2012 Kia Soul Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
October 17, 2011

The name rings true: this Kia has a Soul, with fun road manners and tall-wagon practicality baked into its kicky shape.

The Kia Soul brought a new attitude to the compact segment when it was introduced in the 2010 model year. The wedgy, stylish body defined a new look for Kia, and soon the Soul had eclipsed popular urban wagons like the Scion xB and Nissan Cube, and may have helped send the Chrysler PT Cruiser and Chevrolet HHR into retirement.

The Soul doesn't change much for the 2012 model year, but new powertrains and a reconfigured lineup keep its ratings here at TCC at the higher end of the compact class.

The Soul wins on styling, hands-down. The reverse boomerang of the roofline is a grabby visual hook that isn't matchy-matchy with the bullnosed front end. The cabin isn't as radical, unless smart functionality is a radical concept, with its big buttons and knobs, cheery gauges, and cheeky dashes of pizazz, like the lighted speaker frames that glow to the beat of the Soul's sound system.

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This year, the 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter four-cylinder engines are nudged higher in power and gas mileage. The base engine now has 135 horsepower; the upgrade has 164 hp. With six-speed manual and automatic transmissions, and a new Eco package, the Soul's fuel economy hits a new peak. Handling remains friendly, and the Soul is frisky as an urban runabout, much more than the sum of its parts list in the way old Hondas used to be.

The versatile, spacious interior makes the most of the tall roofline, in front and in back. The Soul's the rare compact that fits tall adults well, leaving them extra headroom, even. The back seat's just as fine for two adults or three kids, and the seats fold down to open up a 53-cubic-foot cargo hold. It's no Honda Element, but then again, neither is the Element anymore, since it's also been purged from the new-car universe.

The Soul's extensive equipment list includes the usual safety gear, and a Top Safety Pick award from the IIHS. A rearview camera's now an option--and to go with the stock USB ports and satellite radio, there's now HD Radio as an option, and a navigation system, which unfortunately can't be had if you also opt for UVO, Kia's voice-activated controls for phone and audio. All told, a right-priced Soul at about $20,000 is a great value for anyone who needs a little more wagon in their lives, but could do without the size and weight of a bigger crossover or minivan.

8

2012 Kia Soul

Styling

Anonymity is gone forever once you buckle into the kicky, bullnosed 2012 Kia Soul.

In a class of quirky, boxlike cars, the Kia Soul stands out--mostly, because the quirks work in its favor, and give it a funky flair that's pretty absent in the Scion xB, Nissan Cube, and the like.

The urban-wagon concept wins on styling, hands-down. The bullnosed front end wears Kia's new corporate theme between big, alert headlamps (LED-lit on the top model). The angular roofline starts high, and boomerangs down the rear end in a way that reminds us equally of European hatchbacks and the In-N-Out logo. It's a rakish, crisp shape that doesn't depend on a lot of dazzling details to sell it, though it does have a lot of detail across the front. Over time, the rear end's started to look a lot thicker, especially in lighter colors like "alien green", but the square taillamps frame a nearly vertically aligned hatchback that draws the shape to a tight close. It's sharp piece of design punctuation to the Soul's more casual stance.

The interior isn't quite as groundbreaking, but it's well organized and clutter-free. The blend of round shapes and embossed plastics seems more refined than the pricetag, a lesson right out of Target's hipster-cachet appeal, without reading like a novelty act, like the old VW New Beetle. Kia even lets owners customize the cabin with color and texture, from red plastic dash trim to houndstooth-check upholstery for the seats.
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2012 Kia Soul

Performance

It's not truly fast, but the 2012 Kia Soul has a fun driving feel thanks to improved engines and quick steering.

It's hardly the stuff of enthusiast dreams, but the Kia Soul is an endearing performer, with frisky acceleration and steering.

Maybe it's the friendly, kicky sheetmetal or the hamster-driven marketing campaign, but the Soul colors your driving impressions before you even key it to life. Once you do, there's a little more to enjoy this year, with a pair of new drivetrains that boost power and quiet down the Soul's old raucous inside voice. The base Soul has a 1.6-liter four-cylinder, good for 135 horsepower and 121 pound-feet of torque, coupled to either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. We'd still opt for the larger 2.0-liter four, which isn't that much less economical, and grunts out 164 horsepower.

With the extra power, the Soul's an cruiser with good urban grunt, particularly helped out by the new automatic transmission, which has two more gears than the outgoing box. We're not so much in favor of the manual, which shifts fine but has long throws and long pedal movement, and runs counter to the Soul's city-scooter mission.

In most versions the Soul rides smoothly, though it can get a bit bouncy on some freeway surfaces, where road noise gets to be an issue as well. You should think twice about the big 18-inch wheel and tire package, for those reasons. Steering is electric and quicker than the norm in the hatchback class (except for the Ford Focus), and with a 2800-pound curb weight, the Soul feels eager to corner on its strut front and torsion-beam rear suspension. It's one of the few compacts that feels more adept than the sum of its parts, something the Honda Civic's all but given up.

8

2012 Kia Soul

Comfort & Quality

Versatile and spacious, thanks to its tall roof, the 2012 Kia Soul excels at urban flexibility.

With its tall roof and its boxy shape, the Kia Soul promises a roomy, versatile, almost minivan-like cabin. It delivers, too--the Soul has enough room for five passengers or, when the back seats are folded down, a sizable amount of cargo.

Overall, the 2012 Soul is 161.6 inches long, 70.3 inches wide, 63.4 inches high, and it rides on a 100.4-inch wheelbase. The compact dimensions cloak excellent interior space, especially head room. Front-seat passengers get comfortable bucket seats with a half-foot of head room above, and just a little knee room trimmed out for the wide center console and its knobby, easy-to-use controls. Even the Scion xB can't seem to match the Soul's spacious, airy feel.

The space for second-row passengers is just as good, and the same high seating position is applied to the back bench. It's wide enough for two adults and one child, or a couple of car seats, and in front and back, the Soul's tall roof and doors make entry and exit considerably easier than in competitive hatchbacks.

The Soul's rear seats flip forward to boost cargo area to more than 53 cubic feet. The cargo floor also has a lift-up panel that hides a small amount of precious cargo, and Kia also offers an optional cargo organizer that's pretty handy for weekend errands. The Soul also has a double-decker glove box than can stow a 15-inch laptop, to go with armrest storage in the center console, and an iPod-sized bin atop its center stack, not to mention lots of cupholders and molded-in bottle holders.

For its base price of under $15,000, the Soul has fit and finish far above what you'd expect. Even the hard plastics are nicely surfaced, and trim and panels all fit tightly.

9

2012 Kia Soul

Safety

The 2012 Kia Soul scores well in its class for safety features, visibility, and a new rearview camera option.

Kia hasn't changed the standard safety equipment on its 2012 Soul, and it didn't need to. The compact hatchback already had six airbags, anti-lock brakes and stability control, and in the past those features earned it top scores from both safety agencies.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) still rates the Soul as one of its Top Safety Picks, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration hasn't yet updated its Soul ratings since it changed its criteria for the 2011 model year. It has assigned a rollover-protection rating of four stars, which it gets from numeric formulas.

The Soul has improved safety for the new year, though it applies only to models with the navigation system. On those more pricey versions, Kia fits a rearview camera, which we consider a great safety feature. However, it's not as essential on the Soul as on bigger crossovers and SUVs, since tall glass areas and a high driving position give the driver excellent outward visibility.

9

2012 Kia Soul

Features

The 2012 Kia Soul comes with standard tech features still not offered--even as options--on some other compacts.

Every Soul comes with the kind of standard features that elude some more expensive mid-size cars. They're there to woo younger buyers, who probably will also groove on the Soul's palette of showy accessories and its new audio and navigation options.

The orthographically challenging lineup includes the base $13,900 Soul, $16,300 Soul+, and $19,600 Soul!. Every one of them gets standard climate control; tilt/telescoping steering; power windows, locks and mirrors; satellite radio, a CD player, USB and auxiliary inputs for media players; and a split/folding rear seat.

Move into the Soul+, and you'll also get cruise control; Bluetooth; dual 12-volt outlets; and steering-wheel controls for the audio and phone.

Get some exclamation in the Soul! and you'll also get a 350-watt Infinity audio system and speaker lighting that changes intensity with the beat of the music; a sunroof; and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, along with a houndstooth-checked interior trim package. Last year's Sport model isn't in the lineup anymore, but the Soul! adopts 18-inch wheels, distinctive front- and rear-end treatments, and LED headlights and taillights.

On the options list are features like the Infinity audio system, offered on the Soul+; a sunroof; and more than 60 add-on accessories, from styling kits to interior trim. The Soul! also can be fitted with HD Radio and UVO, Kia's flavor of the Microsoft-coded technology that enables voice control of the infotainment system; it's teamed with a 4.3-inch touchscreen and a rearview camera.

Lastly, the ! model offers a premium package with leather seat trim, front-seat heating; automatic climate control; and a navigation system, which oddly can't be ordered with the UVO controls. Given the choice, we'd get by with mobile-phone GPS and play with UVO, which doesn't have the depth of commands that Ford's similar SYNC system does but still represents a big step for Kia.

7

2012 Kia Soul

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Kia Soul's gas mileage gets better with a new stop-start Eco package that shuts off engine power at stoplights.

For its first two years on sale, the Kia Soul's fuel economy wasn't especially good, compared to other compact hatchbacks. That's changed for 2012 with new powertrains and with a new Eco stop-start feature available as an option on either model.

But there's an important footnote: The 2012-2013 Kia Soul is one of a set of vehicles found to have overstated fuel-economy numbers. Kia initially submitted figures of 27/35 mpg and 30 mpg combined (or 26/34/29 for the larger 2.0-liter engine) to the EPA, which allows automakers to self-certify fuel economy. On a confirmation check of several vehicles, the EPA found the Soul's actual tested fuel economy to be 25 mpg city, 30 highway with the 1.6-liter engine, or 23/28 (25 combined) with the 2.0-liter engine and automatic transmission or 24/29 mpg with the manual transmission. 2013 Kia Soul Eco models, which earned 29/36-mpg and 27/35-mpg ratings have been downgraded to 26/31 and 24/29, respectively. Owners can register with Kia to receive reimbursement for the gas consumed above and beyond expected levels; more details are found at KiaMPGInfo.com.
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March 8, 2016
For 2012 Kia Soul

Good value

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I get great gas mileage on my Kia, so far no complaints
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September 6, 2015
2012 Kia Soul 5-Door Wagon Automatic +

Fun&versatile

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This wee puddle jumper is a hoot to drive- it has more hp than my old LotusElan+2 did, it's engine resonance rivals that of the Alfas!! with great handling to boot AND it's easy to get in&out of...these... + More »
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July 18, 2015
2012 Kia Soul 5-Door Wagon Automatic !

One of the best cars I have owned

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I bought my KIA Soul new in 2012 and have been happy with it ever since I brought it home. The only car that I have owned that may have been more fun to drive was my 1950 Jaguar XK120 roadster. I have had no... + More »
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Styling 8.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
Safety 9.0
Features 9.0
Fuel Economy 7.0
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