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Kia UVO: A Solid, No-Frills Infotainment System

Kia UVO: Mainstream Infotainment In The 2012 Soul
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Kia's UVO is a solid, albeit basic infotainment system. It lets you plug in a USB-based flash drive, an iPod, or a Zune (if anyone still has one) for music playback. The company isn't trying to reinvent the wheel with UVO. Rather, it focused on functions that are important to a commuting driver who wants to navigate through his MP3s using basic voice commands and what we consider to be exceptional recognition. There's a smart blend of touchscreen-based controls and more conventional physical buttons (which we actually prefer).

As you've probably surmised, UVO isn't as advanced as SYNC with MyFord Touch, but it doesn't try to be, either. We realize that not everyone wants that level of complexity behind the wheel. So, you end up with something simpler, faster, and more responsive, despite its older SoC from Freescale. The availability of UVO on most of Kia’s line-up, and on mid-level trims is a step in the right direction, too. Though, we'd like to see UVO available on all trims, including manual transmission-equipped vehicles. Surely, it'll make its way to the Sedona and Forte models over time, too.

Although SYNC with MyFord Touch has a lot of bonus features that make it great for road trips (there's the Wi-Fi hotspot, video input, HD Radio tagging, and SiriusXM time-shifting), Kia UVO covers the basics that you're more likely to use daily on your trip to and from work. At first, we were disappointed when our test vehicle arrived without the $2500 Premium Package that adds Navigation with SiriusXM traffic, push-button start, heated, leather seats, and automatic climate control. Frankly, though, we didn't miss any of those features during our week with Kia's Soul Exclaim (particularly since the navigation system overwrites UVO in favor of a bigger screen and turn-by-turn directions with completely different software).

There are some caveats to UVO that we can’t hold against Kia, such as the system's text messaging capabilities. That's an issue to bring up to your phone manufacturer. A lack of application link support over USB (for streaming audio applications) seems to be a more common oversight on newer mainstream factory infotainment systems, despite the fact that even Ford's first-generation SYNC system had it. A quick glance through Pandora’s FAQ reveals that only select BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Mini models enable smartphone-based streaming radio applications, though even they are limited to Apple's iPhone.

We enjoyed our time with UVO and the Kia Soul Exclaim. In our day-to-day driving, UVO worked great. We didn't encounter any glaring flaws in the software. It just worked. We mixed up HD Radio, SiriusXM, and USB-based music playback. Throughout it all, we received a number of phone calls, and the software handled transitions to and from each subsystem smoothly. The flexibility to control UVO through a touchscreen, voice commands, and plenty of physical buttons on the head unit itself, rounds out a user-friendly implementation. Kia manages to top it all off with a useful backup camera, novel speaker lights, and a respectable premium audio system from Infinity.

As for the 2012 Kia Soul Exclaim itself, we find it to be a good platform aimed at a younger crowd shopping for compact cars with more headroom and space than typical hatchbacks. Kia does a great job controlling noise, vibration, and harshness, making its Soul Exclaim impressively quiet. In fact, a couple of times we wondered if the car's engine was even running at idle. The mid-level Soul Plus and higher-end Exclaim include an upgrade from the base 1.6 L motor to a new-for-2012 2.0 L Hyundai Nu engine, featuring dual-continuous variable valve timing and direct injection that brings power output to 164 hp and 148 ft-lbs of torque. Not too shabby for a car that weighs in at 2800 pounds.

Kia does a great job dressing up the Soul's interior, too. The dashboard is composed of hard plastics, but the surfaces are covered in a rubbery texture that looks good and provides a higher-quality feel, though still hard to the touch. The door panels are coated as well, and have soft padded vinyl inserts where your elbow typically rests. Other niceties, such as LED running lights, turn signals, taillights, and projector headlights, are exclusive to the Exclaim trim, adding a touch of European panache to an otherwise-mundane commuter.

At the end of the day, we like UVO as a no-frills solution for customers looking for iPod, iPhone, Zune, and USB flash drive compatibility, complemented by intuitive Bluetooth hands-free functionality.

And while we appreciate what Kia has done with UVO, the company still faces an issue of fragmentation. It has two completely different systems available: one being the Microsoft-powered UVO and the other being the company's navigation-oriented solution. This is an area where Kia can learn from Ford’s approach, which includes multiple implementations of SYNC spanning all the way up to a navigation-equipped configuration. Unless you truly plan to use SiriusXM traffic regularly and are willing to pay the subscription fees, we suggest skipping the Premium Package entirely. Stick with UVO and use your smartphone for the few times you need directions.

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