After spending a week behind the wheel of the refreshed 2012 Kia Soul, I found myself in a bit of a quandary. My “alien” green hatchback had intended, it seemed, to become a more stylish, up-market, technologically-advanced alternative to its little brother, the 5-Door Rio, and for not much more money. Mostly devoid of comfort, economy, and proper handling prowess, however, I found the Soul’s real-world capabilities to have fallen victim to the old “style over substance” adage. Somewhere in creating this stylish Rio-alternative, Kia seemed to have lost quite a few things in translation.
My first look at the outside of the 2012 Soul projected an exuberant, fashion-forward persona. My tested model, the top- level !, was bespoke with two-tone 18” wheels, LED front and rear lighting accents, and aggressively-sculpted front, side, and rear profiles.
Inside, the fashion-forward design theme continued. Hounds- tooth accents graced the upper portions of the seat backs, and the center control layout mirrored a video game controller. As well, a two-toned, black-on-beige color scheme was utilized for the dash and door panels, replete with no fewer than four different surface textures.
To add the proverbial !, there were even luminous rings adorning the front door mid-range speakers. These rings were controlled via a dash-mounted selector knob, and offered three settings: Off (preferred), mood (revolving colors), and music (bass- sensitive, with selectable colors).
The Soul’s hounds-tooth-swathed driver’s seat was deemed thinly- padded and unsupportive, but it did provide for a substantial 40.2” of head room, as well as 42.1” of leg room.
Likewise, the rear seats, absent of padding and support, did offer an astounding 39” of legroom, plus 39.6” of headroom. I found that even the largest adults were able to fit behind a similarly-framed, six-foot-tall driver with plenty of headroom, and no forward adjustment of the driver’s seat was required.
In addition, the rear doors were remarkably large, giving way to a super-sized opening for rear seat ingress and egress. This proved especially handy for transporting small children, as it made car seat loading and unloading a breeze.
Given the Soul’s large interior volume, I was surprised to have found rear-seat-up cargo space to be lacking (19.3 cubic feet); barely enough to hold an extra full-size child seat.
With the rear seats folded down, the Soul’s cargo area expanded to a more substantial 53.4 cubic feet, slightly besting the Rio 5-door, which provided 49.8 cubic feet, respectively.
Standard on both the mid-level + and our top-level ! models was Kia’s 2.0-L, 164 HP, four-cylinder engine, mated to an in-house- built, six-speed automatic transmission. I felt that the engine’s lack of direct fuel injection technology, along with the Soul having the aerodynamic properties of a flying port-a- potty, massively hindered the EPA’s 26/34 city/highway MPG rating. I observed 25.6 MPG in mixed city and highway driving, and was never able to average more than 31.3 MPG, even during long, flat freeway stints.
With regard to ride and handling, the stiff/soft, confused, over-damped nature of the Soul’s suspension reminded me more of an early-2000s Hyundai Accent than Kia’s typical modern-day offerings. Also worth noting, mid-corner bumps had a tendency to violently upset the car’s rear end, a trait which I attributed to an incompatibility between the erratic suspension and the inexpensive torsion-beam rear axle.
Even more glaring an issue, however, was the Soul’s over-boosted, electric-assist steering system. At highway speeds (60-80 MPH), a slight offset of the steering wheel would result in an exaggerated “twitch” from the body. This, thereby, resulted in a supremely unstable high-speed poise, worrying us about the car’s stability, especially during an emergency maneuver.
With an as-tested MSRP of $19,600, the top-of-the-line 2012 Kia Soul ! included standard high-end features such as automatic headlamps, a rearview camera, and Microsoft’s “Your Voice” (UVO) infotainment system.
In my opinion, I would rather have had the comparably-equipped 2012 Kia Rio 5-Door SX, with its more conservative design, stable handling, and lower as-tested price ($17,795). Despite its styling, we simply could not forgive the Soul’s uncomfortable seats, poor fuel economy, and unstable handling nature.
Daniel Buxbaum has had a life-long passion for all things automotive. Dan’s passion for automotive journalism recently secured him a position as customer service director and contributing writer for Parts & People, a multi-region automotive trade publication. Dan also writes for Examiner.com, maintains his own blog (straightlineconcepts.wordpress.com), and is an active member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP).