2012 Kia Soul Review and Prices

Last Updated: May 13, 2011

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2012 Kia Soul Buying Advice

The 2012 Kia Soul is the best car for you if you understand what Kia means when it bills this four-door hatchback as an “urban passenger vehicle.”

The 2012 Kia Soul gets a pair of more powerful and more fuel-efficient new engines, new transmissions, and some styling tweaks. The changes constitute a relatively quick update to a car just two model years old but one that’s attracted enough free thinkers to become Kia’s No. 1 seller. Soul treads just inside the weird barrier crossed by other boxy compacts, such as the Scion xB and Nissan Cube. Its cute, tall-roof styling is by comparison mainstream but just off-beat enough to sate the individualist. Base-price range is a reasonable $14,000-$20,000 or so.  And performance should now be a selling point thanks to improved powertrains that boost fuel economy by some 10 percent, to 27/33 mpg city/highway for the bulk of the 2012 Soul line.    

Should you buy a 2012 Kia Soul or wait for the 2013 Kia Soul? Buy a 2012 Soul if your aim is a roomy new-age hatch with decent performance, fine fuel economy, and good value. The 2012 Soul also wears the styling that’ll carry this design generation to its conclusion around model-year 2015 or ’16. Wait for the 2013 Soul if you’re itching for more power and believe Kia might add a turbocharged model.

2012 Kia Soul Changes back to top

Styling: The 2012 Kia Soul styling changes are confined mostly to a subtly revamped nose and tail. The hood is elongated to accommodate the new engines and the front and rear bumpers are slightly reshaped. LED daytime running lights accompany new headlamps and LED light clusters dress up the taillamps. Earth-toned hues called Canyon and Moss join the paint choices.

Soul’s general silhouette and dimensions are unchanged. This remains square-themed four-door wagon that’s not as long overall as the typical compact car but far roomier inside thanks to upright seating made possible by a roofline nearly as tall as that of the average compact SUV. Flared wheel arches lend a dose of masculinity absent in many small hatchbacks, though the big windshield gives Soul the automotive equivalent of a tall forehead.

There’s a handy 19.4 cubic feet of cargo room between the hatch and the rear seatbacks. Fold the seatbacks and a generous 53.4 cubic feet of cargo volume is at your disposal. To Kia’s credit, Soul’s dashboard design is wholly orthodox, with a simple array of easy to use gauges and controls.   

The 2012 Soul lineup returns four models: the base Soul and the Soul+, Soul!, and Soul Sport. Principal styling differences are confined to wheel sizes: 15-inch steel wheels on the base Soul, 16-inch alloys on the Soul+ and 18-inchers on the Soul! and Sport. In addition, the Sport has unique body-colored exterior trim and standard fog lamps and for model-year 2012, all but the Soul Base model gain new outside mirrors with integrated turn signals. Kia says it also will continue to offer special limited-edition 2012 Souls with specific trim items on a region basis.

Mechanical: The 2012 Soul’s powertrains go from hidebound to fully contemporary. Two four-cylinder engine choices remain and while their displacement is unchanged, both are of advanced new internal designs.

The Soul base model again comes with a 1.6-liter but it now has direct fuel injection, a precision technology that introduces fuel directly into the cylinders to minimize fuel consumption and exhaust emissions and maximize power. Output increases to 135 horsepower and 121 pound-feet of torque, up from 122 and 115, respectively (think of torque as the force behind acceleration, horsepower as the energy that sustains momentum).

The other members of the 2012 Soul lineup retain a 2.0-liter. It doesn’t get direct fuel injection but revisions boost horsepower to 160 and torque to 143; that’s up from 142 and 137, respectively.

Just as significant are the 2012 Soul’s improved transmissions. Gone are the antiquated five-speed manual transmission and four-speed automatic. With transmissions, the greater the number of gears the greater the opportunity to extract power and improve fuel economy. The 2012 Soul advances to a six-speed manual and six-speed automatic. The manual is standard on the 2012 Soul Base and Soul+ models. The automatic is optional on those models and standard on the ’12 Soul! and Soul Sport. This marks the first time the Base version – the least expensive Soul -- is available with automatic transmission.   

Aside from its let’s-party styling, the 2012 Kia Soul remains quite conservative beneath the skin. It has a cost-conscious beam rear axle rather than the better-handling but more expensive independent rear suspension found on some other 2012 compact cars such as the Mazda 3, Ford Focus, and Honda Civic. Kia says the 2012 Soul+, Soul!, and Soul Sport trims get added chassis and engine dampers to better filter out noise, vibration, and harshness. The 2012 Soul Sport model carries over with a firmer, handling-tuned suspension. 

Despite its compact-SUV airs, the ’12 Soul does not offer all-wheel drive. Instead it uses conventional front-wheel-drive, which, by massing the powertrain over the tires that also propel the car, emphasizes wet-surface traction and interior space efficiency over sporty handling. Kudos to Kia for fitting every Soul with front and rear disc brakes; some rivals have less effective rear drum brakes. The full suite of dynamic safety features, including antilock brakes and antiskid stability control, also are standard on all 2012 Souls.  

Features: Kia is the kid-brother brand to Hyundai, the South Korean giant making big strides in U.S. sales on the strength of flashy new styling, great fuel economy, and especially value pricing. Kia shares those attributes and they’re evident in the 2012 Soul’s generous array of standard features.

Every model comes with air conditioning, power windows and locks, tilt steering wheel, external temperature display, variable intermittent windshield wipers, and 60/40 split/folding rear seatbacks. USB and auxiliary input jacks also are included, though you have to order the optional accessory cable to achieve full iPod and MP3 control via the audio head unit or steering-wheel controls. All but the base Soul model come with Bluetooth hands-free mobile-phone connectivity, dual 12-volt power outlets, and tweeter speakers.

An Infinity premium audio system is standard on Soul! and Soul Sport models and optional on the Soul+. It includes a subwoofer and illuminated speakers in a rainbow of colors that can be set to pulse to the music or furnish mood lighting.

New for 2012 Soul! and Soul Sport models is the UVO/Microsoft hands-free communication and infotainment system that allows voice commands for audio and mobile-phone functions. It includes a 4.3-inch color dashboard screen that also is the display for a rearview camera.

Soul! and Soul Sport models also are available with an optional premium package that includes heated front seats, pushbutton ignition, and automatic climate control. The package replaces the standard cloth upholstery with leather and supplants the UVO/Microsoft kit with a full navigation system. 

2012 Kia Soul Prices back to top

Prices for the 2012 Kia Soul were not announced in time for this review but expect a nominal increase to a range of roughly $14,000-$20,000, before options. (Base-price estimates in this review include the manufacturers’ mandatory destination fee; Kia’s fee for the 2011 Soul was $695.

Expect the 2012 Soul Base model to start around $14,000 with manual transmission and around $15,100 with automatic.

Estimated base price for the 2012 Soul+ is $16,700 with manual transmission and $17,800 with automatic. The 2012 Soul+ will include all the Soul Base-model equipment, but add the 2.0-liter engine and include cruise control with automatic transmission. The 2012 Soul+ will also have a steering column that telescopes as well as tilts, plus a leather-wrapped shift knob and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio- and cruise-control buttons. Extra cabin storage bins and sunvisors with vanity mirrors and map lights are other Soul+ upgrades over the base Soul.

Estimated base price for the 2012 Kia Soul! is $20,000; it’ll include all the Soul+ equipment, plus automatic transmission, a power sunroof, the Infinity audio and UV0/Microsoft systems,  carpeted floormats, and its own houndstooth upholstery inserts.

Kia for model-year 2011 offered the Soul Sport at the same base price as the Soul! model and could do the same for the 2012 models. Confirmed is that the 2012 Soul Sport will again build on the Soul! by adding the sport suspension and unique exterior trim, plus red-trimmed cloth seats, metal-finish interior accents, and an enhanced gauge cluster.

Included in any Soul value equation is Kia’s generous warranty. Coverage is 5 years/60,000 miles bumper-to-bumper and 10/100,000 powertrain. This coverage is matched by Hyundai, though the parent-company includes roadside assistance for 5 years/unlimited mileage while Kia’s roadside assistance is for 5 years/60,000 miles.

2012 Kia Soul Fuel Economy back to top

The new powertrains bring notable gas-mileage gains for the 2012 Kia Soul. Kia says the 2012 Soul Base model will earn EPA fuel-economy ratings of 28/34 mpg city/highway with both the six-speed manual and six-speed automatic transmissions. By comparison, the less-powerful 2011 Soul Base model came only with a five-speed manual and was rated 26/31 mpg.

The 2012 Soul+, Soul!, and Soul Sport models will earn EPA ratings of 27/33 mpg with both the manual and automatic transmissions, Kia says. Their less-powerful model-year 2011 counterparts earned a 24/30-mpg rating with either of their less advanced transmissions.

2012 Kia Soul Release Date back to top

The 2012 Kia Soul goes on sale in late summer 2011.

What's next for the 2012 Kia Soul back to top

Kia rightly pegs its emerging identity as a design-oriented up-and-comer to the model-year 2010 launch of the off-beat Soul. It was followed by redesigned versions of the Sportage compact crossover SUV, the Optima midsize sedan, and most recently the Rio subcompact sedan and hatchback. All are eye-catchers and one reason Kia and its parent Hyundai enjoyed steady sales growth through the depths of the recession.

Changes to the 2012 Soul promise to help sustain that momentum by going beyond the usual exterior freshening to include genuine improvements in performance and fuel economy. They also cement the heart of the Soul lineup to the conclusion of this design generation in model year 2015 or ’16. Kia will continue to filter special-trim-edition Souls into regional markets, and it could accelerate the infotech offensive begun with the UVO/Microsoft system by adding additional on-line and smartphone applications.

The only potential change during the current Soul lifecycle would seem to be the possible introduction of a turbocharged model. Kia does offer the Optima and Sportage with a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder of more than 270 horsepower that presumably would fit into the Soul and create a hot model no direct rival now matches. Whether costs associated with a turbo model would violate Kia’s price ceiling for the Soul and whether there’d be enough demand to justify its development are key questions.

Otherwise, the sales success of this first-generation Soul appears to have validated Kia’s approach of a little wagon that’s hip but not alienating and the next generation seems a good bet to continue that theme. Expect even more technology, even-more fuel-efficient gas engines, and possibly a gas-electric hybrid model.

2012 Kia Soul Competition back to top

Scion xB: The Soul is not only a visual anomaly, it’s a sales irregularity as the only school-of-box wagon to enjoy continued healthy demand. The granddaddy of the genre, the Honda Element, was discontinued after model-year 2011 and the future of both the Nissan Cube and Scion xB is far from certain. The xB from Toyota’s youth-oriented Scion division is in fact the only one of this ilk to thus far survive into a second generation. The 2012 xB will continue the basic design brought on line for model-year 2008, and it’s arguably the best of the breed. It matches the Soul for passenger accommodations and beats it for cargo space. It’s a surprisingly refined and enjoyable driver, too, though not as fuel-efficient as the Kia or Nissan. For model-year 2012, the xB’s only engine should remain a 2.4-liter four with 158 horsepower and 162 pound-feet of torque and ratings of 22/28 mpg with the five-speed manual transmission and 22/28 with the four-speed automatic. Expect the 2012 xB to start around $17,100 with the manual transmission and around $18,200 with the automatic.

Nissan Cube: Nissan went full-goofy with the model-year 2009 introduction of the aptly named Cube. It’s wantonly weird: a squat box with a bulldog-in-sunglasses front end, an asymmetrical rear-glass treatment, and the option of a shag carpet dashboard appliqué. It’s smaller inside and out than the Soul or xB, and less comfortable overall. It drives quite well, though, with lively maneuverability, a sufficient 122 horsepower, and choice of a six-speed manual (25/30 mpg) or continuously variable automatic transmission (27/31). Expect the 2012 Cube to start around $15,500 with manual transmission and around $18,000 with the CVT.

2012 Kia Soul Next Steps