2012 Kia Soul

Although some say the real action in terms of design is in the vicinity of the headlamps—and some have simply opted to integrate LEDs, while others have exceedingly complex, nearly Bernini-like creations that are wondrous to behold—the designers at Kia have taken a different approach with the headlamps on the 2012 Soul, a car that has undergone its midcycle upgrade.

Although some say the real action in terms of design is in the vicinity of the headlamps—and some have simply opted to integrate LEDs, while others have exceedingly complex, nearly Bernini-like creations that are wondrous to behold—the designers at Kia have taken a different approach with the headlamps on the 2012 Soul, a car that has undergone its midcycle upgrade.

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These headlamps are actually three dimensional in that there is an undercut below the top half of the lenses. You simply don’t see things like that. Which is just in keeping with the fact that the Soul is working hard to be distinctive in a class that also contains the Scion xB and the Nissan cube.

While you’ll see the headlamps, you’ll hear another feature that’s available on the Soul, which is the Idle Stop and Go (ISG). What’s happening here is that when you pull to a light, there is the distinct possibility that suddenly the engine will shut off. That’s right: the engine will shut off. You may still be listening to your favorite Sirius station. The heater is still blowing air. The lights are on in the instrument panel and fore and aft. But the engine has shut off. And then, when you release the brake pedal: Ignition, restart.

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Perhaps with time you get used to that. I’ve driven hybrids that have the same sort of function. But even though hybrids are very much regular-car-like in their behavior, there is still something in the back of one’s mind that gives them a pass of sorts in that you don’t really expect them to operate entirely like an ordinary sedan. In the case of the Kia, with the restart being seemingly more obvious, it was a case of an Expletive Deleted! when the 1.6-liter engine was given a kick by the electrical system. The point of the system, of course, is to save gas. Why burn what you’re not using?

Of course, if you have a car with ISG you know what it is going to behave like. You know because you’ve opted for the Eco package that is now available for the Soul. It also comes along with low-rolling-resistance tires. And there’s a button on the instrument panel that allows you to engage the “Active Eco System.” Meaning that the car’s powertrain is adjusted such that it sips fuel, it doesn’t guzzle it or even take large swigs.

The regular car is rated at 27 mpg city/35 mpg highway, and chances are that would be a lot higher were it not that the Soul’s shape is so boxy (yes, the beltline has a rise to it, but still. . .). (Of course, if the Soul wasn’t so boxy, would it be a Soul?) But when the car is equipped with the ISG, the miles per gallon go up to 29/36, respectively, which is a good thing for those who are eco-minded.

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Even though the car is of a size that is highly maneuverable and manageable, it has an electric power steering (EPS) system that really makes it even more than expectedly easy to park and position. While the positioning of the Soul is that it is of-the-moment—the Kia verbiage describes it as having a “high-tech, futuristic cabin,” although I can’t exactly figure out what that’s supposed to reference, as the IP, instrumentation, materials, and layout are rather normal-tech, contemporary—being able to position it with that EPS brings to mind a high-end gaming system. That’s high-tech and futuristic. (EPS also is a gasoline-saving measure, by the way.)

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Selected specs

Engine: 1.6-liter, inline four-cylinder with gasoline direct injection

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 138 @ 6,300 rpm

Torque: 123 lb-ft @ 4,850 rpm

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 100.4 in.

Length: 162.2 in.

Width: 70.3 in.

Height: 63.4 in.

EPA: 29/36 mpg city/hwy