2012 Kia Soul 4U Retro Review

2012 Kia Soul 4U Retro Review
By Brian Harper, National Post
Among the boxes on wheels that are supposed to use their squared-off shape and utility to attract a younger, outdoor-oriented buyer demographic — the Nissan Cube, Scion xB and the recently departed Honda Element being prime examples — Kia’s Soul is the only one that succeeds in looking as though it’s actually fun to drive. Put it down to the genius of Kia chief designer Peter Schreyer to incorporate a playful style into something that is the automotive equivalent of a Tupperware container.
The compact-sized crossover, which first found its way into dealer showrooms for the 2010 model year, sees some mid-cycle freshening for 2012, notably new projector headlamps with front LED accent lights, a redesigned hood and new front and rear bumpers. More significant, though, are the new six-speed manual and automatic transmissions that go along with the revamped more powerful yet more fuel efficient 1.6-litre and 2.0L four-cylinder engines. The Soul delivers a robust 164 horsepower (up 22 hp from last year) from the 2.0L engine and 138 hp (up 16) with the 1.6L four, while lowering gasoline consumption by 10%. That’s a win-win situation in anybody’s book.
Whether in deference to my advancing years or purely coincidence, I was given the Retro trim level of the higher-end Soul 4U 2.0L – there’s also the sinister-sounding, decidedly youth-oriented Burner as well as the milder topline Luxury.
The key feature of the Retro is what Kia calls “patterned” door and seat trim to go with the two-tone (beige/black) dash area, though most would refer to it as tartan or plaid. Jarring in its contrast to the almost universal use of dark colours for most automotive cabins, its bright cheeriness caused my wife and I to quickly became enamoured with it.
Having the extra juice under the hood doesn’t turn the Soul into a sports car, but it does imbue the crossover with a decidedly friskier feel, with enough oomph to not only keep up during the daily commute but to also pass pokier drivers with something approaching confidence — as long as you don’t get carried away. The 2.0-litre/six-speed auto combination will get you to 100 kilometres an hour in about 8.5 seconds, but the four-banger sounds like it’s working hard to do so, with the engine rather discordant under heavy throttle.
There’s an Eco button available if you want to sacrifice a portion of performance for better fuel economy. I averaged a fuel economy of nine litres per 100 kilometres during a week of predominantly suburban driving.
Under less enthusiastic application of the right foot, the crossover mellows into a jaunty urban commuter. Mom, a feisty octogenarian, was rather taken with it. With notably better noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) reduction efforts in comparison with last year’s model – a thicker dash insulation panel, A-pillar noise absorber pad, centre floor anti-vibration pad, etc. – the Soul proves impressively quiet.
The ride isn’t bad, either, considering the crossover’s compact nature. There’s a fully independent subframe-mounted front suspension underpinning the Soul, complete with the usual MacPherson struts, coil springs, monotube gas shock absorbers and stabilizer bar. At the rear, the suspension is subframe mounted with a transverse torsion beam axle with trailing arms, coil springs and gas shock absorbers. Nothing’s fancy (although Kia does refer to the setup in the Retro as “sport-tuned”), but everything works harmoniously to produce an accommodating ride, with reasonable body control when cornering. I’m not as delighted with the electric power-assist steering, which seemed somewhat numb on-centre, although it delivered better feel when turning.
Considering that the Soul, despite its funky charm, is still a budget-based vehicle (starting at $16,695 for the base 1.6L and $19,095 for the base 2.0L 2U), its list of standard safety features is impressive – four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic stability control, Hill-start Assist Control and Vehicle Stability Management are available across the line.
Returning to the cabin, the $23,495 Soul Retro displays a fine list of modern conveniences and unique touches. The usual power items are complemented by heated seats, power sunroof and an Infinity audio system with UVO technology that enhances the sound with a centre speaker, subwoofer, external amplifier and, in an obvious shout-out to the youth of today, speaker lights in a rainbow of colours that pulse to the beat of the music or add mood lighting. A backup camera is part of the audio package for increased visibility.
Given the Soul’s boxy shape, headroom front and back is not an issue for any but the freakishly lofty. There’s plenty of legroom up front for tall people and reasonable room in the rear for those of slightly more compact dimensions.
Cargo room is a bit on the skimpy side with the rear seats in place (Kia claims 19.3 cubic feet, but that has to mean packed to the rafters), although, with the back seats folded flat, the 53.4 cu. ft. offered is far more usable.
How is it possible to find the Soul anything but charming in its own non-conformist way? The powertrain improvements are all good, adding some needed verve to the crossover, and the styling updates sharpen the look without detracting from its utility.
It has personality galore, it drives well and it doesn’t cost a tonne. Needless to say, I like this little rig a lot.
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