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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.

Wayne Cunningham
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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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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