Kia Soul opts for oomph

By Larry Printz The Virginian-Pilot

Kia has been surprising many buyers lately, with cutting-edge styling and improved reliability.

So maybe it’s no surprise that the 2012 Kia Soul, now entering its third year of production, has a new soul.

Under its hood lurks one of two updated engines. Base Soul models get a 138-horsepower 1.6-liter four-cylinder — a boost of 16 horsepower from 2011. Soul+ and Soul! models get a new 164-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder- up 22 hp from 2011. Both powerplants are now available with a six-speed manual or, new for 2012, a six-speed automatic transmission.

By replacing the four-speed automatic with a six-speed and boosting horsepower, this year’s model is both faster and more frugal. While you might be tempted to get the base engine, opt for the larger, more powerful one. It’s no fuel hog, giving up one mpg in fuel economy to the smaller engine with an EPA rating of 26 mpg city, 34 mpg highway.

As you would expect of a subcompact SUV, the Soul is quite agile, although the ride is very firm. Large bumps can upset it, but it’s never unsafe. Active front headrests, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, stability control and Hill Start Assist are among the vehicle’s standard safety features.

The turning circle is fairly compact, making parking easy, even for inept drivers.

Despite the upgraded engines, the cabin can get noisy, but it’s more than tolerable. Still, it would have been nice to get a bit more insulation; it would impart a greater sense of quality.

Certainly that’s the cue one gets from the list of available features, including an all-new 350-watt seven-speaker Infinity audio system, keyless remote entry, heated front seats, leather seat trim, automatic climate control, navigation system and push button start.

All Kia Souls get electric power steering, air conditioning, tilt and telescopic steering column, power windows, door locks and mirrors, available Sirius XM Satellite Radio with three-month subscription and MP3 connectivity.

The test car’s interior belied its price, despite the hard plastics used throughout. Thanks go to the rich interior color. If you want a Soul, look over your color choices carefully.

And while we’re talking about visuals, the 2012 model receives revised front and rear fascias, headlamps, taillights, side mirrors and wheels. It’s a subtle change that updates the Soul’s look to the rest of the Kia line.

These updates add to the Soul’s strengths: its comfortable upright seating position, the easy-to-use controls and a cabin that’s surprisingly roomy for such a small vehicle. Even rear seat passengers will find the seats agreeable.

And the best part: its price. It starts at just $13,900 for the base Soul. The test vehicle, a Soul!, started at $19,600, although it lacked such uplevel options as heated leather seats. So it’s easy to break 20 grand if you load one up.

Still, the Soul’s soul is one of funky cheerfulness and utility. Backed with good power and reasonable fuel economy, it’s one Soul with which anyone can empathize.

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2012 KIA SOUL

Engine: 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder

Wheelbase: 100.4 inches

Length: 162.2 inches

Weight: 2,778 pounds

Cargo space: 19.3-53.4 cubic feet

EPA rating (city/highway): 26/34 mpg

Fuel consumption: 30.4 mpg

Fuel type: Regular

Base price, base model: $13,900

Base price, test model: $19,600

As tested: $20,350

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&Copy;2012 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

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