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2012 Kia Soul Road Test Review by Martha Hindes

2012 Kia Soul Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

2012 CUV Buyer's Guide - Top 10 Picks


Kia Soul

Cadillac SRX

Mazda CX-9

Honda Crosstour

Hyundai Tucson

You can call it funky. And you can call it fun. Whatever tag you put on the 2012 Kia Soul probably doesn't matter. There's hardly anything on wheels these days with more character and charisma than the Korean company's hamster haven - AKA crossover utility vehicle for those with a sense of humor. After all, calling a $14K entry level spunk machine an "iconic urban passenger vehicle" takes polished brass. Knowing how far to go in improving it takes, well, soul.

Living on the cutting edge of cool has become a way of life for the Kia Soul for the past two years, thanks to perpetually dancing hamsters that have redefined where it's at (and gained a life after auto on their own). But rather than wait for the idea to grow whiskers, Kia decided to bump the bar higher for 2012, and loaded in a bunch of technological, powertrain, and amenity changes. Rather than merely defending the ability to create smiles, these are solid improvements (including a shade more overall length), meant to convince any skeptic there really is a lot of compact crossover behind the comedy.

Adding oomph to the front-drive Soul is a power boost, plus improved fuel economy, from a new 2.0-liter four cylinder engine added to the lineup. That gets 160-HP, and 27/33 MPG and mates with six-speed manual or automatic. A new 1.6-liter, 135-HP four with six-speed manual bumps mileage up to 28/34.

A redesign of hood, plus front and rear bumpers that tend to streamline the design don't take away the five-door Soul's quirky quality. And Kia knows how far it can go. Humor isn't lost with new projector headlamps, and slightly bulging daytime running lights that add character and gave us confidence when our long-awaited test drive, including some express roads, went from partial sunshine to a monsoon rain.

Soul for 2012 comes in four iterations, the base Soul, Soul+, and more upmarket Soul! (exclaim) and Soul sport. The top two get premium treatment with hands-free communication and infotainment, plus optional heated front seats, leather, automatic climate control, navi and push button start. (Some Special Edition Souls7 will still be available.)

The 2012s get high water mark listening with Infinity audio beyond the base model. It's available on more upmarket Soul+ and standard on premium Soul! And Soul sport. When you start adding available features, it hardly sounds like an entry level vehicle any longer. Such things as Bluetooth connectivity, rear camera, heated outside mirrors with integrated turn indicators, rear wiper/washer and power sunroof sound pretty up level and also can push cost well beyond base pricing that ranges from $13,999 to $19,600. That's mitigated some by the Soul's top safety pick status, and 10-year, 100,000 mile warranty.

With all those available upgrades, will Soul ever lose its character? We doubt it. At least not when one exterior color is called "Alien Green." And we can't help but notice that when Kia talks about being "outside the box," they can point to those cheeky hamsters in TV ads outdistancing whatever's in the next lane (in a box of course). If you're not caught by that hook, you obviously don't have a Soul.

Visit the Kia Website, click here.