our test Kia Soul also managed to feel much more upscale than the more utilitarian ambience one experiences in the 2012 Scion xB. Leather is not available with the xB and the dashboard features an odd mix of analog gauges with a large digital speedometer whose number readout was hopefully meant to be playfully retro. Actually, it looked like something you would find on the screen of your very first Atari gaming system that only had one game—Pong.
But what about cargo hauling ability and passenger comfort? As for head, elbow and legroom the Soul and xB are very evenly matched affording even 6 footers sufficient room even in the back seat. Cargo volume in the Soul with the rear seats up is 19.3 cubic feet and grows to 53.7 when you fold the rear seats down. The xB offers 11.9 cubic feet behind the second row but then surpasses the Kia after the second row folds down to offer a voluminous 69.9 cubic feet. So, the xB makes a better moving van but the Soul is nicer to move around in as a passenger.
(Winner: 2012 Kia Soul)
Safety, Value and Features
Both the 2012 Scion xB and 2012 Kia Soul are “Top Safety Picks” according to the crash test authorities at the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). Both models have standard front, side and curtain airbags as well as a full arsenal of traction aids and braking assistance systems. The one small difference is that the 2012 Kia Soul comes with hill-start assist which keeps you from rolling backwards when stopped on an incline. But, honestly, that only helps if you live in San Francisco. Otherwise, this all means that these two new affordable and efficient compact cars are just the ticket for first time drivers. (Winner: Everyone)
Value for Money, Features and Fuel Economy
The Scion xB comes only one way and that’s very well equipped all for just one non-negotiable sticker price that in 2012 comes to $17,030 before hitting any dealer installed options. Actually, that will wind up being a necessity as all 2012 xB models only come equipped as standard with cheap looking plastic wheel covers that will need at least $1,000 worth of TRD alloys to set right. Scion also offers a number of audio system upgrades as well as the option of in-dash navigation or even a rear seat DVD entertainment system built into the front seat headrests. Standard xB features include air conditioning, power windows, locks/mirrors, Bluetooth, USB/iPod integration and a 160-watt Pioneer AM/FM/CD 6-speaker audio system.
Our test 2012 Kia Soul ! stickered at $19,600 but came as standard with stylish 18-inch alloys, a 360-watt Infinity AM/FM/CD audio system, USB/iPod integration, Bluetooth, a power moonroof, Sirius satellite radio, power everything, Kia’s UVO infotainment system, a back-up camera as well as a 6-speed automatic which impressed us given the fact that the xB’s automatic only has four forward gears, although that is better than “three on the tree” we admit.
Optional extras on our Soul included the $2,500 Premium Package which really dressed up the interior of this model with heated leather seats, in-dash navigation, automatic climate control and push button start for a grand total of $22,100. The 2012 Soul may cost more than the Scion but you not only get more features but you also wind up with a new car that doesn’t feel like it was designed through strict adherence to the economy car interior rulebook. The Soul offers a feel good factor to owners that the xB can’t match. (Advantage: 2012 Kia Soul)
Driving Impressions and Winner!
Driving Impressions Comparison
Given Kia’s sometimes spotty history when it comes to razor sharp driving dynamics, it came as quite a surprise to us just how much fun that the 2012 Soul really is to drive. Admittedly, it isn’t a Mini Cooper S or Fiat 500 Abarth but remember that the Soul is cheaper and a whole lot bigger inside. And even with a relatively small 2.0 liter 164 horsepower/148 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder resting under the hood, owners will rarely find themselves wanting for more zip thanks to a rev-happy and joyfully sonorous engine noise.
The Soul’s new 6-speed automatic also keeps the 2.0 liter right in the sweet spot when the power is when you need it but relaxes mechanical thrumming at cruising speeds. Perhaps the transmission, a 26 city/34 highway EPA fuel economy rating and a relatively low 2600 pound curb weight all help make the 2012 Kia Soul a very green new car proposition. And not just when it’s painted “Alien Green.” The Soul has a 12.7 cubic foot gas tank and runs on regular unleaded as does the 2012 Scion xB.
As our test 2012 xB came equipped with a rather geriatric 4-speed automatic that keeps the engine spinning at higher RPMs but it is a proven unit that will no doubt be built to survive any catastrophic nuclear winters, thereby ensuring you won’t have to deal with the fragile American icons Joan Rivers, Kenny Rogers, Sylvester Stallone and Cher since everyone knows that they are now only held together with cardboard, silicone, botox and staples. The Scion does also get a 14 gallon fuel tank and runs on regular unleaded.
The 2012 xB gets 22 city/28 highway and we averaged 23.4 miles per gallon in contrast to the Soul’s excellent 27.8 miles per gallon. But it’s the smooth, swift way that the Soul now goes about its mechanical business that sets it apart from the xB and its somewhat agricultural sounding 2.4 liter 158 horsepower/162 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder which needs more sound deadening to match the Soul’s slickly Honda-like motor.
Now, neither the Soul nor the xB were designed to be the slot car racers you played with as a kid but there is definitely a steering, ride and handling advantage found in the soul. The Kia likes to take tight corners quickly (or at times when you feel like you are going fast) and instead of teetering to one side like the xB, the Soul hunches down for greater stability. The Soul’s steering also felt tight, communicative and yet another step up for Kia. Scion, it appears, needs to update the xB. Can you say rematch?! (Winner: 2012 Kia Soul)
Which Box Would We Prefer to Live In? (The Conclusion)
Be it in UFO Alien green or Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin orange (not a real color), we would always pick the 2012 Kia Soul over the 2012 Scion xB. Sadly, the once unique and economical anti-style statement on wheels that started it all has grown fat and cheap feeling much like Elvis did after making the film “Viva Las Vegas” and for that matter recording the song.
Who is to say, though, if Kia will mess up the Soul when it eventually gets replaced with an all-new model someday? Well, considering how well the Optima, Rio, Sorento and Sportage all turned out we aren’t very concerned about it. But if you are, by all means buy yourself a new 2012 Kia Soul. It really is better than ever.
(Winner Overall: 2012 Kia Soul)