Promoted by an urban-grunge pack of hip-hop inspired hamsters on television, internet, auto shows and movie houses, Kia
's 2012 Soul
takes a fresh look at a common geometric design. These dancing rodents add a dimension of swag to a vehicle already dripping with inside-the-box styling. Soul
subscribes to a new millennial trend of front-wheel-drive, moderately-priced five-door transports sporting tall, squared-off exteriors teamed with four-cylinder power; turning the conventional wisdom of an aerodynamic silhouette on its head. Scion's xB ($16,300) and Nissan's Cube ($14,980) are two similar eco-priced boxers, with Soul
delivering the lowest 2012 starting price: $13,900. Kia
does the competition one better sporting one of the industry's longest powertrain warranties at ten years/100,000 miles.
All offer pricing close to subcompact wagons, but with more room and eclectic styling. The popular trio continues tickling the imagination and garnering stronger sales than a wave of smaller European-inspired micro three-door hatchbacks such as the 2012 Smart fortwo.
Entering the fray in 2009 as a 2010 model, Soul
undergoes mid-cycle tweaking in 2012 with several notable upgrades including enhanced horsepower in both four-cylinder motors and substantially upgraded transmissions helping to boost fuel economy.
The well-equipped Kia Soul
! (pronounced Kia Soul
EXCLAIM), our tester for the week started at $19,600 and with no factory or dealer options on board, ended at a respectable $20,350 including $750 destination charge. Kia
offers two other 2012 trims, a base selection, simply called Soul
and a mid-grade Soul
+ (pronounced PLUS) starting at $16,300 with manual transmission. A sport trim available the first two years is no more.
A revised- for-2012 six-speed manual transmission replaces an outgoing five-speed variant and comes standard in Base and Pus trims. A six-speed automatic transmission, standard fair in Exclaim and optional in the other two trims, is also tweaked for 2012 replacing an aging four-speed format. Kia
offers two four-cylinder engine choices both of which have added oomph: a 1.6-ltier cranking out 138 horses (16 more than 2011) in Base models and a 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivering 164 horses (22 more horses than last season) standard in + and !.
A relatively diminutive fuel tank holds 12.7 gallons of unleaded regular. Our six-speed automatic coupled with 2.0-liter engine generated very respectable fuel readings of 26 miles per gallon city and 34 mpg highway. The fuel leader is the 1.6-liter cranking out 27/35 mpg city/highway with either transmission, qualifying as the segment's fuel champ.
Standard in all trims: air conditioning, electric power steering, compact disc player, Satellite radio (with three-month complimentary subscription), rear-window defroster, power windows, door locks and side-view mirrors. In addition, an impressive array of safety equipment including side curtain air bags, front seat side-mounted air bags, anti-lock brakes and electronic stability control comes with the price of admission.
Standard only in Exclaim and optional in Plus is UVO, an in-vehicle infotainment system developed in tandem with software conglomerate Microsoft. Not unlike Ford Motor Company's Sync system, UVO (truncated text-talk for "your voice") enables audio voice commands to switch radio station presets and allow cellular telephone interfacing with voice dialing. A premium option package ($2,500), available only in up level Exclaim trims, includes heated front seats, leather seating surfaces, push-button start and new- for-2012 in-dash navigation.
Men, break out the top hats and matching tails; headroom is ginormous. Ladies, beehive hair styling has never been safer. The sky-high roof line also minimizes noggin thumping when entering or exiting. In the overall scheme, Kia
was thinking a HEAD. As official sponsor of the National Basketball Association, the compact Soul
has the high ceiling to accommodate six-foot eight inchers. Good news for Chicago Bull's power forward Carlos Boozer. Rear 60/40 seatbacks fold down semi-flat split once a topside tab gets yanked up. Two adults ride in optimal comfort.
The attractive, two-tone interior (black and tan in our tester) includes semi-soft dashboard materials. For a compact-sized vehicle, the deep set instrument panel is extra-large by comparison with a circular center analog speedometer flanked by three-quarter gauges. Easy-to-catch white backlit numbers contrast smartly with hot red needles. The ignition cylinder is found on the left side of the steering column which adds a manual telescoping feature in 2012. Secondary audio controls and cruise buttons also call the steering wheel home. Soul
includes oodles of small and mid-size storage nooks for electronics and personal items, including the arm rest/ bin between front buckets. Cloth materials blanket the buckets with the top third of the backrest sporting a pattern (impromptu Rorschach blot test here) of flying bats set apart from a solid lower portion. A novelty of sorts is Soul
's answer to the 1970's mood ring fad; except these rings encircle large front door speakers, changing colors every few seconds in concert with the sound system. The smallish, 4.3-inch audio identification and information window also doubles as a feed for the rear-view camera with the transmission shifted into reverse.
Below the vertically-skewed, rounded-cylinder, center info/stereo/ventilation center are dual 12-volt outlets flanking audio USB plugs with lower storage plot for cradling portable electronics. The single-zone ventilation system includes a four-way partitioned push circle flanked by dials monitoring temperature and fan speed.
It's not the quietest of interiors when buzzing down the highway, but this quirky ride was never intended for the luxury-intender market. However, when stopped, little engine idle is perceivable. Relaxed steering along with electronic power steering provides nimble handling when behind the wheel.
Bucking the trend of the past decade of rising belt lines and shrinking side glass, side windows stand tall, proud and prominent. When the sun is intense, expect solar heating dynamics to warm the cabin quickly. The svelte region between C and far-rear D pillars is horizontal and narrow. The lightweight hatch door, with standard wiper, lifts upward via the hinged topside providing decent head clearance. Unlike most conventional crossovers, Soul
incorporates a sharp 90-degree angle where the flat roof meets the top hatch. Long, thin capital D-like vertical tail lights affix to side fenders with no wrap around to the hatch door.
The overhang behind the rear wheels is minimal, adding to the hip-to-be-square rear. Light Emitting Diode (LED) illumination adds to a jewel-like ambiance under eagle-eye headlight housing solely in Exclaim trims. Soul
's front end features Kia
's signature grille with an elongated bow-tie like design. Blinker bands adorn decent-sized side-view mirrors for added safety on the road. Strap-like handles adorn all four side doors.
's design could easily be categorized as polarizing and skewed to a younger demographic, most impromptu, unsolicited feedback was positive. In fact, a 70-something passerby in Naperville commented confidently, "It's cute." While Kia
's first U.S. assembly plant in West Point Georgia began production in 2009, Soul
is assembled on Kia
's home turf of South Korea. 2012 Kia SoulPrice as tested:
2.0-liter four cylinderHorsepower:
26 mpg city/34 mpg highwayLength:
63.4 inchesCurb weight:
2,778 poundsPowertrain warranty:
10 year, 100,000 milesAssembly: