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The reasonably priced 2011 Kia Soul offers unique and hip style with good fuel economy, an impressive list of standard safety features and a roomy interior.The Bad
Although passengers will find the interior of the 2011 Soul spacious, the hatchback offers limited cargo space and a noisy ride, particularly with the base engine.
The CarGurus View
For those looking for power and driving excitement, the Kia Soul probably will not be a first choice. An urban-chic auto definitely targeting the younger crowd, the 2011 Soul offers plenty of space for people (although not for cargo), a nice list of technology and safety features (especially given its affordable pricetag) and an engine that provides adequate power around town, if not for highway acceleration. The 2011 Soul is definitely a boxy ride more suited for a trip to the city diner with friends after a night on the town than to rugged or performance driving.
At a Glance
The Kia Soul just goes to show that inspiration can strike at any time. Designer Mike Torpey explains that the Soul was originally inspired by an educational program about the wild boar he saw while visiting Korea. The first sketch for the Soul, in fact, was a wild boar wearing a backpack—designed to convey the boxy vehicle’s tough, rugged style, “cool stance” and “ready to go” attitude. Clearly, this is a car designed for those who want fun and funky, rather than performance. With an affordable pricetag, front-speaker lights that can flash in time to the tunes on the sound system and color choices such as Alien, Molten, Ignition and Denim, the Kia Soul is designed for the younger person who wants to be able to box up the party “to go.”
The 2011 Soul returns this year in four trims—all front-wheel-drive vehicles (the Soul offers no all-wheel- or four-wheel-drive options, despite its claims of boar-like ruggedness). The trim lineup includes the Base Soul, the Soul + (plus), the Soul ! (exclaim) and the Soul Sport. The base Soul rides on 15-inch tires and offers the smaller of the two available engines (a 1.6-liter 4-cylinder) and a 5-speed manual transmission. Inside, the Base comes with a few standard features, including an AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with satellite radio, 4 speakers and a USB/Auxiliary jack. Air conditioning and power windows and locks are also standard.
The + provides a larger engine (a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder) and upgrades several features, including wheels (16-inch, 5-spoke alloy) and standard power side mirrors, as well as optional foglights and a power sunroof. Inside, standard audio now offers 6 speakers and tweeters, but the + comes with an option to upgrade the audio to include 8 speakers, a subwoofer, a 315-watt external amplifier and speaker lights. The + adds a center console armrest with storage as well as 6-way adjustment for the driver’s seat. The trim includes remote keyless entry, as well as steering-wheel-mounted audio, cruise and Bluetooth controls.
The next step up the Soul trim ladder is the ! (exclaim), which adds 18-inch wheels, standard foglights, heated power mirrors and a power sunroof with tilt to the exterior, and makes the upgraded audio system and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob standard interior features. The Kia’s premium package is available at this trim level, adding leather seats and heated front seats.
The Soul Sport displays distinct front and rear fascia and side sills, a standard rear spoiler on the liftgate and an optional power sunroof. The Sport trim provides metal pedals and a sport-tuned suspension for a stiffer ride. The Premium Package is also available for the Sport.
A standard 5-speed manual transmission with overdrive appears in the Base and + trims, with a 4-speed automatic standard for the ! and Sport (as well as an available option for the +). The Base offers a standard 1.6-liter inline 4-cylinder (I4) engine with 122 hp at 6,300 rpm, 115 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm and mileage estimates of 26 mpg city/31 highway. The other three trims use a 2.0-liter I4 DOHC engine with 142 hp at 6,000 rpm and 137 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 rpm, earning slightly lower fuel economy numbers: 24/30 for both manual and automatic transmissions.
Ride & Handling
The Soul’s engine has been described by some as a bit anemic and best suited to downtown driving, although road tests recorded 0-60 times between 8.3 and 8.8 seconds—respectable for the class. When pushed during highway acceleration, critics comment on loud engine noise and a desire for additional gears to ease shifting for both the automatic and manual transmissions. Noise is apparently a notable weakness for the Soul—not only during engine acceleration, but from road noise and wind at high speeds. While the manual transmission can produce a slightly peppier ride, reviews note that it is somewhat disappointing with vague and even unpredictable shifts. The automatic was also criticized as needing an extra gear for smoother shifting without extended high revs during acceleration.
The Base, +, and ! all ride on an independent front suspension with MacPherson struts, coil springs, gas shock absorbers and a stabilizer bar. The rear suspension is a torsion beam system with coil springs and gas monotube shock absorbers. The Soul generally receives acceptable marks for ride quality, with stability in the turns despite some noticeable body lean. The Sport trim comes with a sport-tuned suspension, which, according to some, offers a stiffer though still comfortable ride. The Sport trim also provides the biggest tires of the group, with 18-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels matching those found on the Soul !. While the larger wheels may be aesthetically pleasing, they also produce a rougher and louder ride.
Cabin & Comfort
Inside, the 2011 Soul Base seats five with black interior cloth on the seats, while the + adds the Soul logo. The ! switches to a sand-and-black interior color scheme with houndstooth detail. The Sport adds a dose of zip to the interior, with a black-and-red interior color scheme and metal pedals. An optional Premium Package can add heated leather seats to the ! or Sport. Most find the seats comfortable and reasonably supportive. The cabin offers spacious leg- and headroom for adults, although the rear seat is a bit tight for three adults to sit comfortably, and there is no rear center armrest. The high seats and tall door openings make entering and exiting the car easy and offer excellent visibility everywhere, except for the rear corners, where the roof pillars impede the view.
All Soul rear seats fold (although not flat) in a 60/40 split to provide 53.4 cubic feet of storage for cargo in the back (and 19.3 cubic feet when the seats are up)—less than competitors Honda Fit, Nissan Cube and Scion xB. The actual utility of the space is questionable as well, since reviews note that the hatch opening is not large enough to load large objects. Other storage is available, however, including a bin above the instrument panel and a two-level glovebox. The +, ! and Sport also feature metal finish trim on the instrument panel, door panels and interior door handles. Although the interior is fitted with hard plastic, most agree that the interior does not look cheap (although some do note a lack of padding, even on the armrests).
Standard technology is a strong suit for the Kia Soul, and many seem impressed by the list of features not typically found in this price range. In fact, Kia notes that the interior design is influenced by its “highly specified audio system.” The Base trim offers standard AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio with four speakers and a 3-month trial subscription to SIRIUS satellite radio. The + upgrades to six speakers and instrument-panel-mounted tweeters. The ! and Sport take another step up the audio ladder with 8 speakers, including a center speaker, subwoofer, 315-watt external amplifier and front-door speaker lights that can stay on, turn off, dim to a “mood” setting, or match the beat of the music (available as the Audio Upgrade Package for the +). All trims come with standard USB/auxiliary input jacks, air conditioning and power windows and locks. All but the Base include cruise control, remote keyless entry, Bluetooth technology for hands-free phone and steering wheel-mounted controls for audio, cruise and phone.
Safety features for the Kia Soul—a Top Safety Pick for 2011 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety—include standard antilock disc brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, electronic stability control and traction control, combined with a tire pressure monitoring system and six airbags. The 2011 Soul was assessed according to the new standards for the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration with an overall rating of four (out of five) stars. The Soul also earned four stars in front crash and rollover tests (with a 15.1% chance of a rollover). Side crash tests, however, received a perfect score.
What Owners Think
Owners are impressed by a number of features in the 2011 Kia Soul. First, most seem pleased with its reasonable price, combined with a 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty (which also includes 5-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance), and fuel economy (especially as gas prices climb). Even with a budget-conscious pricetag, the Soul’s safety features satisfy owners, including the antilock disc brakes, electronic stability control, traction control, and standard airbags. The cabin is consistently described as roomy and spacious, and owners appreciate the hidden storage cubbies under the rear cargo floor. Technology is another plus, particularly the Bluetooth hands-free phone, SIRIUS satellite radio and stereo (although the light-up speakers seem to appeal mostly to the younger members of families). However, the seats are not particularly comfortable for long rides, with some owners wishing for additional adjustments (lumbar or front-passenger height adjustment) or more side support in the cushions. Most owners find the ride itself adequate, with the power receiving mixed reviews, and several consumer reviews mention a desire for a 5-speed automatic, rather than a 4-speed. In general, the handling receives favorable feedback, although road and tire noise are noted. Overall, owners are happy with their Souls, and the style and fun factor of the car, combined with its mileage and standard features list, make owning the car a, well, soul-satisfying experience.
What's your take on the 2011 Kia Soul?
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Looking for a Used Soul in your area?
CarGurus has 22,748 nationwide Soul listings starting at $2,368.
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