Headlining the 2012 Kia Soul’s mid-life makeover is a bigger petrol engine with more power and better fuel economy – together with even funkier hair and makeup.
The Soul led Kia’s recent design-based range revitalization. (Kia still refers to it as ‘outside the box’ … despite being the boxiest car in the Kia range, with a design that kicked off using a set square and a ruler before being all funked up.)
The Kia Soul might appear to be dripping with Gen Y appeal, and it’s certainly marketed that way. In Canada, where Kia Soul sales (and Kia sales generally) are off the Richter, the television commercial utilizes rapping hamsters that drive into inside a robotic warfare free-fire zone to inspire the combatants to peace. Really.
I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when the ad agency pitched that commercial: “Okay, so the robots are really getting into it with their laser death rays, like totally annihilating one another, then the hamsters drive up and start rapping and, like, peace just spontaneously breaks out and even the robots start rapping and hi-fiving together...”
Despite all its purported youthfulness, the Kia Soul is also incredibly popular with buyers into their sixth decade and beyond (ie, 50+). Maybe it’s the underlying practicality (boxy shapes are very efficient from a space/efficiency viewpoint) or perhaps it’s the bung-hip-friendly seating ergonomics (you slide across into a Soul, rather than climbing up or down into it). Hell, maybe it’s the youthful connotations – buy a Kia Soul and drive yourself young. Whatever; if you’re middle-aged or beyond the Kia Soul seems to resonate just as well as it does with the young.
Beneath the marketing hype the Kia Soul makeover offers significant substance. For the first time in Australia there’s a 2.0-litre petrol engine in the range. (A 2.0-litre petrol was available earlier on, in other markets; we got the 1.6.) With peak outputs of 122kW and 200Nm the so-called ‘Nu’ engine raises the bar substantially on the previous 1.6-litre unit’s 91kW and 156Nm. The 1.6-litre petrol continues, though notionally with 95kW and 157Nm, as does the 1.6-litre CRDI diesel with 94kW and 260Nm.
The Nu engine lacks the latest direct injection technology, however, even though a direct injection 2.0-litre petrol ‘GDI’ engine is available elsewhere in the Hyundai-Kia stable.
Just as significant as the engine upgrade is the move to a new six-speed auto for 2012 Soul – a healthy refinement upgrade from the previous Kia Soul’s four-speed auto, as well as the probable source of the incremental fuel efficiency increases in the new model. Both 1.6-litre engines are available with the choice of six-speed manual or auto, while the 2.0 is a six-speed auto only proposition.
Also on the substance front, telescopic reach adjustment has been added to the steering, a real positive for getting the driving position just right. Vehicle stability management and hill start assistance has also been added, along with 18-inch alloys at the top of the range, wearing 225/45 silica tyres.
I drove the 2012 Kia Soul about 200km across the Korean peninsula recently, as a guest of Kia Motors. It’s a very comfortable drive, and the new 2.0 is happy to lope along on motorways all day long and normal highway speeds. No chiropractor is required, even after several hours behind the wheel.
Ride quality is above average, but you can’t help but think it would improve even more on 17-inch wheels and 55-series rubber instead of the 18-inch/45-series combination fitted. Overall, dynamically, the new Kia Soul doesn’t actually need the 45s – they’re a concession to style, mostly.
The driving experience itself is fairly benign – the vehicle’s intrinsic funkiness is limited to the styling department. (It’s uninspiring, but competent to steer, and the straight-line performance is at least acceptable.) That’s all not necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re looking for a car with real driver engagement/excitement, this isn’t it. Competence rules the Kia Soul’s roost, with the only real negative being a bit of a sideways lurch, occasionally, when you encounter a mid-corner bump. Other than that; plain sailing.
There’s some road noise, but it’s not excessive, and overtaking performance and refinement are vastly improved thanks to both the new engine’s uprated outputs and the fact that the six forward ratios allow far slicker transfer of power when more is required.
The 2012 Kia Soul is great value value. The Soul 1.6 MPI manual remains at the previous model’s price-point: just $21,490. The automatic adds $2200. Topping the range the Soul+ diesel is $27,990 (the automatic adds $2990) while the all-new 2.0-litre petrol is $26,990 with its standard six-speed automatic. The Soul+ models also gain 18-inch alloys, which you don’t really need and possibly hurt the ride quality a bit, but which look pretty cool.
According to ANCAP, the Kia Soul enjoys a five-star safety rating (the highest rating possible). The new Kia Soul continues to offer excellent occupant protection, with a long list of standard safety features, including front seat active headrests, dual front advanced airbags, and front seat-mounted and full-length side curtain airbags.
In the crash-avoidance department, the new Kia Soul comes standard with ABS, ESC, traction control, etc. – the ‘works burger’ of electronic safety aids, basically. The warranty is hard to knock, too, with five years and unlimited kilometres standard.
The 2012 Kia Soul is a positive upgrade for a car that’s funkier than a practical car should be, and much more practical than plenty of other funky cars. Drive it up against a Toyota Rukus just to make sure you’re in the right ballpark.
John Cadogan travelled to Seoul in South Korea as a guest of Kia to compile this report. The 2012 Kia Soul is due for Australian release before the end of 2011.