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2012 Kia Soul (pictures)

The Soul is a unique-looking but very practical vehicle. Its basic cabin electronics cover all the core areas of car tech.

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Wayne Cunningham
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1 of 24 Josh Miller/CNET
The Kia Soul is a compact car with a distinctive shape, roughly equivalent to Kia's Forte in class, although on a different platform. It works well as a stylish utility vehicle.
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For 2012, Kia gave the Soul its tiger nose grille, a design cue used on other Kia models, and a more curved front end. The headlights have a bulbous casing with a strong drop-off underneath for the parking lights.
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Upper trim models come with this 2-liter four-cylinder engine, which uses variable valve timing on the intake and exhaust to put average fuel economy around 30 mpg. The base model Soul uses a 1.6-liter direct-injection engine, which offers less power and turns in slightly better fuel economy.
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Kia dresses up the boxy shape with some nice design details, such as the black A and B pillars and the strong contour down the belt-line.
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The suspension of the Soul is very typical for a modern economy car, with a front-wheel-drive architecture. The rear suspension is a torsion bar.
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The cargo space is a good size with the rear seats folded down.
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The upright seating position makes it easy to access the cabin.
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The rear seats offer a decent amount of legroom, which should serve most people.
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In !, or exclamation mark, trim, the Soul can be optioned with a navigation system. That system deletes a more advanced voice-command system, which comes standard with the car.
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Kia uses electric power steering in the Soul, which is boosted for easy wheel turn.
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Buttons that control various features are well-integrated with the steering wheel.
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The Soul can be had with a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission.
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Kia puts navigation and phone buttons along the top of the screen, and audio buttons along the bottom.
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The navigation system offers multiple routes for any destination.
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This navigation system also includes traffic information.
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Kia keeps its onscreen cabin tech interface very simple, making it easy to use.
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The phone system offers this onscreen keypad, along with the phone's downloaded contact list.
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Audio sources include USB drives and iPods, using this style of music library interface.
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This screen design for audio playback looks a lot nicer than most other automakers' designs.
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As a surprising feature, the screen can display album art if it is available on the connected device.
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The top trim Soul includes an Infinity audio system, with a subwoofer and center channel.
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As a little bit of whimsy, Kia includes a light system for the front door speakers, which can be controlled with this dial.
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The speaker lights pulse to the music, and cycle through a variety of colors, such as purple.
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