Test Drive: 2012 Kia Soul 4U car test drives reviews kia
2012 Kia Soul 4U. Click image to enlarge

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Kia Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase

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2012 Kia Soul

The mid-cycle refresh is a proven way for an automaker to prop up flagging interest in a car that’s been on the market for three or four years. A nip here, a tuck there and a few new features, perhaps, are good at helping revive interest in an existing design that’s losing traction to newer models in the sales race.

It’s a good thing for automotive writers, too, as it often gives us an opportunity to revisit a car that we haven’t driven since it was introduced. We can always go back and read what we wrote about a car three years ago, but it’s tough to recall the nuances that led us to those opinions.

That’s the situation with me and the Kia Soul. I drove one in 2009, just after its launch as a 2010 model. The fast-moving auto industry has changed a lot since then, so the 2012 Soul gets some updates in an effort to keep it current.

Test Drive: 2012 Kia Soul 4U car test drives reviews kia
Test Drive: 2012 Kia Soul 4U car test drives reviews kia
Test Drive: 2012 Kia Soul 4U car test drives reviews kia
2012 Kia Soul 4U. Click image to enlarge

Key among them, two new engines: 1.6- and 2.0-litre four-cylinders that replace a pair of power plants of the same displacement. Both are more powerful: the 1.6 (the same one used in the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent) makes 138 hp, up from 122, and the 2.0-litre (known as “Nu”) gets a 22-horsepower boost to 164. Six-speed manual and automatic transmissions replace the old five-speed stick and four-speed auto.

Styling updates, inside and out, are minor: you have to look hard to find the differences on the outside; inside, functional changes are limited to a new automatic shifter and climate controls. The matte silver (so bright it’s almost white) trim on the doors, steering wheel and console is new. It looks good in photos, less so in person. However, much of the dash is made up of decent-looking plastics that feel a small cut above the norm in small cars.

It’s immediately clear that the new 2.0-litre is an improvement over last year’s. It’s a smoother runner and generally seems more refined. The extra power is obvious, too. The 2.0-litre in 2010 I tested was no slouch, but this one was noticeably sprightlier. Don’t be surprised to get an earful from the engine room at full-throttle, though; the new motor makes nicer noises, but lots of them still get into the cabin.

The six-speed automatic transmission has its own obvious benefits. Its more closely-spaced ratios contribute to this car’s improved straight-line performance. Kia has done good work toning down its cars’ throttle tip-in (which is to say, the gas pedal is less sensitive), and the Soul benefits here too. A new feature is Kia’s Active Eco drive mode, which further reduces throttle sensitivity and forces the transmission to upshift as early as possible. It lasted 10 minutes with me; I don’t mind the duller responses to my right foot, but I do mind the way it makes the transmission constantly second-guess itself during acceleration, especially on hills. Inevitably, the car would make it to third or fourth gear and then have to downshift again to get the car to the speed I wanted.