Kia’s advertising slogan is ‘The Power to Surprise”. So when people who know about my work in auto journalism saw me roll up in this quirky little box, they asked me what I thought of it, and I could see in their faces they were waiting for me to trash it. My answer? “I love it.” Hey, surprise!
Those who are more in the know about the Soul, this feeling comes as no surprise at all. The Garage’s Founding Editor, Gary Grant was first to get his hands on the 2010 Kia Soul, it’s first year of production. We even took the new Soul out on a soaking wet race track (click for the video). While it’s fun for us in The Garage to reminisce, Kia is having none of it. Fueled by its initial success, Kia has introduced a revised 2012 Soul that is anything but a mild mid-cycle refresh.
The Soul retains its signature look, but for 2012 the front and rear fascias and lighting have been updated for a current, cutting edge look. Our test car, finished in Shadow black offset by chunky 18″ alloys and ultra-cool LED exterior lights gave the Soul a serious, sophisticated look. Kia stylists are to be commended for straddling the fine line between interesting automotive design and design being outrageous for the sake of it. The Kia Soul is definitely the former. The 2012 update is a welcome update on what was already an exceptional, yet practical design. Call me crazy, but I predict in twenty years well-kept Kia Souls will start rolling on collector car auction blocks as entry-level classics.
Inside the Soul, I had to keep in mind this is a car with a base starting price of under $14,000USD. The truth is, the Soul is quite a pleasant place to be. It takes only a quick scan of the controls to know where everything is. The Soul is definitely a car you can simply climb in and go-there is no learning curve. Yes, the Soul is inexpensive, and has its share of hard plastics, but you never get the sense that the car was built to a price, and corners were cut. The Soul’s cabin is easy to live with, comfortable and practical. The contrasting black and tan interior livened things up a bit, but the houndstooth pattern on the seats was absolutely perfect in this car. MINI Cooper owners would likely blush in envy on how Kia cribbed a Scottish design and make it work so well in the Soul.
Kia Soul buyers again have a choice between two engines, both vastly improved from last year’s cars. The base engine is a 1.6L four rated at 138hp, available with either a six-speed manual or automatic. The Garage has sampled this engine in other Kia/Hyundai products and can verify it is indeed a fine engine. Our test car was fitted with the optional 2.0L four, rated at 164hp. Again, buyers can choose between six-speed manual or automatic, but not if you want the top spec Soul. Our 2.0L Soul with the automatic was still an enjoyable ride. Acceleration was spry, the car can turn on a dime, and despite the 18″s and short wheelbase, the Soul delivered a fairly pleasant ride. The Soul lives for carving out downtown streets, but is more than ready for a ride on the interstate.
The Kia Soul is available in Base, + or ! trim levels. Our test car was the !, which comes with an impressive list of standard equipment. In addition to the goodies mentioned earlier, standard is a rear camera display, Infinity audio, Sirius satellite radio, Bluetooth, auto dimming rear view mirror, and power sunroof. Including delivery charges, our 2012 Kia Soul ! rings in at a very reasonable $20,350.
From a car business point of view, what Kia has done here is outstanding. The funky, boxy compact hatchback is not a new concept. The Kia Soul owns this market segment and is driving its competitors out of the market. I still recall my wife telling me how silly I looked driving a Nissan Cube, a slow seller for Nissan who maintains they will keep the car in its line. The Honda Element, the ground breaking car in North America, is gone. The breakout car for Toyota’s Scion, the xB, was emaciated in its quest for a broader audience, and is now concluding its final year of production.
The Kia Soul triumphs for its combination of contemporary yet not fad styling, practicality, more powerful and fuel efficient engines, a dynamic driving experience and, did I mention, bags of style. It is no accident the Soul is literally driving its competition to the grave.