Skip to main content

2012 Kia Soul! review: so much more than a catchy advertising campaign

Before driving the 2012 Kia Soul!, I really didn’t think much of the funky little crossover beyond the ultra catchy television commercials featuring the hip hop “Hamstars” but after spending a week driving the Soul!, I’ve learned that this vehicle is way more than just a fun advertising campaign.


First, a look at my 2012 Kia Soul! test vehicle. As you may have noticed, everywhere I have mentioned the full name of the Soul thus far I have included an exclamation point after the name. The Soul is sold as a Base, Soul+ or Soul! model so this exclamation point is Kia’s innovative way of announcing their top of the line model. While that seemingly odd punctuation appears on the paperwork for the Soul and on the company’s website – you do not see any badging the signify that the Soul! is the top of the line model but there is plenty else to make it hard to miss the fact that this is a premium model of the sporty, affordable compact. That being said, from here on out we will review to our test vehicle simply at the Soul as to avoid having to fight with the grammar tool in my word processor.

The Exterior
The 2012 Kia Soul is listed as a small station wagon for the sake of EPA fuel economy ratings but realistically, I would call the Soul a crossover that combines the interior space of a small sport utility vehicle with the ride, fuel economy and stance of a car. Kia does things differently than many other automakers and that even extends to the color choices with my Soul test vehicle coming finished in the “Alien” exterior paint. As you can from the images on the side, Alien is a lighter metallic green and this has become one of the most noticeable colors for the sporty Soul.

The 2012 Kia Soul features a unique, aggressive design that is very similar to what we see across the rest of the brand. While some people might not be in love with Kia’s distinctly aggressive exterior layout, there is no question that it is very bold and for that reason, I really like it. Overall, the Soul is fairly boxy in its design but the designers have added enough curves here and there to allow it to differentiate itself from some other toaster-like models that compete with the Soul.

Across the front end, the 2012 Kia Soul wears a large set of headlights mounted high on the nose of the car with projection style headlights placed above bright LED “eyelids”. The black trim around the headlight inners is echoed down around the LED driving lights while the fog lights mounted low and towards the outer edges of the front fascia are finished all in chrome. The grille features a similar shape to the one found on the majority of the modern Kia lineup with a subtle piece of chrome trim running around the edge while the lower fascia is finished in all black. The rounded hood rolls up to a fairly steep windshield angle that continues up to meet the long, flat roofline while the blackened A pillars provide for a seamless, wraparound look for the front and side glass.

Along the sides, the 2012 Kia Soul has very upright angles but the exaggerated wheel openings that start in the front fascia and flow around to the front wheels, smoothing out along the doors before flaring back out for the rear wheels help to break up the slab sided design that can befall many compact crossovers. These muscular wheel openings are filled by the sexy 18” alloy wheels that are standard with the Soul! package and they help to accentuate the sporty nature of this roomy crossover. While the door handles are finished in the body color, the Soul packs a set of vents on the front fenders in matte black along with a matching body molding that runs along the lower body line created by the wheel openings.

Out back, the 2012 Kia Soul features more distinct styling with large LED taillights that run along the rear pillar, incorporating the backup lights into the center portion of the tails. The flat roofline has “ditch lines” that run along the top edges of the side doors and these lines flow into the back end – creating the opening for the rear hatch. For a vehicle of such small dimensions, the Kia Soul offers a shocking amount of size for loading items into the rear cargo area. Below the hatch is a sporty fascia that has a gloss black trim piece running side to side with red reflectors mounted towards the outer edges.

The 2012 Kia Soul has styling that is unmistakably Kia but that isn’t a bad thing by any means. While it might not be for everyone, the Soul takes a very aggressive design approach that has allow the compact Soul to make a splash in the industry. For an affordable vehicle, the sporty exterior fitted up with projection headlights and tons of LEDs all around give the Soul an upscale look with an aggressive edge.

The Interior
My 2012 Kia Soul test vehicle was a top of the line model and with the optional Premium Package, which my test vehicle had, there is very little that you will not find inside the Soul. My Soul tester was equipped with leather seating surfaces in a two tone Sand and Black finish that continues the upscale, sporty look. The high back front seats are have lower portions entirely in black while the seat backs feature black bottoms and “Sand” upper portions and headrests with the Soul logo embroidered into the middle seatback area. Also as part of the Premium Package, these attractive leather seats feature full seat heating elements up front. In the rear seating area, the lower black and upper “Sand” theme continues with full leather trim across the entire three person bench seat design but unlike the front seats, there is no option to heat these rear seats. The front seats offer plenty of headroom and legroom for even very tall drivers and while there may be some competition for the center armrest between the driver and front passenger, there is still enough room to make for a comfortable long trip. Also, even with the front seats moved almost all of the way back, there is still more than enough room for a couple kids or even some diminutive adults. Move the front seats forward and you will still have enough leg room for the average driver and front passenger (around 6 feet tall) while also offering similar room for similarly sized adults in the rear seats. Also, the rear cargo area offers a shocking amount of space to pack your good and should you need to transport something that is too long to fit in this rear cargo area, the rear seats quickly and easily fold down to roughly double the amount of cargo space.

The 2012 Kia Soul with the exclamation mark and the Premium Package offers a state of the art infotainment system featuring a large, bright touchscreen with AM/FM/CD and MP3 capabilities via a USB drive along with an easy to use navigation program. As touch screens go, Kia’s system is about as good as it gets among “affordable” models with on-screen buttons that are very large and easy to click while driving. The stereo system, phone system and navigation program can also be controlled via a row of buttons above and below the touchscreen along with buttons on both sides of the leather wrapped steering wheel. Finally, the lower portion of the center stack is filled with the automatic climate control system that is adjusted very easily with very basic buttons. The Soul is high tech but not to the point where it is hard to understand how to use things so whether you are an older driver who is less interested in gadgets or a younger driver who demands said gadgets – the features of the Kia Soul are easy to operate. Of course, the large touch screen turns into a backup camera display with telemetry to show you how close you are to objects in the area.

Also, if you have seen the “Hamstar” commercials with the furry little hip hop rodents rocking out to “you can get with this…or you can get with that” you may have noticed the color changing speakers in the doors that pulse along with the music in the Kia Soul. Turns out, that is not just trick photography as the Soul comes with a customizable ambient lighting system in the door speakers that either scroll through a variety of colors or pulse in one color right along with the music. This is one of those little features that some car companies are including that I just love and to have the LED lights bump to the music – it is an awesome feature.

Much like the front and rear seats, the dash and door panels of the 2012 Kia Soul sport the same two tone Sand/Black layout and it creates a very classy look. As you can see in the gallery on the right, the Sand and Black trim staggers its location to break up any monotony and the result is a complete homerun for this compact crossover. You won’t find wall to wall leather but the color scheme of the Soul makes it look like a far more expensive model inside.

The interior of the 2012 Kia Soul offers an impressive Infinity sound system that hits pretty hard with the help of the large touchscreen-controlled head unit. Add to that the comfortable heated leather seats, the amount of room for both front and rear rides, the rear view camera system and the easy to use navigation programs and there is really nothing else that you can ask for in a vehicle that carries a price tag under $23,000 as tested. The Soul is comfortable, roomy and packed with technology that makes a long drive a treat for everyone.

The Drive

The 2012 Kia Soul is powered by a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission, sending 164 horsepower and 148lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. When I took delivery of the Soul, the guy who dropped off the vehicle told me that it was lots of fun to drive and that I would probably enjoy it. Keep in mind, I like high performance vehicles that focus far more on power than fuel economy but after spending the first few minutes behind the wheel of the Soul I found that my delivery guy was right – the Soul is a ton of fun to drive. Mind you, the Soul isn’t “Z06 fun” but when you look at the Soul and other vehicles in the class, the first thing that comes to mind is not a spirited drive. However, looks can be deceiving and the Soul is a great example of that fact.

While the 164hp Kia Soul isn’t going to tear up the stock drag racing world, the fuel friendly 2.0L packs a surprising amount of pickup whether launching from a stop or when accelerating on the open road. The Soul effortlessly and quietly cruises along at 70mph but should the need arise to climb up over the century mark – the Soul is quick to respond and reach those lofty speeds. Around town, the Soul accelerates very smoothly with enough gusto to help the driver barge into tight rush hour traffic and in the right conditions, the Soul will put a little spin to the 18” all season tires. More importantly, the Soul offers a very smooth ride on the highway or on local roads at all ranges of speed and should you come across a set of hard turns that allow some spirited driving, the Soul will once again deliver. It is in the handling properties that the Soul exhibits its most impressive aspects of the drive as it combines inspired handling with a smooth ride. Most importantly, the Soul doesn’t give you the feeling of riding in a hollow tin can that you get with some other low price compact crossovers.

Finally, on top of offering solid acceleration and impressive handling, the 2012 Kia Soul offers advertised fuel economy figures of 26mpg around town, 34mpg on the highway and a combined figure of 29mpg. It has been my experience that with many of these uber fuel efficient compact models, the advertised fuel economy figures are achievable under the right driving conditions (which often include very gentle driving). I am not someone who drives gently and honestly, the Soul is surprisingly a vehicle that feels like it constantly wants to go a little faster. That might sound odd but it is as much of a surprise to me as it is to all of you and when I was driving the Soul as hard as I did – I was still able to achieve a per-tank figure of 30.1 miles per gallon. I also found that during a long highway-only trip, the 34mpg mark is easily achieved and drivers with a lighter foot may get better than the prescribed 34mpg.

The Final Word
Whenever I told anyone that I was driving the 2012 Kia Soul, their first response was “the hamster car”? However, after logging 8 days driving the funky little Soul, I am here to proclaim that this is a vehicle that has succeeded in the US market based on its credentials – not a catchy marketing campaign. The Kia Soul offers a uniquely sporty exterior, a loaded up interior with lots of room and a drivetrain that offers plenty of driving fun with great fuel economy. This is really an ideal vehicle for drivers young and old who need real seating space for 4 adults with cargo space to spare and most importantly – my fully loaded Soul test vehicle carried a sticker price of only $22,850. With a starting price under $23k and so much content, the Soul is a great bargain for such a roomy crossover. Add to that the fact that the Soul is just plain fun to drive and you have a great compact crossover that totally deserves a closer look before crossing it off of your new car buying short list.

I enjoyed every second driving the 2012 Kia Soul! and if you are in the market for a fun, fuel friendly vehicle with plenty of interior space, tons of gadgets and a very low MSRP – the Soul could be the vehicle for you.

To answer the question posed to all of us by the Hamstars – I would most definitely “get with this”…with “this” being the 2012 Soul!...with the exclamation point.