2012 Kia Soul ! HD Video Review

EVEN IF YOUR FRIENDS ARE NOT HAMSTERS, CONSIDER LIKING THIS VIDEO. WE ASSUME YOU ARE POPULAR AND WE NEED THE PUBLICITY.

The world is full of plain, ordinary and boring looking stuff. Houses, logos, appliances don’t always get much personality.  We settle for the uninspired. The late Steve Jobs despised the mundane.  You should too because insanely great design is all around us.

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For those who believe vanilla is best for ice cream, there’s the Kia Soul. It’s not plain.  Certainly not ordinary.  Definitely not boring.

Silhouettes like Soul’s tend to polarize.  Boxy yet wedgey, the shape shouldn’t appeal to everyone but curiously my experience finds that it’s widely embraced.  Those who don’t understand it can buy a Corolla, it’s a free country.  It’s easy to get into a base model at $14,650 perhaps explaining its popularity with fluffy rodents.  The particular Exclaim model I’m driving at the Austin, TX press event is $20,350 with destination.

Kia has only recently become a mainstream player so here’s something surprising; In 2011 Toyota sold 17,017 copies of the Scion xB.  In that same year, Kia moved 102,267 Souls, a volume that caught even Kia off guard.

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Full disclosure, one of those is in my garage.  In December my wife Mariko decided it was the car for her and bought a fully loaded 2012 Exclaim, nearly identical to the car in the video (she opted for the Premium package though).  It’s not an endorsement, like any vehicle you need to assess your budget, needs, and emotions.  For us the Soul worked well, simple as that.  As always I’ll do my best to be objective.

Refreshed After Just Two Years

Soul started Kia’s design revolution back in 2009.   Largely credited to American Mike Torpey (formerly of GM), its design is based somewhat on the idea of a wild boar with a backpack and famously sold by another furry critter.  Boars with backpacks?  Hamsters with cars and iPods?  Time to check the water supply at Kia.

BTW, at the end of the video there’s a brief design analysis with a few little tidbits.  I think the bold yet restrained design is both original and well done especially for an economy car.  Makes you wonder how they’re going to redesign the next generation…

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Different on the Outside, Different on the Inside

For 2012 Kia has extensively refreshed this car, the least of which is subtle new front and rear fascias. Exclaim features projector headlamps and LED accent lights up front, and LED tail lamps.  These look great at night.  Exclaim also gets unique 18-inch wheels with low profile tires.

Exclaim and Plus models (or “!” and “+” as Kia tags them) get the larger of two new engines.  The 2.0-liter four-cylinder (shown below) makes 164 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 148 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm.  There’s better fuel economy too (EPA rates Exclaim at 26 city, 34 highway).  Both new transmissions are six-speeds, replacing a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic.  The auto-box has a manual mode and a silky feel to the console lever.

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Base models (plainly called “Base”) come with a 1.6-liter engine.  At 138 horsepower (123 lb-ft at 4,850 rpm) it‘s direct injected.  The 2.0-liter isn’t.  Both are available with an optional engine start/stop system that shuts down the engine while waiting at stoplights, not available on the top Exclaim model.

Fleeting Soul

Quick as a loose hamster (and they all escape their cages don’t they?), 0-60 happens in a tick under eight seconds with the 2.0-liter.  Soul has a good amount of spunk off the line but mercifully isn’t twitchy.  The new drivetrain is noticeably more refined this time around. Soul feels a little bit like a compact crossover since it rides a skosh higher than most hatchbacks and wagons. While the body doesn’t wallow in the corners, its ride height keeps it from being a sports car in the corners.

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Kia adds sound insulation to Soul’s cabin for 2012 making it quieter at highway speeds now.  The suspension is set very firm, not for those looking for a cushy ride. I suggest a test drive on a rough road, especially if you’re considering the ! with its less forgiving low-profile rubber. Electric power steering is well weighted and Soul reacts immediately to input but lack of road feel makes for a slightly disconnected feeling.  Big windows offer up excellent visibility.

Surprisingly Roomy

The interior is familiar with a smattering of material upgrades. Surfaces look and feel good considering the low price, with a hard but rubbery feel on much of the surfaces.  I’m pretty sure this car is alone in having hound’s-tooth seat trim.  The leather wrapped wheel now adjusts for rake and reach, buttons and knobs have quality operation, and the gauge cluster is clean and clear.

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Soul’s signature disco light speakers get a bit more refinement for 2012. The big news for music lovers is a premium Infinity sound system which is easily best in class.  With a very accurate sound stage it absolutely rocks.  The HD Radio tuner sounds great, its clarity reveals the grainy digital sound of Sirius satellite radio.  This sound package is standard on the ! and an option on the + model.  I highly recommend checking the option box.

Soul gets the Microsoft based UVO system.  It can read incoming text messages, makes many electronics voice active and adds a rear camera display.  I find it relatively simple to call up tunes loaded on the 1 gig jukebox and making phone calls just by saying “call home”.  It’s easy to compare UVO with Sync but the Ford system is more powerful.  Still, UVO is a good place to start. It’s standard on ! and part of a $900 audio package with +.

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Go with the Premium package on ! models and there’s keyless ignition, auto climate control, heated leather seats, and easy to use navigation.  It gives Soul a touch of luxury though unfortunately it eliminates UVO and the HD radio tuner.

Take the Whole Litter

There’s more room in Soul than you might expect and nowhere is that better experienced than the back seat.  Leave your hat on cowboy, there’s loads of head and legroom.  Tall friends will choose it when carpooling.  Width wise there’s enough room for three average sized adults.  They won’t be charging their phone in back though, no power port (there’s one in the cargo hold though). Drinks get stashed in the doors since there’s no other cupholders or folding armrest.

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With the split folding seats dropped Soul’s square space is very cargo friendly. Tall though not deep, it’s a five packer in the TP trunk test.  Useful storage is found under the load floor with compartments for umbrellas and jumper cables. Underneath it is a tire repair kit, no spare.

Uniquely Unique

Why did Mariko end up with a Soul?  Well, after 12 years with a plain white station wagon, she wanted practicality, features and personality. She was able to get the luxury touches she wanted and pay less than we budgeted.  That makes me very happy.  Some advice to those who haven’t committed to a spouse yet- Find one that’s frugal.

It is very odd reviewing a car I own (though she drives it 98 percent of the time).  So far her biggest gripe is that the fuel tank is on the small side.  She rarely hits the highway so city driving reduces range and causes her to fill up more often.  She also has noticed the very direct steering and driving dynamic.  The slightly higher ride height is a plus. So is the 10 year, 100,000 mile powertrain warranty.

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Soul would seem to compete with Scion xB, Toyota Matrix, Nissan cube and maybe VW Golf, but none of those were on Mariko’s radar screen.  In size and utiilty it’s closest to the Volkswagen Tiguan. For her, it beat out that, plus Jetta Sportwagen, and Subaru Outback because of the design and bargain price.

Soul is appealing because it’s not like anything else out there, even the Scion to which it’s compared most. The xB is sold as a blank slate for customization while Soul brims with attitude straight out of the box (pun intended).  It’s full of personality, very versatile and value priced.  In short, it makes people smile.  All the money in the world won’t buy you love or happiness, but just a little can get you Soul.

FULL GALLERY BELOW. ALL STILL IMAGES PROVIDED BY KIA. NOTE THAT THE LEATHER SEATS SHOWN AND BROWN PAINT COLOR ARE NOT AVAILABLE IN THE US AT THIS TIME.

17 Comments

  1. kenwenzel says:

    The SOUL! reminds me of the PT Cruiser. Just a little shorter. It has aged well as far as the exterior, although Cererbus killed the interior and the car line. You keep coming back to Texas for car reviews it seems. Bring hats!

  2. hiptech says:

    Great review Tom… love the car, Hyundai and Kia in particular. You mention driving range is not so good, what is the fuel tank capacity?

    The 3 biggest issues that I can see is the lack of rear seat armrest (not the worst) and the inability to combine UVO with the Navi & HD that is surprising considering how careful Hyundai/Kia has become at marketing features…

    Lastly, I understand from industry sources the ISG (Idle Stop & Go) is suffering from some development issues. It seems even some high end brands are having problems with vehicle “shudder” at start-up. It may be good a thing you purchased the high end model that doesn’t include it yet…

    All in all I think the fact this car is several years old and still looks fresh is testament to Kia’s advanced (non-boring) styling. As I have said before, Hyundai/Kia is the new Honda. They may not be there yet but they’re closing fast.

    Congrats on the new addition and looking forward to hearing on the long-term the follow-up…

    • TV says:

      Yes, those three issues might bother someone but if there’s anything I’ve deduced over the years is that no car is perfect and there’s always almost a compromise. I was exceted about the HD tuner so a little disapointed to hear we weren’t going to get it. Oh well…

      I am hearing the same thing about ISG. Have to talk to the Kia folks to see if it’s true, I’m a little behind on stuff this week. Really need to post about the wife’s Soul as a long term post too.

  3. Txlonestar says:

    Just got to test drive one at the 2012 Houston auto show. Have to say I am hooked! Being a Texan I obviosly want a truck more than anything. Gas prices however just dont seem like they will go down anytime soon. And until the small trucks start getting mpg at least close to this one it just is not in the cards. I loved the higher seating, good visibility, decent ride, decent cargo room and wonderful leg room. I am just shy of 6′ and a quite hefty 280+ so comfort is a big thing for me. My one big question would be is do you think the leather seats offer more comfort than the cloth? My mother has a CR-V with cloth and the seats feel the same, meaning a bit flat. This isnt a real problem for the cars main short drive commuting use. This is Texas however and long road trips on less than wonderful pavement is a reality more often than not. Thanks again for such good and honest review. I will be looking forward to your long term report on this great soulful wagon!

    • TV says:

      Welcome to the site! Have to admit I don’t remember a big difference between the seat comfort and shape. My wife sure likes the heated seats, Seattle has been colder than usual this winter. I will say that many people have commented on how good the leather looks, especially the contrasting stitching. Certainly not Mercedes grade cowhide, but not the hard cheap stuff either. Overall, makes the car look a full class more expensive than it is. Best of luck in your car shopping!

  4. pete-ness says:

    Tom, great review and video as usual. While the 2012 LED taillights do look classy, I liked better the old design with the clear-housing. And the new larger fog lights with the Exclaim model makes the front end more cluttered looking. That said, this is still a unique vehicle with a cohesive design end to end (unlike some of the recent Japanese designs that look like different committees worked on each halves).

  5. FinalBlue says:

    Man, those Hyundai’s and Kia’s sure are great! Yep, not a single negative thing I can say about them. Their design is flawless, the best I’ve EVER SEEN ON ANY CAR EVER.

    What’s that? Most of their looks will age horribly? Pfff, who cares? As long as my eyeballs are entertained RIGHT THIS SECOND, then my purchase is justified.

    /End Rant

    Tom, what’s the deal with the 3 strange “comments” (the ones that seem to just be links) right below mine? I’ve noticed them on a few of your other videos as well.

    • TV says:

      When someone links to the post, that happens. Not sure why, I’m looking into it.

      There is no perfect car. Stiff suspension? Reduced feedback from the tiller? Polarizing design? Not everyone is going to like Soul. But you have to admit it’s surprising they sell over five times as many Souls as xB.

      Hard to know what car will look good 20 years from now. Personally I feel Soul has a good shot at being one that will age well simply because it’s different.

      Purely anecdotal, I had my wife’s at the station the other day to shoot the end of the story, everyone thought it was a test vehicle. 300 people work at KING TV, I can gauge the vibe of a car by the number of them that stop by my desk and ask about it. I had six people ask me about Soul (all positive), one short of the Audi A7. FYI, they especially liked the Moss paint.

      Now Soul is hardly a sleek Audi but even I find it surprising that people warm up to it like they do. I tacked on a little bit of design analysis at the end because I know about it. Something I’d like to do with every car but many times we don’t get an opportunity to get the information.

      Glad you enjoy the Hyundai/Kia reviews FB. Don’t be a fan boy! Feel free to comment on the other cars too. / : ^ )

      • FinalBlue says:

        What? I think it’s hardly surprising that the Soul is selling more than the xB. The xB, in its current state, has a myriad of problems that keep it from selling respectable numbers.

        • TV says:

          Yes but xB has the Toyota marketing machine and whole lot more dealers. Also, I know you’re a HUGE kia fan, but there are many people who still believe the brand is not top tier. Twice as many? I could see that, but six to one is something.

        • FinalBlue says:

          The xB has better marketing than the Soul?

          Kia’s latest hamster commercial has ~14.5 million youtube views.

          The closest thing to an xB commercial I can find on Scion’s page has just under 1 million views.

          Commercials aside, I think part of the reason why the Soul is so popular is because it’s an inexpensive, reasonably fuel efficient car with many crossover-like characteristics.

          • TV says:

            I’m saying that Scion has done an enviable job marketing to the elusive younger generation and that they have a pile of money to do it with. So in that regard it’s surprising xB sales have dwindled down as far as they have.

            That said, the Hamstar ads are brilliant (especially the first two which are packed with symbolism). All I have to say when someone does not know what kind of car my wife bought is “it’s the hamster car” and EVERYONE knows what I’m talking about. Hopefully people don’t buy simply because of a commercial though.

            Your assessment is spot on and why Mariko bought it- low price, fuel efficient, crossover attributes. But it’s also the content. For those very reasons you bring up, a friend of mine is now looking for one but can’t find it equipped the way ours is. The ! with premium package is very hard to find. Not sure why.

  6. [...] interested. We bought one as well and there's a small part about that at the end. Here's the link- 2012 Kia Soul ! HD Video Review drivencarreviews.com Cheers! [...]

  7. Ken says:

    Great review! l love the design and everything, not too crazy about the 5 speed auto tranny, it needs to be a 6 speed, but for a city run about is perfect. KIA has more great looking design cars than any other car companies right now. No wonder Hyundai sales has surpassed Toyota’s for the first time in Asia last year! More power to them!

    • TV says:

      It is a six-speed automatic and manual now. The outgoing manual is a five-speed and old automatic is a four-speed.