What's New for 2012
The 2012 Kia Soul arrives with a number of notable upgrades, including more powerful and fuel-efficient engines, new six-speed transmissions and revised steering. Styling has been updated inside and out, and there are a number of new technology options.
There are a lot of adjectives we could use to describe the 2012 Kia Soul, but "boring" isn't one of them. In fact, this quirky-looking compact hatchback gets even more interesting this year, with a number of upgrades that start with refreshed exterior styling. The general look remains, but there are new details like flashy LED running lights on the ! model. Yes, the whimsical "!" and "+" trim levels live on.
The interior gets similarly subtle updates, most of which bolster the Soul's already impressive lineup of available features. The steering wheel now telescopes, the materials are a bit nicer, the optional seat heaters get an additional setting and a navigation system is offered for the first time. As always, these items benefit from Kia's user-friendly controls.
More noteworthy are the Soul's mechanical upgrades, including a direct-injection 1.6-liter engine that's both more powerful and more fuel-efficient. The 2.0-liter four-cylinder has also been given a 22-horsepower shot in the arm, and both engines benefit from new six-speed manual and automatic transmissions.
The result is better fuel economy, though it still falls short of some other compact hatchbacks. Still, a new Eco package available on automatic-equipped models should help save fuel, featuring stop-start technology that automatically shuts down the engine when you come to a stoplight and restarts it as soon as you lift your foot off the (now firmer and more reassuring) brake pedal. Another change concerns the steering, which is now electrically assisted.
The 2012 Kia Soul's blend of style and practicality -- not to mention its affordable price tag, long list of standard and available features and 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty -- make it one of our top choices. Only if cargo capacity is a top priority would we suggest checking out the Scion xB. And if fuel economy or handling are at the top of your list, there are a number of other similarly priced small hatchbacks that might work out better, including the Chevy Sonic and Ford Fiesta. The Nissan Juke is also similarly sized, priced and equipped if you're considering one of the pricier Souls. But for a car that's both funky and practical, it doesn't get much better than the Soul.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Kia Soul is a four-door hatchback available in three punctuation-inspired trim levels: base, + and !.
The base model's list of standard equipment includes 15-inch steel wheels, power locks and mirrors, air-conditioning, cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, a trip computer, a tilt-and-telescoping steering column, and a four-speaker sound system with CD player, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. When equipped with the optional automatic transmission, the base Soul gains keyless entry, rear privacy glass, cruise control, a height-adjustable driver seat and Bluetooth phone connectivity.
Automatic-equipped base Souls can also be fitted with the 1.6 Eco package, which adds fuel-saving features like a stop/start system, low-rolling-resistance tires and an upgraded battery, along with additional items that include 16-inch alloy wheels, power mirrors, illuminated vanity mirrors and additional speakers.
Besides the Eco package's fuel-saving features (available separately), the Soul + includes all the extra items above along with heated mirrors, dash-top and center console storage bins, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and some metal-look interior trim. The Audio Upgrade package adds automatic headlights, a rearview camera, the Uvo hands-free electronic interface and an eight-speaker Infinity sound system with HD radio and tricolor speaker lights.
The top-of-the-line Soul ! adds 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, LED daytime running lights and taillights, a sunroof (optional on Soul +), houndstooth pattern two-tone upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and the Audio Upgrade package. The Premium package adds keyless ignition/entry, leather upholstery, heated front seats, automatic climatic control and a navigation system with real-time traffic.
Powertrains and Performance
The front-wheel-drive Kia Soul is offered with two different engines. The base Soul gets a new 1.6-liter four-cylinder that produces 138 hp and 123 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard (includes a hill holder) and a six-speed automatic is optional. EPA mileage estimates for the 1.6-liter engine are 25 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 27 mpg combined regardless of transmission choice. These numbers rise to 26/31/28 with the 1.6 Eco package, which features low-rolling-resistance tires and auto-start/stop technology similar to that found in hybrid powertrains.
Soul + and ! models get a gutsier 2.0-liter four-cylinder that puts out a healthy 164 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. The Soul + gets the same transmission choices as the base model, but the Soul ! is automatic only. In Edmunds performance testing, a Soul ! went from zero to 60 mph in 8.8 seconds -- a strong time for this class. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 23/28/25 with the automatic and 24/29/26 with the manual (or if equipped with the Eco package).
Standard safety equipment for all 2012 Kia Soul models includes four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability control, traction control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. Hill-start assist is also now standard across the lineup.
In Edmunds brake testing, a Soul ! came to a stop from 60 mph in a strong-for-its-class 120 feet.
In government crash tests, the Soul earned an overall score of four stars (out of five), with four stars for overall frontal impact protection and five stars for overall side impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Soul its highest score of "Good" in its frontal offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Just because the 2012 Kia Soul is long on style doesn't mean it's short on practicality. With its modern look and pronounced center stack, the passenger cabin offers a nice balance between form and function. Upgraded materials and additional sound deadening for 2012 give the interior a higher-quality feel, while details like the available two-tone houndstooth upholstery give the Soul more flair than similarly priced competitors.
Gauges and controls are well-placed and intuitive to use, even when fitted with new high-tech options like the voice-controlled Uvo infotainment system that allows you to control your cell phone, iPod and more with voice commands. The optional Infinity audio system's lighted speaker trim rings that flash to the beat of the music are admittedly a gimmick, but they're still kind of fun.
One of the side benefits of the Soul's boxy design is the abundant head- and legroom, even in the backseat. Behind those rear seatbacks are 19 cubic feet of cargo room, which grows to 53 cubic feet with both sections of the 60/40-split rear seatbacks folded down. While these numbers are on par with many competitors, folks who need maximum schlepping capacity should compare them to the Scion xB's cavernous 70-cubic-foot cargo hold.
With significantly more power on tap, driving the 2012 Kia Soul gets more enjoyable and less anxious when merging onto a freeway. However, while engineers managed to extract some extra oomph out of the 1.6-liter engine, we still think most buyers will be happier with the gutsy 164-hp 2.0-liter, especially since the difference in fuel economy is so small. Both the new six-speed manual and automatic transmissions are a noticeable improvement over the units they replace.
In terms of handling, the Soul doesn't offer the sort of zippy nature found in the Chevy Sonic or Ford Fiesta, but it isn't a soft snooze mobile like the Nissan Cube. Its new steering for 2012 is also more responsive than before and lighter in parking lots, while its brake pedal has a firmer, more reassuring feel. Minor tweaks to the suspension have improved ride quality somewhat, though models fitted with the admittedly sharp-looking 18-inch alloy wheels still feel harsh over bad pavement.