2012 Kia Soul

Even though the Kia Soul isn't the best-driving Kia, it was the first glimpse at what the brand was capable of. It's true, Peter Schreyer arrived at Kia so late into the Soul's development process that he could only influence the design of the grille, but the fact that Kia planned a vehicle as interesting and funky as the Soul before it had someone as creative as Schreyer on staff certainly drove home the point that the brand wasn't content merely to create cheap cars.

The Kia Soul is an inexpensive car that allows almost anyone to get an interesting new car with distinct looks and a surprising amount of interior room. The materials used inside the Soul were obviously chosen to allow for a very affordable base price, but they don't look or feel as cheap as the materials found inside Kias a few years ago.

As it stands, the Kia Soul brings interesting design to the masses. Hopefully Kia can find a way to produce a vehicle similar to the Track'ster concept from the Chicago auto show. The Track'ster offers 250 hp and all-wheel drive and loses the rear doors, which makes for a much hotter hatch than the Soul on which it is based. Bringing style and performance to the masses would be an even better trick for Kia, which was always supposed to be the sportier Korean brand.

Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor

The Soul is a prime example of why Kia -- and its corporate cousin Hyundai -- has gone from a company largely known for its low prices to one that is highly regarded by both consumers and the media for its excellent vehicles, regardless of price. The Soul may not provide the most scintillating driving experience -- none of the other rolling boxes do, either -- but without question it handily beats its competitors in interior style, quality, ergonomics, and ease of use. What's most impressive is that Kia, a relatively young company, has excelled in these areas that often confound even seasoned automakers. With an as-tested price of less than $23,000, this loaded Soul! more than transcends its price.

Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms

Our test example for the lightly revised Kia Soul was outfitted in one of the new interior color options for the funky hatchback, and, my, are they daring! I applaud Kia for pushing the boundaries of its interior color palette, especially here, with the dash plastics wearing the lighter color (opposed to the norm of the dash in the darker hue). I'm not sure how durable the pale dash plastics may fare over time, but you have to hand it to Kia for being willing to try new things in an otherwise pretty standard interior. The same compliment goes to the rear taillights -- fairly traditional, trapezoidal-shaped units are ringed in red LEDs at night.

Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor

Attractive eighteen-inch wheels are exclusive to the top (and ridiculously named), exclamation-point trim level of the Kia Soul. Unfortunately, they make the Soul's ride quality pretty coarse. Also, this trim level isn't available with a manual transmission, which would be reason enough for me to rule it out.

I would definitely consider a lower-spec, stick-shift Soul as a daily driver, though. There's lots of space in this small package, as I've noted numerous times after driving Souls and other similar boxy vehicles such as Nissan Cubes and Scion xBs. The automatic -- and the powertrain in general -- is pretty sluggish, making a rather uninvolving model even less desirable to me personally. At least it didn't have the flashy "SOUL" graphics all over the interior, like the Soul+ we tested a few weeks ago.

Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor

I'm not sure how I feel about the exterior color of this Soul, but at least it's aptly named. Before looking for the Soul in our crowded parking garage, I glanced at the key fob, on which was written the color: "Alien." Hmm, I wondered. What kind of a color is Alien? Turns out it's a greenish metallic, similar to the stereotypical extraterrestrial "little green men." It's actually quite fitting for a vehicle that is somewhat out of the mainstream itself.

The interior of the Soul isn't as out-of-this-world as the exterior. The two-tone color scheme is attractive, and I was happy on a cold winter day to find heated seats on a vehicle that is essentially only a step up from entry-level. You actually get a decent number of amenities for your money with this car, which comes in at less than $23,000 including the premium package. That package includes navigation, keyless ignition, and the aforementioned heated leather seats (the seats themselves are a little on the hard side and are manually adjustable, however). Standard items include an iPod adapter, Sirius radio, and a sunroof. All in all, a good deal for the money.

Driving the Soul isn't a revelatory experience, although the extra dose of power from the 2.0-liter four-cylinder (up to 164 hp from 142 last year) is welcome. The engine also returns very good fuel economy for a small crossover, with estimated highway mileage of 34 mpg.

Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor

Let me take you back to a distant time -- early 2009, to be exact -- before Kia was cool. The Korean brand's lineup consisted of bland, cheap appliances; our favorite at that point was probably the Sedona minivan. Editor-in-chief Jean Jennings wrote a column in which she referred to a used Kia Rio as a "disposable car." Blake Griffin was an injured NBA rookie and probably wasn't thinking about jumping over any midsize sedan, let alone a crusty Optima.

Into this vacuum drove the Kia Soul. It wasn't perfect. Actually, it was kind of slow and had a cheap plastic interior. But it offered a new context for the brand in the same way that the much more expensive Genesis remade Hyundai. It offered all the usual Kia attributes, namely a low sticker price and a good warranty, but also had a certain cheeky charm to it. Unlike the Scion xB, the Soul didn't seem to take itself too seriously, as evidenced by its employment of spokes-hamsters in its advertising.

Three years later the Soul is now part of an entire lineup fashioned in this image. The Optima, Rio, Forte, and Sportage all strike a similar balance of expressive design and pragmatic utility (the Sedona, ironically, is the last holdout from the old days). That brand upgrade has boomeranged to the Soul, which now has a much better transmission and stronger powertrains than when it debuted. I find the interior on this car much more tasteful and subdued than the oranges and reds we experienced in early test cars. Even the exterior styling has grown a bit more mature, with LED running lamps similar to what you see on Audis.

David Zenlea, Assistant Editor

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