Special Coverage

New York Int’l Auto Show

In an effort to keep the Soul’s sales momentum on a roll, Kia extensively refreshes the model for ’12.

The quirky compact cross/utility vehicle, which went on sale as a ’10 in 2009, has proven an unexpected hit for Kia in the U.S., racking up 67,110 sales last year, making it the brand’s third best-selling vehicle and the market’s best-selling “box,” Ward’s data shows.

Kia has updated the ’12 Soul’s powertrains to wring out better fuel economy and performance.

“With gas prices on the rise, this mid-cycle refresh adds even more style and fun-to-drive performance to the vehicle that started our design-led transformation, while also improving fuel economy by 10%,” says Michael Sprague, Kia Motors America vice president-marketing.

Buyers of the Soul now can choose between Hyundai-Kia’s 138-hp Gamma 1.6L gasoline direct-injected 4-cyl. engine that also is in the new Hyundai Accent/Kia Rio subcompacts, and a 160-hp 2.0L 4-cyl.

The current ’11 Soul is powered by previous-generation 1.6L and 2.0L 4-cyl. engines making 122 hp and 142 hp, respectively.

The new 1.6L and 2.0L versions also offer increased torque. The 1.6L makes 122 lb.-ft. (165 Nm), compared with the previous 115 lb.-ft. (156 Nm). Torque tops out at 143 lb.-ft. (194 Nm) in 2.0L Souls, from 137 lb.-ft. (186 Nm) in the ’11 model.

The Soul’s transmissions also are changed out, with the manual moving to a 6-speed from a 5-speed and the automatic going to six gears from four.

The manual transmission still is standard on all Souls, although buyers of the three upper trims: Soul+, Soul! and Soul sport – can opt for the automatic. Those grades also get the 2.0L engine standard.

Kia estimates fuel economy of the 1.6L Soul at 28/34 mpg (8.0-7.0 L/100 km) city/highway, up from 26/31 mpg (9.0-8.0 L/100 km) in the 1.6L ’11 model.

Fuel economy of 2.0L Souls also is improved, to 27/33 mpg (9.0-7.0 L/100 km) city/highway compared with 24/30 mpg (10.0-8.0 L/100 km) previously.

Kia says it has subtly changed the Soul’s exterior look. Headlamps are slightly bulged and now have projector beams with light-emitting-diode daytime-running lights, while the hood, front and rear bumpers have been changed. LEDs also are present in the rear lights.

The Soul’s boxy shape has been smoothed and streamlined, and two “exotic” new colors, Canyon and Moss, are added for ’12.

The base Soul retains many of its standard features, such as power windows/door locks; a chrome-accented grille; front and rear disc brakes; and 15-in. steel wheels. However, door handles and side mirrors now match the body color instead of being black.

The Soul+ keeps its remote keyless entry, Bluetooth and 16-in. alloy wheels, while the Soul! retains its 18-in. alloys, power sunroof and fog lamps. It also adds the LED projector headlamps and taillamps.

The Soul sport gets a new Infinity audio system, also available on the Soul+ and Soul!, which now comes with Kia’s UVO by Microsoft infotainment system.

The big news for the Soul’s interior is the availability of a navigation system, part of a premium package for Soul! and Soul sport grades that is in lieu of UVO, Kia says. Also available is push-button start.

All Soul grades retain their unique seat fabrics: black cloth on the base Soul; Soul-logo fabric with the Soul+; sand-and-black houndstooth fabric for the Soul!; and red-and-black fabric with the Soul sport.

All Soul models still have MacPherson-strut front and torsion-beam rear suspensions. But the upper three grades now have a sub-frame dynamic damper and a heavy-engine support dynamic damper to reduce noise, vibration and harshness in the cabin.

Also cutting Soul NVH levels is thicker dash insulation, an A-pillar noise-absorber pad and optimized exhaust silencer, as well as vinyl sealing on door trim.

Additionally, Soul sport models receive firmer springs, re-tuned shock absorbers and a larger front stabilizer bar, Kia says.

The ’12 Soul is expected at Kia U.S. dealers this fall. Soul sales through March were up 103.3% to 22,057, compared with first-quarter 2010.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com