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2011 Kia Soul Performance

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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.

The larger engine is the standard powertrain on the three top Soul models: the typographically challenging Soul+, Soul!, and Soul Sport. But don't feel that you need to get the larger one; there isn't much performance difference between the two. The manual gearbox in the Soul is light and quite precise, but throws are long and clutch coordination leaves something to be desired. Soul models with the automatic transmission are surprisingly responsive and agreeable—likely because its four speeds seem very well chosen for the engine's torque curve. Moderate acceleration comes with an engine note that develops a bit of thrum at higher highway speeds.

It's hardly the stuff of dreams, but the powertrain 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. But the whole setup has been calibrated well; there's no indecision, and at mid-throttle the transmission seems happy to stay in a higher gear and take advantage of all the mid-range torque the engine has. Yep, full-throttle downshifts earn a slight bit of boominess, but it's momentary, not a constant cruising-speed issue, even at 85 mph.

The 2011 Kia Soul is fun to drive, but not fast.

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.

All other aspects of the driving experience are confidence-inspiring, even a little bit sporty. The steering has a rather quick ratio but a hefty, secure feel at speed, which helps make the Soul feel nimble but surefooted.

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