2012 KIA SOUL REVIEW
What’s Hot: Funky styling, perky new engine and slick new auto.
What’s Not: Rearward visibility, and we don’t get the overseas-market LED lights.
X-Factor: Always an underrated option, the quirky Soul with its new powertrain deserves another look.
Vehicle Style: 5-door small hatchback.
Price: $26,990 (plus on-road costs)
Fuel Economy (claimed): 7.5 l/100 km
Fuel Economy (tested): 7.9 l/100 km
- UPDATE: The 2012 Kia Soul is now on sale in Australia. Read about it here.
Kia has been rocking its “Power to Surprise” slogan for a few years now. The brand’s recent releases - Optima sedan, Sportage SUV and the Rio hatch - have certainly surprised us for their quality, overall capability and style.
In 2009, before the above trio proved the formula, the debut of the Soul small car showed buyers that style (and lifestyle) would play a big role in Kia’s future.
Now, for 2012, Kia has given its funky top-shelf petrol Soul+ variant more power, a six-speed automatic and a handful of tweaks that make the small hatch a worthy addition to any “style plus practicality” shopping list.
Joining the new and bigger 2.0 litre petrol engine are new front and rear bumpers, along with updated headlights and tail-lights. There’s also new exterior mirrors, and stylish new alloy wheels.
Quality: The Soul’s interior remains largely unchanged for 2012, but that’s not a bad thing. The plastics are on par with any of the Soul’s small-car competitors, and so is the fit and build quality.
Comfort: This is no sports car, and the high seating position makes that plainly obvious. The driver’s seat gets manual height adjustment however, and the steering wheel is now both reach and tilt adjustable.
The long and wide pews comfortably accommodate most body sizes; the lack of decent side support in the back rests and squab is the only debit.
Thanks to its upright and boxy design, the Soul offers plenty of interior space, with ample leg, head and shoulder space in both rows.
Three tall adults can fit in the rear, though shoulder room is a little tight; kids however will have nothing to complain about.
The large exterior mirrors make up for the poor visibility out the rear windows, and that two-box shape removes the guesswork from navigating through tight spots.
Equipment: Standard features include central locking and immobiliser, a six-function trip computer, power windows all-round, six-speaker audio, USB/Aux/Bluetooth audio connectivity (and Bluetooth handsfree calling) and steering-mounted audio/phone/cruise controls.
Also standard are front fender side-indicators, power-adjustable side mirrors, height-adjustable driver’s seat, tilt and reach-adjustable steering wheel, front fog lamps, luggage screen cover and under-floor tray, cloth door trim, driver’s seat armrest for auto models, roof rails, mud guards, Soul Shining cloth seat trim and interior metallic/chrome highlights.
Storage: The Soul offers a decent 340 litres of rear storage with the back seats in their upright position, growing to 800 litres with the 60/40 split-folding seats laid flat.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: The top-spec Soul+ petrol variant gets a new 2.0 litre four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission. The new combo replaces the 1.6 litre engine and four-speed auto (still available with lower-spec models), increasing output from 91kW and 156Nm of torque to 122kW and 200Nm.
We found the boost in power also provided a boost in confidence when navigating the near-lawless left-hand-drive city streets and freeways of Seoul in our Australian-spec Soul. The six-speed auto is a quick-shifting treat, gearing down quickly for overtaking and merging (no shortage of that in Korea).
Our drive eventually took us out of the city, where the peninsula’s few steep roads (tunnels are the preference here) saw the Soul effortlessly power up hills and past crawling trucks with near-seamless shifts.
With the bigger engine, fuel consumption has grown from 7.0 to 7.5 l/100km. Combining stretches of stop-start city traffic and free-running country driving, we managed an average of 7.9 l/100km.
Refinement: Insulation is improved in the updated Soul, with tyre and wind noise becoming apparent only at freeway speeds. The engine too is an exceptionally quiet unit, becoming vocal only when it should: foot down.
Suspension: The 2012 Soul’s suspension is unchanged from the previous model, but with an Australia-specific tune, the MacPherson-strut front and torsion-beam rear-axle proved a match for Korea’s roads - which, in many areas, are among the rougher surfaces that we’ve seen.
Those surfaces didn’t do much for ride quality on the Soul+’s stylish 18-inch wheels and low-profile tyres. There was some jarring on deeper potholes and ruts, but compliance generally is pretty good - even on the bigger hoops.
Braking: Across the range, the Soul gets 280mm ventilated discs up front and 262mm solid discs at the rear. Paired with the grippy 225/45 tyres on the Soul+, braking performance is very good.
ANCAP rating: 5 Star (tested in 2010)
Safety features: The Soul range offers front-seat active headrests, dual front airbags, and front seat-mounted and full-length side curtain airbags. Seat-belt reminders are also standard for all five seats.
There is ABS, electronic stability control, traction control, electronic brake distribution, brake assist, hill-start assist and vehicle stability management.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Five years, unlimited kilometres.
Service costs: TBC
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY:
Toyota Rukus ‘Build 2’ ($29,990) - Until recently, the Rukus was significantly more powerful, more spacious, and offered better standard specifications. The petrol Soul+’s new 2.0 litre engine is much closer in output and the Soul’s six-speed automatic trumps the four-speed in the Toyota.
The Soul+ gets 18-inch wheels where the Rukus Build 2 makes do with 16s, and the Soul+ is $3000 cheaper. Which is better? It’s a tight call. (Click here for Rukus reviews)
MINI Countryman Wagon 5dr 1.6 litre automatic ($40,050): Premium buying compared to the Soul+ but not dissimilar in styling intent and in external and internal dimensions.
Vastly more expensive, a better interior and sharper at the wheel but considerably less power. Discount the MINI brand cachet, and, where it matters most, the Soul+ is not far behind. (Click here for Mini Countryman reviews)
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
With a punchy new 2.0 litre engine and a smooth six-speed auto - at a much more agreeable price than when it launched back in 2009 - there are now few reasons to ignore the Soul.
It drives well, and its boxy individual style has aged very well. Improved refinement and the addition of Vehicle Stability Management (Kia’s name for electronic stability control) makes it a solid option.
With the practicality of four-door access and good interior space, young families - and younger drivers looking for a bit of individuality - will find a lot to like in the Soul+. It’s certainly worth a close look.
Note: Mike visited Korea for the Australian-specification 2012 Soul’s first drive at Kia Australia’s invitation and expense.