First Look: 2012 Kia Soul

#Kia, #Soul

Kia's funky little Soul hatchback continues to resonate with small car buyers in America (in fact, last month's sales actually eclipsed the 10,000-unit mark). That said, the car is edging close to its third birthday, and as such, Kia's blessed the 2012 Soul with a number of mid-cycle updates.

The unusual, upright stance and most of the exterior remains unchanged, but a number of visual tweaks help set apart the 2012 model from its predecessors. Lighting, for instance, keeps with Kia's recent design mandates -- LED running lamps run along the lower edges of the headlamps, while LEDs form rings inside the tail lamp housings. Bumper fascias, wheel patterns, and the grille insert also receive minor revisions that freshen -- not overhaul -- the existing design.

The same applies to the interior -- for the most part, the 2012 Soul's cabin is unchanged, although Kia does add some new touches, especially on its more upscale trim levels. The Soul Sport model we saw parked on Kia's display stand not only wore interior trim painted to match its "Canyon" metallic exterior hue, but also featured automatic climate control, leather seating (with heated front surfaces), push-button start. A navigation system is reportedly available, although the Soul shown here was equipped with Kia's Microsoft-developed Uvo infotainment system, which is expected to proliferate throughout the automaker's lineup for the 2012 model year.

Arguably, the big news for 2012 is packed into the engine compartment. A new 1.6-liter direct-injection four-cylinder -- essentially the same engine found in both the 2012 Rio and the 2012 Hyundai Accent -- now serves as the base offering, and is rated at 135 horsepower and 121 pound-feet of torque. Soul models continue to use a larger non-DI 2.0-liter I-4, although output has been increased from 143 to 160 horsepower, and from 137 pound-feet of torque to 143. Regardless of the engine, 2012 Soul models eschew the previous five-speed manual and four-speed automatic for new six-speed manual and automatic transmissions.

These modifications don't reinvent the Soul by any measure, but they do help improve an already successful recipe. Look for Kia to continue tweaking its latest creation throughout the year -- in fact, the company hints a series of special-edition models, much like those offered in 2010, will be announced by the end of the year. Pricing for standard models hasn't been announced, but officials expect the new Soul to be priced much like the current car, which starts at just under $14,000.

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