First Drive: 2012 Kia Soul reviews kia first drives
2012 Kia Soul Eco. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Grant Yoxon

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2012 Kia Soul

Fall City, Washington – It’s been a tough few years for the auto industry, but you’d never know it looking at Kia’s sales in Canada.

While sales are up a bit – 1.7 per cent – for the whole industry, Kia’s sales so far this year are up 20.5 per cent. That makes it the fastest growing car company in Canada, from a sales perspective. It’s not some statistical aberration either. Kia’s sales have been growing consistently since 2006, recording double digit increases in every year since 2007. Even in 2009, the year of the big automotive collapse, when vehicle sales in Canada dropped 15.5 per cent, Kia’s sales grew 20.4 per cent. That increase was due in no small part to the introduction of a funky new compact wagon, the Soul, which went on sale in the Spring of 2009.

The Soul has been a consistent volume seller ever since and Kia expects to sell more than 10,000 of them this year.

The auto industry is a very competitive business: consumer tastes and expectations can shift quickly. Today’s biggest hit can easily become tomorrow’s also-ran if it fails to keep pace with consumer demand, prices or new products. Kia’s success with the Soul did not go unnoticed and competitors have emerged to challenge it from both Scion (xB) and Nissan (Cube). So it comes as no surprise that less than three years after its introduction, Kia has given the Soul a rather thorough updating.

First Drive: 2012 Kia Soul reviews kia first drives
First Drive: 2012 Kia Soul reviews kia first drives
2012 Kia Soul Eco. Click image to enlarge

Kia didn’t view this as a simple refreshing of body panels, although there is that too, but as an opportunity to thoroughly update the Soul with new engines and transmissions, new interior elements and new technology.

Although the new engines share the same displacement as the outgoing duo, they have nothing in common with the old. The new base engine, an all-aluminum 1.6-litre 4-cylinder, features gasoline direct injection (GDI), in which fuel is injected directly into the cylinder. GDI makes it possible to raise the compression ratio (now 11:1) and combined with a cooler intake and matched transmissions, increases both power and fuel efficiency while reducing emissions. Power is now 138 hp (up from 122) and torque is now 123 lb.-ft. (from 115), giving the base Soul some much needed pep. Fuel consumption for the new engine is 7.4 L/100 km city and 5.6 L/100 km highway.

The optional engine upgrade is a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, which produces 164 hp and 148 lb.-ft. of torque, up 22 hp and 11 lb.-ft. respectively over the old 2.0-litre. Despite the big power increase, fuel consumption has dropped seven-tenths of a litre to 7.9 L/100 km city and 5.8 L/100 km highway.

Available transmissions include a 6-speed manual and a 6-speed automatic, the latter with an Active Eco system. When activated by depressing a dash-mounted switch, Active Eco instantly optimizes engine and transmission management to provide the optimum fuel economy. Although power decreases, so does fuel consumption – to 7.0 L/100 km in the city and 5.4 L/100 km on the highway.

First Drive: 2012 Kia Soul reviews kia first drives
2012 Kia Soul Eco. Click image to enlarge

An Eco model will be offered later in the year which will also include Kia’s ISG (Idle Stop & Go) technology and low-rolling-resistance tires. ISG shuts down the engine when the car is in gear but not moving, such as at stop lights or in heavy traffic, reducing emissions and saving an additional five to ten per cent on fuel. ISG involves more than just starting and restarting the engine. To make it work seamlessly, a variety of ISG-specific components are required including a battery, starter and alternator designed to handle frequent stop/starts.