I recently made a road trip to Amesbury, MA and I borrowed a 2012 Kia Soul ! from Kia, obviously. I finally get to see what all the Hamster hype is about…

This is the Kia Soul !, and that weird exclamation point actually stands for the trim level. The trims go Soul, Soul +, and the Soul !. Weird and quirky, just like the urban crossover itself. But that’s what makes this car so loveable, isn’t it? It’s not just the funny hamsters we see in the commercials; it’s also what we see when we look at a Soul.

I’ve been waiting to drive a Kia Soul since they came out. And surprisingly, of all the Kia products I’ve tested, this is the one that’s just never showed up in my driveway. Good thing, then, that I was going to Massachusetts and happened to tell Kia about it.

Picking the Soul up I was glad that it was red, because I had seen an Alien green colored model on the way up, and I literally shook my head and disapproval. So you have no idea how much my heart relaxed when I saw a Molten red Soul sitting out from of the office where I picked her up from. Unfortunately, the same couldn’t be said for the interior. As I commented, it looked like Louis Vuitton threw up on the seats. I was told it’s called Houndstooth trim, I wanted an animal to come and chew it off with its hound’s tooth…

But complaining aside, I had a long drive ahead of me, and I didn’t have time to stare at the seats. Luckily I was on a time schedule, otherwise I’d probably still be standing there with a questioning look on my face in regards to those seats.

The Kia Soul’s 2-liter 4-banger makes a respectable 164 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque, which makes it good on gas at 26 mpg city and 34 mpg highway (the manual gets the same gas mileage on the + trim). However, around town the Soul is far more sporting than you’d believe it to be. The suspension is well sprung for sporty behavior, and the !‘s standard 235/45 R18s front and rear help keep the car locked on in corners. Now it’s no sports car, but it’s not a disappointment, either. The marketing manager of Turner Motorsport, who’s a weekend racer, even made mention to the large tires. We even joked about the car potentially making a cool rally car. How about it, Kia, hmm? I say let’s do it. The good thing is that we’d be able to strip the Houndstooth for a sparse racing interior.

On a long drive from Virginia to Massachusetts the interior of the Soul is comfortable, but the suspension can ride rough on the highway for long periods of time. It especially feels bad when hitting potholes or poorly paved roads, a very regular thing on the NJ Turnpike. They often times rattle the cabin and can come up through the seat and steering wheel to make you feel like it’s worse than it probably is. And the steering feels a bit too loose for my liking at 60-80 mph, honestly. I mean, it’s not going to cause you to crash, but it’s a bit sensitive and should be stiffer so you don’t over-correct in case of emergencies.

As far as volume goes, the interior is spacious holds a lot of stuff. It held all my camera gear, a duffel bag, my Ferrari rolley suitcase, and my backpack. There are two 12V jacks up front, and I had these them both used up, so I had to actually use a power inverter plugged into the rear hatch 12V adapter so I could plug my cell phone in. You see I had just gotten the Samsung Galaxy S III, and the battery sucked on it (I’m back to an iPhone now), and I had to keep it plugged in because I was constantly getting phone calls. The Kia Soul definitely would serve the purpose of being a great camping or tailgating car, then.

On the way up and back to Raleigh, NC I averaged right at 32 mpg, which is great seeing as which I was stuck in traffic for about 1/3 of my driving time. God that sucked. Thank God for the UVO (a Microsoft tech that mimics Sync) entertainment system that allowed me to use the music on my phone via Bluetooth, and then the fact that I could plug in my iPod’s data cable to the USB port to play my music that way. And then I have to give a nod to SiriusXM and Howard Stern. Hey, I’ve gotta have my Stern fix on a daily basis, so I listened to that a lot, which was great.

Back to those hamsters for a minute. Remember in the commercials where you see the beat being flashed via some lights on the speakers? Well that’s actually in the Kia Soul. It can be turned off (yes!), or you can just change the colors. You can set it to have just a mood lighting effect, or you can set it to beat with the rhythm of the music. After a while I turned it off. It’s fun to Party Rock at different times, and to show it off, but then it just gets annoying at night. I can’t say I didn’t play a few LMFAO tunes, as well as the original Kia Soul ad song, Fort Knox by Goldfish. People seem to find it cute and entertainingly funny when they first see this happening. It’s a cool party trick.

In the end I learned that I definitely liked the Kia Soul a lot. It’s not necessarily a car I’d buy, but it’s the perfect car for college kids, high schoolers, or as a first car. It’s even great if you have animals. This is why it should really be considered when looking at back to school stuff for your kids, or for yourself. Great gas mileage, good around-town comfort, and a spaciously safe car is good for anyone, really.

I’d still like to see the Kia Soul offered with all-wheel drive, a manual transmission, and a turbo pumping out over 200 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque. C’mon, Kia, let’s go rallying!

2012 Kia Soul !

2.0-liter inline-4

Horsepower: 164 hp @ 6,500 rpm

Torque: 148 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm

Gas mileage: 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway

Weight: 2,778 lbs

Base MSRP: $19,600

Destination: $750

Total as-tested: $20,350



18″ tires w/ alloy wheels

6-speed automatic transmission

Body-color fascia accents

Body-color, power adjustable outside mirrors

Heated outside mirrors w/turn-signal indicators

Rear wiper/washer/defroster

Privacy glass (rear doors and rear glass)

Power sunroof w/tilt

Front fog lights

Projection headlamps

Front LED accent lights

LED taillights

Auto on/off headlamps


Air conditioning

AM/FM/CD+MP3+SiriusXM Satellite radio

Tweeter speakers

USB/auxiliary input jacks

UVO in-vehicle infotainment w/HD Radio technology, rear-camera display

Audio Upgrade Package: Infinity audio w/ center speaker, subwoofer, external amplifier, speaker lights

Steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls

Leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob

Tilt & telescoping steering column

Bluetooth wireless technology

Power door locks

Power windows w/driver’s auto down

Remote keyless entry

Center console armrest/storage

Active Eco system

Auto-dimming rear-view mirror

One 12V power outlet (3 on +/!)


Unique sand-black interior trim

Sand-black cloth seats w/ houndstooth inserts

60/40 split-folding rear seats (standard on base and + Souls, but optional on ! trim. Mine had them)

Driver’s 6-way adjustable seat

Metal-finish trim on instrument panel and inside door handles

Floor mats

Upper I/P storage bin w/cover

Dual-level glove box

Dual front cup holders

Front-door map pockets w/ bottle holders

Rear-door bottle holders

Dual visor illumination vanity mirrors w/covers

Cargo-area light

Luggage under-floor tray


Dual front advanced airbags

Dual front seat-mounted side airbags

Full-length side curtain airbags

Front active headrests

3-point seat belts for all seating positions

Front seat-belt pretensioners

Height-adjustable front seat-belt anchors

4-wheel disc brakes w/anti-lock brakes (ABS)

Electronic Stability Control (ESC)

Vehicle Stability Management (VSM)

Hill-start Assist Control (HAC)

Tire-Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)

Side-impact door beams

Front & rear crumple zones

Impact-absorbing steering column

Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (LATCH)

Rear child-safety door locks



The Good: Funky style and fun driving nature; UVO system; Comfortable enough for 16 hours worth of driving; Odd flashing interior lights while listening to music is neat; Gas mileage helps on long drives.
The Bad: Odd flashing interior lights while listening to music get old; Suspension hits hard over potholes and poorly paved highways; Engine can wheeze under hard acceleration with little go; Interior and exterior styling leaves some people clueless; Small gas tank doesn’t help on long drives.
The Ugly: Some people just don’t like the way it looks.
The Truth: Realistically, there’s nothing to really hate about the Kia Soul. It’s a special car meant for a certain someone, but even if you don’t like it, you’ll enjoy it once you’re inside. It’s great for college kids or a high schooler’s first car.