Kia used New York to reveal a welcome mid-life update for its popular "urban passenger vehicle." In addition to comprehensive powertrain upgrades that boost both performance and economy, the 2012 Kia Soul also benefits from a host of cosmetic tweaks to mark the arrival of its new engine/transmission combos.

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Still available in Soul, Soul+, Soul! and Soul sport trims, the base version of Kia's cool people mover now comes with the automaker's new 1.6-liter gasoline direct injection four-cylinder engine. It makes an impressive 135 horsepower and 121 lb-ft of torque -- up from the 122/115 figures of the same-size four that it replace -- and is backed by a new six-speed manual transmission that supplants the five-speed used in the 2011 Soul. The transition raises projected EPA figures to 28 city/34 highway, gains of two, and three mpg, respectively. The new 2.0-liter that's standard in all other 2012 Soul variants is equally impressive. Rated at 160 horsepower and 143 lb-ft of torque -- up from the 142/137 counts of its predecessor -- the new 2.0-liter is backed by pair of new six-speed cog changers that supplant the 2011's 5M/4A transmission choices and bump its EPA stats to 27/33 mpg, plus-three bumps in both departments.

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Exterior changes to the 2012 Kia Soul, while less profound, do add a tad more visual punch. All versions get slightly edgier front/rear fascias and a recontoured hood while the Soul! boasts new projector beam headlamps set off with LED running lights and adds LED taillamps, as well. Kia is adding two new colors, Canyon and Moss, to the 2012 Soul's color palette and indicates that more Special Edition models are already in the works. Well equipped in all trim levels, the 2012 Soul's cabin also benefits from several upgrades, highlighted by the availability of a new Infinity premium audio system that's optional on the Soul+ and standard on the Soul! and Soul sport. The latter pair also offers Kia's UVO in-car hands-free communication/infotainment system (standard on Soul sport) and available Premium Package that includes heated front seats, leather seat trim, automatic climate control, a navigation system -- in place of UVO -- and push-button starting.

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