Test Drive

The Kia Soul offers style and substance and is waiting to be discovered

I promise not to use the F-word. You know the one: "funky."

But what else comes to mind with the Kia Soul? A quirky-looking, spunky-to-drive, inexpensive hatchback that does its own thing while tearing up the econobox archetype. There are pricier, more comfortable and more engaging cars available, but when you're driving the Soul, none of that really matters.

The Kia Soul has been a popular genre-bending compact crossover since it was launched in 2010. For 2012, the new Soul gets styling changes, more efficient new powertrains, interior updates and striking LED taillights and running lights.

Once again, Peter Schreyer has done a remarkable job of doing a lot with a little and creating a visually captivating car in an unassuming category. The Soul is taut, purposeful and utterly unique. The giant character line on the side even accentuates the 'wedginess' of its shape. The 18-inch wheels and new LEDs improve it further.

Storage isn't a problem with the tall rear opening and fold down rear seats allowing for plenty of cargo.

The tall LED taillight design is eye-catching.

The '!' trim level with leather has "Sand-Black" two-tone interior trim.

Buyers probably aren't buying this car for the driving experience, but it's good to new that the all-new 2.0L engine produces 164 horsepower while getting better fuel efficiency than its predecessor, thanks to some new technologies including Dual Continious Variable Valve Timing. The Soul now gets 26mpg city, 34mpg highway.

The optional 18-inch scultped five-spoke wheels are the ones to get.

Disappointingly, the steering wheel is wrapped in the same plastic-y feeling material as the wheel in the Kia Optima we drove in the spring.

The high seating position and big windows give you great visibility over the road, just like in all your favorite crossover SUVs.

The central console rises out and is capped off with a big round speaker at the top. Music and entertainment is a central theme of the Soul's interior, and audio controls are the (literal) centerpiece.

Rings of light surround the speakers on the doors, changing colors gradually or in tune with the music playing through the system.

The Kia Soul feels peppy and reassuring on the move. It's the sort of car you can just get into and instantly feel comfortable driving and knowing how it will behave. Steering is very light and effortless, and there's a little more power than you think when you press the gas. It just, goes, you know?

The Kia Soul is fun to live with but it doesn't really fit into any category. It's car-like but not a crossover, sporty but not sleek, tall but not rugged and voluminous but kind of small.

The Kia Soul starts at the low price of around $15,000, or $19,900 for the '!' trim level (yes, that's what it's called) that we tested. Bargain.

In this industry, so much money and marketing effort is spent trying to woo the elusive "Generation Y." Men with bad haircuts and graying temples are also known to call them "Millenials."

They're overthinking it. You can't try to convince people that something is cool if it isn't; you have to make something that stands on its own merits, and then poeple will discover it.

Offer something affordable that doesn't look like everything else on the road, and has an air of "high tech" about it, and you're off to a great start. Have that car exceed people's expectations when they drive it, and you're doing even better. People want a well-rounded car that does everything they want and looks interesting. For a lot of people (of any age), the Kia Soul is that car.