2012 Kia Soul Eco - If You Start Me Up...I'll Sometimes Stop

Having sailed the Mediterranean Sea in a Euro-spec 2011 Kia Soul ! 1.6 we at "Drive...He Said" got the chance to sample the changes for 2012 in the U.S. spec Kia Soul + Eco 1.6L with 6 speed automatic transmission. About the only bodies of water we encountered were the slushy pools containing the melt of the fluffy white frozen stuff.

What hasn't changed in the 2012 Kia Soul + Eco 1.6L:

- The "not me too" / tapering trapezoidal shape with sporty cues like swept back headlights, a hood borrowed from the Mini Cooper, a tapering roofline and exaggerated vertical tail blinkers. Our tester was dipped in Alien lime green (or if you prefer, "Slime Green")  a color which doesn't know the meaning of bashful.

- An interior bent on entertaining in a utilitarian sort of way. Gauges are large-print easy to read by glance, except in sun glare, The center-stack infotainment screen and surrounding buttons continue the trapezoid theme. Glowing red night-time illumination could do double duty in a "red light" district. There are dark hard plastics galore embossed with incongruous (trapezoidal)  patterns enough to defy boredom. Fit of pieces and panels is amazing given the low $13,900 price starting point. As is a standard USB port and Bluetooth connectivity.

- A small turn radius and high driver's seating position translate into easy moves and parking in urban congestion. The Soul's low mass  body is solid and the chassis is not easily upset. Damping proves sufficient, though jostling over RR crossings and high speed rear lift give away the more rudimentary semi-independent rear suspension.

-  The sub-compact dimensions belie roominess. The back seat is a place where three adults have little reason to complain, especially in matters of headroom. The cargo area has a low floor better to load parcels and a useful 60/40 split back seat better to swallow the occasional steamer trunk.

What has changed in the 2012 Kia Soul + Eco 1.6L:

- The 1.6L engine has picked up some steam and some cold clatter thanks to direct injection. Horsepower has gone from 122 to 138 and torque is boosted by 6% to 122 lb-ft. Even mated to a 6-speed manu-matic gearbox, the power combination feels less strained especially during a flogging.

- Despite standard disc rotors all-around, the brake pedal is mushier than before, almost like oatmeal, and now in line with other Kia products. The optional Eco package gets low rolling resistance tires. Even our tester's optional 205/55 series rubber mounted on 16" alloys couldn't help in matters of braking or grip.

- The steering ratio on this electric rack is really slow and feel seems lost in another time zone.

- What would a Kia Soul Eco be without an active [and defeatable]  "Eco" throttle control minder? How about more fun to drive?

The "Big News" in the 2012 Kia Soul + Eco 1.6L:

- An "Idle Stop and Go" engine start-stop feature. It's only available with the auto gearbox. The system relies on a larger capacity lead-acid battery, generator and  more durable STARTER. Before the Ready Lamp can come on, there needs to be sufficient charge in the higher capacity battery, which means the engine has to have been running for a nominal amount of time. Once the Soul Eco is stopped for more than a three second count, the engine cycles off - with a slight quiver. Hum the Stones song, release the brake pedal, and the engine fires as if  startled from a light sleep. Still there are those moments  the engine fires when the Soul Eco hasn't yet begun to move. This can happen when accessories are excessively discharging the battery. Or, as in the case of some colder days, the engine coolant needs to warm up to sufficiently heat the cabin.  For some there will be  solace in the defeatability of "Idle Stop and Go."

- Fuel economy - in theory - has been bumped by some 14%. In practice, "Idle Stop and Go" didn't activate quite so often. Blame low traffic congestion and cabin heat-demanding ambient cold weather. Observed combined fuel economy was 29 miles per gallon, an 11% improvement over the Soul 1.6L without the Eco package.

The $1000 Eco Package, including "Idle Stop and Go," brings the grand total for this compact crossover-ute to $17, 500 or Honda Fit territory.

If getting constantly "started up" is someone's idea of fun, then running a 2012 Kia Soul 1.6 Eco should be enough to"...MAKE A GROWN MAN CRY!"

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