2012 Kia Soul Road Test Review
Kia ups its game in the economy segment with an upgraded 2012 Soul
Scores High: Two new engines improve both power and fuel efficiency. The cabin is generously sized for four adults and it earns excellent crash test ratings. Its standard warranty is one of the best in the industry.
Scores Low: Loud cabin on the highway, with permeating road and tire noise, and poor passing power at speed. The Sport model has been discontinued and the spare tire has been dropped.
Total Car Score Analysis
The 2012 Kia Soul earns a very strong Total Car Score. The Korean car company has a great compact wagon on its hands, and consumers have taken notice. Not only does the four-door arrive with a long list of standard amenities and features (including Bluetooth phone connectivity and a USB port for audio), but its cabin offers abundant head room and plenty of space for passenger in both rows. Yet it retains substantial cargo room behind the second-row seats.
To keep its Soul near the front of the pack, Kia has updated both its engines and transmissions for 2012. Despite a significant increase in power, fuel economy has improved. While the Soul is still far from a performance vehicle, it now has enough power to scoot around town and confidently merge with traffic while carrying a full load of passengers. Notable changes to the exterior include a new front and rear fascia, new outside mirrors and new wheel designs. Lastly, the interior receives a new gauge cluster, a redesigned center stack (with USB and AUX inputs) and a new transmission console.
While the above-mentioned cosmetic changes to the 2012 Soul are the most visible upgrades they are only part of the picture. The heavily revised powertrains significantly alter the driving experience.
Both four-cylinder engines have been upgraded with direct fuel injection, and the results are startling. The standard 1.6-liter four-cylinder is now rated at 138 horsepower and 123 pound-feet of torque, while the optional 2.0-liter four-cylinder has been bumped up to 164 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. Completing the transformation are two new six-speed gearboxes. While the front-wheel drive compact can’t offer sports-car-like thrills, it does feel considerably more responsive, especially with a full load of passengers.
On the road, the six-speed automatic transmission in our Soul Plus does an admirable job of keeping the 2.0-liter whirring happily. The Kia feels quicker around town than on the highway, mostly because aerodynamics start pushing against its boxy platform at higher speeds (and the four-cylinder has a difficult time with the battle). Road noise is pronounced, but expected in this price range.
Electric steering is also new for 2012, and it works well in delivering the proper communication to the driver. The MacPherson strut front and rear torsion beam suspension has been tuned for ride comfort, while the tires were chosen for extended life and all-season capability. Agile is the best way to describe the Soul's handling — though sporty is overstating things a bit. The four-wheel disc brakes, on the other hand, bring the Kia to a stop quickly, with full confidence.
According to the EPA, the 1.6-liter engine with the automatic (or manual) transmission will earn 27 mpg city, 35 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined. The slightly larger 2.0-liter inline-four with the automatic (or manual) transmission will earn 26 mpg city, 34 mpg highway and 29 mpg combined. Opt for the Eco package, and fuel economy is bumped in the 1.6-liter to 29 mpg city, 36 mpg highway and 32 mpg combined. The Eco package in the 2.0-liter delivers 27 mpg city, 35 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined.
Interior Design and Function
Unlike the unconventional interiors often found in this segment, the cabin of the Kia Soul is quite traditional. The driver sits behind a four-spoke steering wheel with a commanding view of the outside world thanks to expansive glass and large exterior mirrors. The primary instrument panel is directly behind the steering wheel, configured with a prominent analog speedometer, tachometer, fuel level and engine coolant temperature gauge. The ignition (start/stop) button is to the right of the steering wheel, just where one would expect it.
The center console is easily within reach of both front passengers, with the audio and HVAC controls located high on the dash, making their operation a breeze. At the bottom of the stack are dual 12-volt power outlets, one on each side of the centrally-mounted AUX/USB inputs. The transmission shifter (PRND +/-) is mounted on the floor, between the front seats, just in front of the twin cup holders and a padded armrest which doubles as a storage compartment. There are large map pockets, with water bottle holders, on each door.
Both driver and front passenger sit on individual bucket seats (the driver's seat features six-way positioning) while the second row of passengers (there are belts for three occupants) sit on a split 60:40 bench. As expected, the second row folds nearly completely flat, without the need to remove the head restraints, to reveal a large cargo area with additional storage below the rear floor — the automaker has provided a compartmentalized divider under the solid panel to improve utility.
In practice, all controls are easy to read and use. The large central speedometer also houses a small multi-function display with transmission gear indicator, odometer, trip information and outside temperature. Bluetooth is standard on all trim levels, and hands-free connectivity is accessible via steering wheel-mounted controls.
Primary Features and Options
The 2012 Kia Soul is offered in one body style with three trim levels. Kia names them Base, Plus (+), and Exclaim (!). Last year's Sport trim has been discontinued.
All models arrive with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, power locks, a tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel and other convenience features. Base models are fitted with 15-inch steel wheels and hubcaps, but an upgrade to the Plus model will swap them for 16-inch alloy wheels, heated exterior mirrors, additional storage in the cockpit, upgraded audio and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. The range-topping Exclaim models have premium two-tone upholstery, body-color bumpers, automatic headlights and 18-inch alloy wheels.
An optional Eco package, with either the 1.6-liter or 2.0-liter engine, adds low-rolling-resistance tires, engine start/stop when the vehicle is station, and a stronger battery to deliver improved fuel economy. Other options include audio upgrades and a Premium Package with keyless entry/ignition, leather upholstery, automatic climate control, navigation and heated front seats.
It’s Perfect For…
The Soul is one of Kia's best-selling automobiles — the automaker moves more than 10,000 copies out of showrooms each month. Most owners tend to be younger and seeking a vehicle with utility, fuel economy, safety and a low cost of entry. Customers appreciate its tall styling, fun design and youthful demeanor (Kia offers a long list of dealer-installed options to personalize and customize its Soul).
Many consumers purchase the Soul because it presents itself very well against the competition. Not only does it arrive nicely-equipped for less than $20,000, but Kia offers an impressive 100,000-mile warranty — delivering much-needed peace of mind for those who intend to keep it for many years. Of course, those on the fence are also easily swayed by its crash test scores — it earned a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS.
Vehicle Tested: 2012 Kia Soul Plus with 6AT
Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $17,300
Options on Test Vehicle: Molten paint (included), Black Soul Logo Cloth (included), Audio Package ($900), Auto-dimming mirror with compass & Homelink ($350), Power Sunroof with Tilt and Fog Lights ($800), Destination ($750).
MSRP of Test Vehicle (including destination charge): $20,100
The manufacturer provided Total Car Score this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
Photos Courtesy of the manufacturer.