Quick Drive: 2012 Kia Soul ! 2.0

By Winding Road Staff

January 31, 2012

If you’ve read our Quick Drive of the 2011 Kia Soul, you’ll know that we like this boxy little vehicle, except for a few issues. Of course, a month after we publish that piece, Kia sent us its new-and-improved 2012 Soul, and addresses some of our baser concerns with the otherwise competent Kia.
For a start, the new Soul is boasting a new heart, in the form of a fresh 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine and a six-speed automatic transmission replaces the tired four-speed auto from the old car (likewise, a six-speed manual replaces the standard five-speed stick of the old car). This new powertrain combo is quieter, more economical (26/34 versus 24/30 in the 2011 Soul), and considerably more powerful (164 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque compared to 142 horsepower and 137 pound-feet of torque) than the 2011 powertrain.
The result is a car that is better in every measurable way. Acceleration is more impressive for sure, but the big gain for me came in the realm of NVH. This is a much quieter, more refined vehicle than our last Soul tester. Wide-open throttle in the 2011 Soul was a disruptive and noisy experience, but I didn’t experience any of the harsh noise this time around.
­—Brandon Turkus, Online Editor
The engine/transmission update is something the Soul needed, but what hasn’t changed is the Soul’s, well, soul.
The car still has the same feel inside, with the same materials and layout, the same instruments, and the same lights-in-the-speakers party trick. It still features the same exterior, which is boxy, and a little space-age/modernist in style. It’s not such a special thing to see one on the road anymore. This all says a lot about the Soul. To me, it says it works.
The road-going public has grown to accept the Soul as a part of daily life, and it’s no wonder why. It’s a really practical car. It’s great for carrying people and cargo, but it is still easy to park and offers good visibility. It’s never been fast, but it’s never been boring to drive either. Ask it to play, and the Soul plays along, and doesn’t punish you at the pump for the privilege. The people I’ve met who drive the Soul on a daily basis love it for all these reasons.
And now, with the new guts underneath, drivers have another option that helps suit their driving needs.
—John Beltz Snyder, Production Editor
Since the first time I drove Kia’s Soul and Nissan’s Cube, I’ve been hot to get the two compact boxes in the office together for a comparison test—seems like such a fun, no-brainer matchup. The vagaries of press car scheduling have repeatedly foiled us in this attempt, and though we’d still like to run the test, this newest Soul seems to have really distanced itself from the small box competition (I’ll include Scion’s xB here, too).
The boys both talked about the new Kia 2.0-liter engine, and they’re right about it being very good in its own right. Now consider what it’s up against: Kia boasts 164/148 horsepower/torque, while Cube’s 1.8-liter makes 122/127, and Scion’s 2.4-liter makes 158/162. The fresh Kia also kicks butt and takes names in terms of fuel economy, too. The Soul will return 26/34 city/highway miles per gallon, where the Cube gets 25/30 mpg, and the xB can only muster 22/28 mpg. All three are about the same price, so there’s no help deciding there.
The tale of the tape heavily favors the Korean box then, over the two Japanese examples, but I’d still want to drive them head to head (to head). I’m willing to believe that the generally positive experience I’ve had with the Soul on its own would stand up to direct driving comparisons, but the Cube is pretty darn chuckable and charming.
—Seyth Miersma, Editor-In-Chief
New engine/transmission combo results in noticeably quieter ride
Same old practical-yet-fun driving experience we know and love
Better power and fuel economy than the other small, boxy hatchbacks
Extra power is nice, but you still won’t be going anywhere quickly
The design isn’t tailored to please everybody—beauty is in the eye of the beholder
Top of the range pricing ($18K-ish) is enough to start looking at CUVs a full size larger