2012 Kia Soul + 2.0L Rental Review, Avis/National

Notable standard features on Avis/National’s 2012 Kia Soul+

  • 2.0L 4-cyl engine (164-hp, 148 ft-lb), 6-speed automatic transmission; 0-60 mph ~ 7.1 seconds
  • 23/28 (city/hwy) mpg fuel economy (**Reflects Hyundai’s & Kia’s recently revised and decreased fuel economy numbers)
  • Regular gas
  • 23.7 cubic feet (2nd row seats up)/53.4 cubic feet (2nd row seats down) trunk volume
  • Power windows, heated mirrors with integrated turn signals, locks
  • Tilt & telescoping steering wheel with integrated audio and cruise control buttons
  • 6-way manual driver’s seat, manual passenger’s seat
  • Manual headlights
  • Single zone manual HVAC
  • 4 speaker audio + tweeters with AM/FM/CD/MP3 (3 month Sirius subscription)
  • Inputs: Aux, Bluetooth, USB
  • 60/40 split folding rear seats
  • Cruise control


- Quirky exterior design and personality
- Much improved engine, corners well
- Above average sounding audio system with power boost
- Good visibility, quiet cabin
- Roomy and upright seating positions for all
- Miserly fuel economy
- Plenty of Soul badging in interior lest you forget what car you’re driving


- Suspension a little too firm
- Hard plastics on dashboard
- Lock/unlock horn chime too loud
- Headrests lack cushioning
- Trunk space on small side with rear seats up

CONCLUSION: Even better package than before.  Dancing hamsters are a +.

Before I rented cars, I was a Soul man (bad pun) and Zipcar user.  One of my preferred Zipcar vehicles was the 1st generation Kia Soul; fun to drive, good fuel economy, but cheap, thrashy and unrefined, especially with its antiquated four-speed transmission.  The engine was noisy and the suspension rock hard and truck like.  Fortunately, Kia took many criticisms to heart and made significant improvements for the 2nd generation Kia Soul.

This 2nd generation Kia Soul was a bit tricky to find.  National used to carry a lot of 1st generation Souls, but 2nd generation Souls are much harder to come by.  Now, just a token number are in service at National and Avis at DCA.  The Kia Soul Plus (or “+” as Kia calls it) with 6-speed automatic transmission starts at $18,050, and this rental did not carry any other options.  The top-of-the-line Kia Soul is called the Exclaim or “!”, but I have not seen that trim in fleet service. 

The same boxy shape is retained for 2012.  I like the look, but this is coming from someone who adores the Ford Flex.  It’s part miniature Ford Transit Connect, part Kia Tiger nose.  Surprisingly despite the upright windshield, wind noise intruding into the cabin is minimal.

For 2012, the former base 1.6L inline four-cylinder has been replaced with a 1.6L direct-injected “Gamma” engine sporting 138-hp and 123-ft-lb torque, increases of 16 and 8 respectively, from last year.  My + model was equipped with a new 2.0L port-injected “Nu” four-cylinder, generating 164-hp and 148 ft-lb, increases of 22 and 11 respectively, from last year.  The 1.6L is shared with the Hyundai Veloster, Accent, and Kia Rio, whereas the 2.0L is shared with the Hyundai Elantra.

The antiquated five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions have been replaced by a modern six-speed manual and automatic.  The new engines in combination with upgraded transmission significantly boosts fuel economy.  The new 1.6 pulls 27/35 compared to 26/31, and the new 2.0 manages 26/34 compared to 24/30.  I averaged 24 mpg in primarily spirited city driving with the air conditioning on max.  (**Edit 11/21/12: Hyundai and Kia recently revised their estimated fuel economy downwards.  The Kia Soul was downgraded to 25/30 for the 1.6L and 23/28 for the 2.0L).

Outside, the front and rear fascias have been refreshed.  The new Soul incorporates the corporate Peter Schreyer grille used on other Kias, as well as new front multi-reflector beam headlamp designs.  The rear tail-lights are now solid red LEDs, and heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals are standard on the +.  Slightly different door handles, rear bumper, and new 16″ wheels complete the exterior look.

Interior changes are more subtle.  The center stack is altered slightly with new HVAC and radio knobs.  The cloth seats are covered with the words “SOUL” in case you forget the vehicle you’re driving.  Connectivity, like all other Kia vehicles, is very good.  A USB port comes standard, along with an AUX jack.  Kia also added more noise insulation to the hood, dashboard, and A-pillars.  They also included new exhaust silencers, vibration dampers and sealing on the door trim.

The result of all these improvements is a remarkably refined Soul that retains its zippy, fun character.  The cabin is surprisingly quiet, and the engine too.  I rented the Soul shortly after driving the VW Tiguan and I much prefer the former.

The brakes are very good, steering feel is weighted, handling is quick, and visibility is excellent.  The new six-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly.  The 2.0L is sufficiently peppy, even for highway merging, while returning reasonable gas mileage.  Thanks to all of the noise dampening, the Soul is quiet on the highway.

The slightly upgraded audio system with tweeters and Powerboost did its job admirably.  The system affords clarity and clean bass.  I felt compelled to play LMFAO’s noted single, even though I hate that song (the dancing hamsters are memorable, however).

I struggled to find drawbacks with this car.  The suspension is a little too firm, the unlock-horn chime too loud, and the headrests border on being uncomfortably hard.  Because the Soul is classified as an SCAR or Standard Vehicle at National, you’ll get a lot of utility for your rental buck.  Your buck goes even farther at Avis, where the Soul is likely a compact car.  The Soul excels in urban errands, although I’d be hesitant about taking it for long trips.  I think it compares more than favorably against other standard cars, such as the Mitsubishi Outlander and Dodge Avenger, or compact cars such as the Ford Fiesta, Nissan Versa, and Nissan Cube.

For more information on the 2012 Kia Soul +, please refer to the manufacturer’s website here:


**UPDATE**: The 2012 Kia Soul is Kia’s 2nd best-selling vehicle after the Optima, having sold some 60K+ units in the first six months.  A redesigned 2014 Kia Soul is already in the works, with an improved interior.  Sounds like good news for car renters!

4 Responses

  1. Pingback: 2012 Kia Soul + Ride Report/Review - FlyerTalk Forums

    • carrentingreviews says:

      Hi Ray,

      Thanks for visiting CRR. Unfortunately, we’re not familiar with the rental situation in Puerto Rico. You may want to consider calling your local rental agencies for inventory information.

  2. Pingback: 2014 Kia Soul + Rental Review, National | CarRentingReviews

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