Performance » 7
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PERFORMANCE | 7 out of 10
can be hustled along at an unanticipated rate of knots
engine provides plenty of power for a vehicle this size...but it's somewhat unrefined and noisy
fine in around-town driving, but struggle to provide adequate highway passing power
Quick moves at an interstate pace can make the Soul feel twitchy, requiring consistent attention at the wheel.
it actually drives like something just a little different, offering quicker-than-expected steering and less-than-expected lean when really pushing it.
It's hardly the stuff of enthusiast dreams, but the Kia Soul is an endearing performer, with frisky acceleration and steering.
Maybe it's the friendly, kicky sheetmetal or the hamster-driven marketing campaign, but the Soul colors your driving impressions before you even key it to life. Once you do, there's a little more to enjoy this year, with a pair of new drivetrains that boost power and quiet down the Soul's old raucous inside voice. The base Soul has a 1.6-liter four-cylinder, good for 135 horsepower and 121 pound-feet of torque, coupled to either a six-speed manual or automatic transmission. We'd still opt for the larger 2.0-liter four, which isn't that much less economical, and grunts out 164 horsepower.
With the extra power, the Soul's an cruiser with good urban grunt, particularly helped out by the new automatic transmission, which has two more gears than the outgoing box. We're not so much in favor of the manual, which shifts fine but has long throws and long pedal movement, and runs counter to the Soul's city-scooter mission.
In most versions the Soul rides smoothly, though it can get a bit bouncy on some freeway surfaces, where road noise gets to be an issue as well. You should think twice about the big 18-inch wheel and tire package, for those reasons. Steering is electric and quicker than the norm in the hatchback class (except for the Ford Focus), and with a 2800-pound curb weight, the Soul feels eager to corner on its strut front and torsion-beam rear suspension. It's one of the few compacts that feels more adept than the sum of its parts, something the Honda Civic's all but given up.
It's not truly fast, but the 2012 Kia Soul has a fun driving feel thanks to improved engines and quick steering.