2012 Kia Soul review:

2012 Kia Soul

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2012 Kia Soul
The navigation system shows easy-to-read graphics, but the maps are only 2D. Josh Miller/CNET

The Soul also features a voice command system that controls both phone and navigation system, but I had a very difficult time getting it to understand anything I said. Maybe the microphone, positioned low on the center console, or the car's own sound insulation were not optimized for the voice command system, but I found it an exercise in frustration, especially when trying to input a street name.

Kia has another voice command system called UVO with a broader range of features, but the company hasn't integrated it with the navigation system. Currently, UVO comes standard with the car, but opting for the navigation system displaces it.

Resorting to the touch screen for the navigation system, I found that it responded very well, making it easy to enter destinations and get a route started. However, the navigation system offers no Internet-connected search options for local business, instead relying on its static points-of-interest database. The maps are limited to 2D views, but they do show traffic information.

The car's Bluetooth phone system offers the ability to download a paired phone's contact list, making it available onscreen and through voice command. One trick I have learned with prior Kia phone systems and the iPhone is that it wants last name first when using voice command to make a call.

Kia is also good about including modern, useful digital-audio sources. A USB port in the car handles USB drives, and an adapter cable works with iPods and iPhones. Bluetooth streaming also works well, but does not show the current track on the car's display. Browsing a music library from a connected USB drive or iPod was easy with the responsive display, and the Soul also let me cover the screen with album art, when it was available on the storage medium.

The Soul includes Bluetooth streaming for audio, but doesn't show track information on the screen. Josh Miller/CNET

In exclamation mark trim, the Soul also gets an eight-speaker Infinity audio system. That means six door speakers complemented by a center channel and subwoofer. I found this system well-balanced, with neither bass nor treble overwhelming other frequencies, but the sound was a little muddy. Vocals from tracks on The Smiths' "The Queen Is Dead" sounded muted, and bass came through as distant.

However, I took an unreasonable amount of pleasure in the light show given off by the woofers in the front doors. These speakers have light rings, from the factory, and a dial in the car let me set them to pulse to the music. It was very fun to drive around at night looking for tracks that would make the lights pulse as they cycled through their various colors.

In sum
As is typical with this generation of Kia models, the 2012 Soul's cabin electronics do not push any boundaries, but do offer core, useful functions. App integration, rapidly being adopted by other automakers, is the real missing ingredient here. Likewise, the engine, transmission, and suspension are solid and modern, the highlight being the engine's dual-valve timing. The direct-injection engine on the base model sounds intriguing, but its numbers do not make it a good alternative to the larger, port-injected engine.

The Soul really stands out for its design. Love it or hate it, the Soul will never be mistaken for another car. That boxy design leads to very practical interior space. The design of the cabin-tech interface is also excellent, uncomplicated, and easy to use.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Kia Soul
Trim !
Power train 2-liter 4-cylinder engine, 6-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 26 mpg city/34 mpg higway
Observed fuel economy 27.4 mpg
Navigation Optional flash-memory-based system with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources Bluetooth streaming, iPod, USB drive, auxiliary input, satellite radio
Audio system Infinity 8-speaker system
Driver aids Rearview camera
Base price $19,600
Price as tested $22,950

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