Behind the Wheel: 2011 Kia Soul

amanda's new kia soul 3Long-time readers will remember that I’ve reviewed the Kia Soul before – but that was the 2010 model. About a year after I wrote that review, my wife bought the 2011 model, and Kia had made enough changes to it to warrant reviewing it again. Plus, I’ve had much more time to get to know the Soul, so I can give a bit more of an informed view on its strengths… and weaknesses.

First and foremost, my biggest complaint with the 2010 Soul was the shine-shatteringly stiff ride – mercifully, this has been improved in the 2011 Soul. It is still a fairly stiff ride, but it’s no longer likely to shake the fillings out of your teeth.

The 2011 Soul retains the fuel-sipping 2.0L engine and easily manages 28-30MPG with both city and highway driving. It’s also incredibly nimble – this is a great city car that’s easy to maneuver in tight quarters and parks or makes sharp turns with ease. The engine is small and quite buzzy at times, but it suffices to get the car moving quickly – though it often needs to downshift to make that happen (the transmission itself likes to stay in higher gears; presumably for fuel efficiency). And once you’re going, the 4-wheel disk brakes do a great job of stopping you in a hurry – indeed, I almost think the brakes on this car are overkill for such a lightweight vehicle.

All models of the Soul are front-wheel drive only, which further cements them as “tall wagons” and not “crossover SUVs.” The Soul does have a traction control system though, which is actually quite useful since it is very easy to get the narrow front wheels to slip when accelerating if the roads are even just a little bit slick.

Forward visibility in the Soul is great – you sit up high enough to see right down the front hood and can easily tell where your front bumper is – but rear visibility suffers terribly due to the very thick rear pillars (and relatively small rear hatch window).

Interior room in the Soul is good (considering its size), but nothing to write home about.

All that said though, I honestly can’t say I like the Kia Soul. The steering wheel is just a little bit too small for my taste, and the steering can be a bit twitchy on the highway. The steering wheel itself has the awkward large spokes so common to cars that have radio & cruise controls on the steering wheel itself. At low RPMs there’s hardly any power in the engine, and though the transmission will downshift to get you into the power band, it doesn’t sound like it likes being there. Although a very nimble car (especially at lower speeds in the city), it just isn’t that much fun to drive most of the time.

All in all, the Kia Soul is a very good commuter car that’s versatile enough to carry people and stuff around without costing an arm and a leg in gas money. A practical car that does what you need, but isn’t that exciting to drive.

A New Keithmobile?

A new Keithmobile? Say it ain’t so! (It ain’t so.)

Could it be? Is it possible? A new Keithmobile – the first new one in 7 years?

amanda's new kia soul 2

Ha ha, no, actually this is NOT a new Keithmobile – the faithful Keithmobile-D (my Mitsubishi Outlander) is still around, and we can’t have more than one Keithmobile at a time, now can we?

However, this IS a new car – our first “second” car – and since we still have the Outlander, that kind of makes this “Amanda’s car.” And boy, does it suit her!

This is a 2011 Kia Soul – which you might recognize instead by it’s insane TV commercial featuring a bunch of singing (rapping) hamsters. Yeah, that car.

Specifically, this is a Soul+ (because apparently Kia felt that using names or even letters for trim levels was too boring, so instead we get symbols – there’s the “+”, the “!” and… the “Sport.” Real creative there.)

You can look up all the particulars online if you care, but suffice it to say that this is the perfect second car for us. The Soul is a nice cruising car – comfy and quiet on the highway, with good gas mileage and a kick-ass sound system (8 speakers, including a subwoofer) which also has a true iPod connection (that is, not only can you play your iPod, but the info about what song is playing shows up on the radio’s screen, and you can skip songs using the steering wheel mounted controls).

Most amusingly, the upgraded audio package includes what can only be described as “mood lighting.” There are LED lights around the speakers in the doors which can glow in one of 5 different colors (red, blue, yellow, green, purple) – and they can either just cycle through the colors slowly, or they can “pulse” in time to your music!

I drove this car a while back as a rental, and thought that it might work well for us as a second car, and after doing some research, we decided that it would be perfect. It sits 4 people comfortably and has ample space in the back (especially with the seats folded down), plus it has that nice “not too high, not too low” driving/seating position which we like.

Oh – and that spine-shattering stiff ride I talked about in my original review of this car? Well, apparently Kia listens to what people say, because they’ve definitely fixed it in the 2011 model. The ride is firm, but not nearly as bad as it used to be. So kudos to Kia for fixing that one big problem!

The Soul is not all-wheel-drive, however, so it will probably spend some time sitting in the garage come winter, but for most of the year (at least around here) it will do quite nicely. And it’s nice to finally have 2 cars in the family!

Truthfully though, the Kia Soul is a very nice little car – not too big, but not too small, either. If you’re looking for a practical car with a bit of style that won’t cost you an arm and a leg, you can’t go wrong with one of these. Hey, I bought one, after all!