2012 Kia Soul+ Review by Carey Russ
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS
• SEE ALSO: Kia Buyers Guide
A "mid-cycle product freshening" seems to be part of the life cycle of every car line, and that can be anything from minor trim changes to fairly significant alterations. The Kia Soul enters its third year for 2012, and gets its freshening.
This freshening takes advantage of recent changes at Kia and parent Hyundai to improve drivetrains and cabin electronics. Interiors have been upgraded, and safety features like Vehicle Stability Management (VSM) and Hill-Start Assist Control (HAC) added. Trim levels are standard, + (Plus) and ! (Exclaim); the Sport is no longer offered.
No worries as the two engines available are both new to the Soul, with more power and improved fuel efficiency, which is also helped by new six-speed manual and automatic transmission. The base engine is now a 1.6-liter, 138-horsepower four-cylinder with direct fuel injection, an increase of 16 horsepower. The + and ! get a 2.0-liter four with 164 hp, up from the previous 142. Later in the model year an "Eco Package" with "Idle Stop and Go" (ISG) will be offered. Similarly to what hybrids do, it stops the engine when the car is stopped, as at a traffic light, and automatically restarts when the driver's foot is taken off the brake pedal. It should improve city mileage.
Even the base Soul is well-equipped, with a rear defroster and wiper, air conditioning, Sirius-ready AM/FM/CD/MP3CD/auxiliary input of your choice audio, a tilt-and telescope-adjustable steering wheel, a 60/40 split folding rear seat, and power windows, and door locks. The + upgrades the equipment level, although many of those features can be had in option packages for the base model. Ditto the difference between the + and the !, which is fully-equipped with an Infinity audio system, the Microsoft-developed UVO infotainment/telematics system, rearview camera, and more, including optional navigation system and leather.
I've just spent a week with a well-optioned Soul +, options being the Infinity audio, UVO telematics, and backup camera that comprise the "Audio Upgrade Package", a tilt-and-slide glass sunroof, and carpet floor mats. The new engine and transmission make the car smoother and a little quicker, with no bad effect on fuel consumption. With its high style and unique character, the Kia Soul is more than just another small five-door hatchback. It can do nearly anything that a similarly-sized front-wheel drive crossover can, but with a demeanor that will appeal to a very different set of people. It's meant for the MP3 (and younger) generation, but it still works for those of us to whom "soul" means Motown and Stax/Volt.
APPEARANCE: Kia wasn't going to mess with a good thing, so the Soul's refresh is to details only. New bumper fascias, headlights, taillights, mirrors, and wheels are on the menu this year. The Soul ! gets the most change, with projector headlights with LED accent lights and LED taillights. The regular Soul and Soul + still benefit from the other changes, which enhance the car's character. It's arguably the best implementation of the "box it came in" school of design, with its tall stance visually lowered by the bulging fenders and lower body sides. There's a definite face at the front, from the large, bright headlights, small upper grille and hood badge, with the dark trim around the lower intake acting as a goatee. Character lines that rise toward the rear, and the slight slope of the roof give a jaunty appearance. It's cute without being annoyingly so, and still looks fresh.
COMFORT: There's as much fun style inside as out, but not at the expense of function. Hey, "fun" is part of "function"… The Soul's interior is as visually interesting as its exterior, with varied shapes and materials, and even color-changing rings around the speakers in the doors with the upscale Infinity audio system fitted to my car (standard in the !). But it's also eminently functional, with head- and leg-room galore, even for rear passengers. Brightly backlit instruments can be easily seen in any light, and windshield glare is a non-issue. In the +, everything is synthetic except for a leather wrap on the steering wheel rim and shift knob. The wheel is manually adjustable for both tilt and reach, and has cruise, audio, and Bluetooth® phone controls.
The upright, high-eyepoint seating position is similar to what would be found in a small crossover, but the crossover wouldn't be as much fun. Driver's cushion height adjustment is a plus. All models have connections for external audio players, both via jack and USB port. The "Audio Upgrade Package" now includes the UVO infotainment system with HD Radio™ technology and a rear-view camera, display on screen at the top of the center stack, as well as the Infinity audio system with subwoofer and external amplifier. The rearview camera is a good safety addition, and the sound from the system is first-rate. Storage is far more than adequate, with pockets and bottle holders in all doors, a small cubby in the IP, and a large glovebox. The rear seat back folds flat with a 60/40 split for a long cargo floor when necessary. There is some compartmented storage beneath the load floor. Under that, in my test car anyway, was a fix-a-flat kit although there appears to be enough space for a space-saver spare tire, a much better choice.
SAFETY: All Soul models have active front headrests, seat-mounted front side, and full-length head curtain airbags, antilock brakes, electronic stability control, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, hill-start assist, vehicle stability management, and a tire-pressure monitoring system. The unibody structure features a central safety cage with front and rear crumple zones and side-impact door beams.
RIDE AND HANDLING: The Soul's suspension is typical for a small car, independent MacPherson struts in front and a torsion-beam axle in the rear. That design helps to maximize interior space, and its soft but well-damped calibration gives a comfortable ride and nimble handling. The electrically-assisted power steering give a light touch, but not too light. Additional soundproofing has made its way into various places in the car over the years, for a quieter interior.
PERFORMANCE: More hamsters, no extra feeding! No matter which model, engine and transmission have been significantly upgraded, as have transmissions. The + and ! use the 2.0-liter engine, now with an additional 22 horsepower for a total of 164 (at 6500 rpm). Torque is up from 137 to 148 lb-ft maximum (at 4800 rpm), with plenty in the midrange and lower for quick acceleration when needed. Use of a six-speed transmission further improves both performance and economy, with a wider spread of gear ratios and smaller steps between them. My test car had the automatic. No complaints, shifting was quick and gear choice was spot on. As in many other cars today, there is an "Eco" button that remaps the electronic throttle response to require more foot travel for any given effect. This is supposed to, and usually does, result in a slight improvement in economy. I used that mode except when I needed maximum acceleration on short highway onramps. EPA mileage is listed as 26 mpg city, 34 highway. I saw 26 with mostly city and secondary road driving.
CONCLUSIONS: A useful mid-cycle freshening gives the Kia Soul, well, more soul.
2012 Kia Soul +
Base Price $ 17,300
Price As Tested $ 19,845
Engine Type DOHC aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing on both camshafts
Engine Size 2.0 liters / 122 cu. in.
Horsepower 164 @ 6500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 148 @ 4800 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Wheelbase / Length 100.4 in. / 162.2 in.
Curb Weight 2778 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower 16.9
Fuel Capacity 12.7 gal.
Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires P205/55 R16 89H Nexen CP622
Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc
Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / semi-independent torsion beam axle
Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed 26 / 34 / 26
0 to 60 mph 8.0 sec
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Audio Upgrade Package - includes: UVO in-vehicle entertainment system with HD radio, rear camera display, Infinity audio system, center speaker, subwoofer, external amplifier, speaker lamps $ 900
Power tilt & Slide sunroof with from foglamps $ 800
Carpeted floor mats $ 95
Destination charge $ 750