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2012 Kia Soul+ Ride and Review By Thom Cannell

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2012 Kia Soul

By Thom Cannell
Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

Author’s Note: I have made no attempt at completeness, simply comments on one week’s driving experience—balanced against decades of experience and hundreds of comparisons.

The ladies in my family call box-on-wheels cars, a category personified by a recent Kia Soul+, “Dilbert cars”. Unfortunately the ladies are unable to see beyond exterior design to flexibility of use, relatively long wheelbase and wide track, modest fuel use, reasonable insurance cost and modest price. The women are flat wrong misguided and the car anything but socially inept. True, it is oddly shaped, a wedgie box with very tall tail lights—which many find extremely appealing.

Comparisons of Soul, Nissan Cube, and Scion-B often name Soul their favorite, so we were pleased to test 2012 Kia Soul + with manual six speed transmission, a test that ended more challenging than anticipated. What began an assignment to the Chicago Auto Show transformed into a test of the Soul’s cargo capacity.

My Auto Channel colleague Steve Purdy and I loaded our suitcases, camera cases, laptop cases, the odd gym bag and heavily laden brief cases into the roomy 19.3 cubic feet behind the second row seats, then departed for Chicago. In the next 300 miles we discovered the Soul+ had very comfortable and highly adjustable seats, an enviable tall driving position, blasting bass audio, plenty of cup holders, and a quiet ride. My passion is for tight Germanic steering, a characteristic this Kia lacks. Sure, its steering is accurate, but the rack mount bushings compress a bit softly making steering feel squashy compared to, say, any Mazda.

While in Chicago I followed up on an email that some parts needed for my daily driver were “up on Craigslist”. Yes, a slew of engine, suspension, and exhaust parts were up for grabs and the price was right. So, at the end of the show we headed to western Chicago wondering if we could fit our gear and auto parts into the car; all we’d seen was a picture. Not to fear! We stuffed a soft bag into the second row foot well, the other gear against our seats and added: one enormous box of engine covers and tubing; engine intake parts plus an intercooler, even a cabin air intake and one entire front grille; right and left exhausts from the manifold to the muffler; plus two rear air suspension units, two front air suspension units, two front air bags. Yes, a whopping big load and it fit easily into the Soul’s 53.4 cubic foot cargo cavern.

Here’s the first Bullet Point: this car is adaptable to your needs. It will cradle holiday luggage for two or three behind the second seats—no steamer trunks please—and remain a big box on wheels. Even then there’s honest seating for four, even five adults and the ride is supple, almost sporting.

Our question after loading was, was the vehicle roadworthy? Despite the cargo our Soul+ car remained as quiet at 75 mph as it had on the way in, and just as stable on fast on ramps and exits. With a couple of extra hundredweight, mileage appeared to suffer a teensy bit, yet our fuel use remained in the mid-20s, as before. The EPA says a Soul’s fuel economy is 26 City/ 34 Highway/and a very reasonable 29 miles per gallon Combined Average. Our economy was a tick less because of our brisk driving style, influenced by a 6-speed manual transmission. (We expect an automatic transmission with engineered-in bias towards maximizing fuel economy might have done better, but been far less fun.)

Since the car is accused by some as lacking refinement, let’s look into the cabin. Ours had aggressive “SOUL” embroidery on door panels. This, along with (optional) disco-lighted door speakers is aimed directly at whatever alphanumeric label we’re sticking onto anyone 30 and under. It’s tastefully aggressive in black and gray and other colors and surfaces, including leather, are available. The dash and instrument panel is the inevitable sea of plastics enlivened bright metal trim in a few strategic locations, like the shifter and door opener. With no navigation system installed, six control buttons framed a large numeric display of station, CD, or satellite station. Below were very simple and effective HVAC controls.

There was a shortfall in the Bluetooth system, one we’ve had with other cars. Pairing our iPhones was easy, but using the other features—downloading and voice dialing from the phone book—was difficult or absent. We also had a Dilbert moment figuring out that the TRIP button toggled more than the odometer, it delivered Distance to Empty, Average Economy, and other statistics.

This Soul+ had no cruise control, a massive oversight as cruise control prevents speeding tickets! True, all the audio and media controls were inset into the steering wheel and that wheel was comfortable and leather wrapped. But, where was the cruise button? Other instruments and controls were bright, easy to use, and had that subtle “just right” feel associated with more costly vehicles. Given the roomy and surprisingly quiet interior, this is a vehicle worthy of your consideration regardless your generation.

The engine was a peppy 164 horsepower 2.0-liter 4-cylinder motor attached to a 6-speed manual with short and positive shift pattern. That made for great driving dynamics from the powertrain side, and pushing the wheels out to all four corners made ride and handling sporty without being harsh. The only criticism we have is that clutch engagement occurred very near the top of the pedal’s travel. That made for over-revving the engine at standing starts (worse, making us sound like amateurs). Kia also offers a 1.6-liter GDI (gasoline direct injection engine) on the base Soul and will soon offer Stop-Start technology on Eco packages for either engine, mandating an automatic transmission. If you are an urban commuter this may be a frugal option as gasoline prices rise. If Stop-Start technology is unfamiliar, it simply stops the engine as it slows to a stop and restarts instantly when you want to go, while preserving heating and AC. It’s only emerging in the US as manufacturers have not received credit on EPA stickers.

Hamsters? You will be asked, people remember them and will ask if you have any aboard. That ultra-hip phenomena takes form in options like the “Soul” upholstery embroidery, illuminated door speakers, intense colors like our popsicle Lime Soul +, 16” and 18” alloy wheels, remote keyless entry, UVO (Kia’s competitor to SYNC), an Infiniti sound system, navigation systems with rear view camera, auto climate controls, overall, many of the items luxury car buyers expect, but at lower cost. Pastel hoodies, tattoos, low-riding pants, fur and pumped up kicks are totally up to you.

Here’s the Bullet Points for our Kia Soul+


Kia’s Soul is a mobility magic trick worthy of Chris Angel, big on the inside and small outside. Seating for four adults in comfort is absolute, even for the statistically extremely tall.


Soul can be as frugally efficient as the $13,900 base Soul with 1.6-liter engine and 6-speed manual transmission. Our middle-level Soul + at an MSRP of $16,300 including Kia’s 10 year/100,000 powertrain warranty and 5 year/60,000 basic warranty and roadside assistance. We’d surely find a way to order cruise control, perhaps spend the $1,000 for an automatic transmission.


Soul! with even more options starts at $19,600 for the 2.0-liter engine (tested) and an automatic. For all cars there are a host of stand alone options like a rear spoiler ($295) cargo net ($50) and a $2,500 Premium Package available only on the Soul !.


The engine is powerful, willing to spit you onto the highway well above any posted limit. While not a race car, the driving dynamics generated by wide track and relatively long 100.4” wheelbase might let you think so.


Soul’s interior is comfortable to the eye and to your hands: the standard AM/ FM/ Satellite/ MP3/ USB/ AUX audio system (with a powered woofer for massive bass response) is far more than adequate, and Bluetooth wireless connection, leather wrapping on the steering wheel and gearshift, small trip computer, dual front/single rear 12 V power outlets all add to a very well equipped vehicle at $16,300, delivered.


Most safety features and creature features are standard, like dual front airbags and full length side curtain air bags with active front head rests, traction control, electronic stability control and management, even hill-start assist for manual cars (it holds the brakes while you move from brake to clutch). Many of these were luxury car features only five years ago.