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The 2011 Kia Soul has brought an entirely new attitude to the small-car class—and its design nearly outsmarts the bricklike Scion xB and the oddity that is the Nissan Cube.
While once upon a time, Kia's products were derivative, the Soul is now the one likely to be copied; it's a trendsetting, stylish fou-door wagon with a sharp, roomy, and well-fitted cabin, as well as a comprehensive list of safety and fun features.
The 2011 Soul is a fun take on the now-popular "urban wagon" theme; it wins on styling, hands-down. The reverse boomerang of the rear end reminds some of the In-N-Out burger logo; to others, it's simply a crisp, rakish shape with a little bit of busy detailing up front. The front wears the new Kia corporate grille and friendly-feeling headlamps; the rear is less tidy, but the square, tall taillamps frame a light and lofty hatchback that's nearly vertical—a nice punctuation to the Soul's casual leaning stance. Inside, the Soul isn't nearly as groundbreaking. It's a refined blend of round shapes and embossed plastics—a slightly hipper version of the small-car standard, but not stooping to novelty like a VW Beetle—and a variety of colors and textures if you like, from red plastic covering the dash to houndstooth-check material swathing the seats.
You have a choice between two different engines, either with automatic or manual transmissions, in the 2011 Kia Soul. Most Soul wagons will sport a four-cylinder engine with 2.0 liters of displacement, 142 horsepower, and 137 pound-feet of torque; but there's also a 1.6-liter four-cylinder making 122 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque. Either way, the powertrain is hardly the stuff of dreams, but it manages to propel the 2,800-pound Soul quickly enough, thanks to well-chosen gear ratios—even if having four speeds means they're really far apart. All Souls ride atop a conventional MacPherson strut front and torsion-beam rear suspension, and they have four-wheel disc brakes. Base and mid-line Souls wear 15- and 16-inch wheels. The Soul Sport leads the performance pack with 18-inch wheels and different suspension tuning. Across the board, handling is as tidy as any compact's, though most testers find that the 18-inch wheels on the Sport make the ride less comfortable on city streets.
The boxy exterior of the 2011 Kia Soul promises a versatile, roomy, almost van-like interior, and it delivers on that promise—with interior space for five (or four adults) or, with the back seats folded forward, some very impressive cargo space. In front, the driver sits quite upright, and finds easy-to-use controls at hand and cheery gauges framed by the steering wheel—which is not the case with the Scion, for example. Knee and legroom are good, seat comfort is good, and headroom is great—even in the backseat, where the middle passenger may be compressed for shoulder room. The second-row seats fold forward to boost cargo area over 53 cubic feet, and the cargo floor lifts to expose more storage area; an optional compressed-foam cargo organizer also fits in there. The Soul also has a two-tier glove box capable of holding a 15-inch laptop, a center console, an iPod-sized bin atop its center stack, and lots of cup holders. Dimensionally it checks in at 161.6 inches overall, 70.3 inches wide, 63.4 inches high, and it has a 100.4-inch wheelbase.
For a small car—especially one with such a low price—the 2011 Kia Soul comes with a very extensive (and complete) set of safety equipment. Front side and side-curtain airbags are included, along with four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes and electronic stability control. The front seats also have active head restraints, which help curb whiplash. It's received excellent safety ratings from both major agencies as well.
The Car Connection has found the combination of cavernous cargo capacity, and simple switchgear with a satisfying, quality feel, to help the Soul feel even better than the sum of its parts. The awesome-sounding (optional) 315-watt sound system and well-integrated Bluetooth add to that impression. Options on various Soul models include a sunroof, that sound-system upgrade, and more than 60 accessories, from styling add-ons to interior trim. A navigation system isn't offered, nor is a hard-drive-based audio system, a notable omission.
Two different Special Edition Soul models will be offered in the 2011 model year; both will be based on the Soul+ trim and include automatic climate control plus unique exterior styling and special accessories.
- Adorable, angular shape
- Fun to drive at city speeds
- Spacious interior
- Generous feature list
- Strong safety
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- Long travel for manual shifter
- Road noise
- Sluggish at higher speed