Full 2011 Kia Soul Review
What's New for 2011
The Kia Soul receives a few improvements for 2011, with new rear shock absorbers and standard rear disc brakes (replacing last year's rear drums) being the most notable. Other minor changes include new door handles, push-button start, a trip computer and heated outside mirrors.
Whether or not the boxy-styled cars that straddle the line between SUV and hatchbacks are a passing fad or the shape of things to come remains to be seen. Just by the very nature of their squared-off silhouettes, they offer rather remarkable space and practicality, but the aesthetics typically leave much to be desired. The 2011 Kia Soul can be counted among these boxes on wheels, but it sets itself apart with more intriguing styling and fewer harsh corners.
Like the competition, the Kia Soul offers a long list of features and customization options. It also parts with convention with funky trim names like Soul + and Soul !. No, those aren't typos: The plus sign and exclamation point are indeed the trim levels. Features like an illuminated speaker surround that pulses with the music are certainly novelties aimed at the youth market, but the Soul also has some practical appeal. An affordable price and generous warranty are two of its more prominent attributes.
Kia's engineers also managed to infuse the Soul with peppy engine performance (at least on the upper trim levels) and sporty handling. Together, they make the Soul a surprisingly fun-to-drive small car that's still a cinch to maneuver around tight city confines in relative comfort. On the highway, last year's Soul had a choppy ride quality, but the new rear shock absorbers should at least partially remedy that problem.
We rate the 2011 Kia Soul highly among the overtly boxy competition that includes the Nissan Cube and Scion xB. Both can accommodate more cargo than the Kia with their rear seats stowed, but the Soul scores points for having the most attractive design in our eyes. There are a few more conventional choices as well, such as the Honda Fit and the Mini Cooper Clubman; they, too, have sharp styling, athletic handling and surprising cargo versatility. But the Kia Soul gets just about everything right. And for that, we think it's worth adding to your short list.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Kia Soul is a four-door hatchback/wagon available in base, +, ! and Sport trim levels. Standard equipment includes 15-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, full power accessories, a trip computer, a tilt steering column, cloth upholstery, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat and a four-speaker stereo with CD/MP3 player, satellite radio and USB and auxiliary audio jacks. The Soul + adds a bigger engine, 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, keyless entry, power-adjustable outside mirrors, tinted rear windows, a height-adjustable driver seat, metallic interior trim, Bluetooth, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and two additional speakers.
A sunroof, foglights, floor mats and an upgraded audio system are optional on the Soul +. They're included on the Soul !, along with 18-inch wheels, heated outside mirrors, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and two-tone upholstery. The Soul Sport is similar to the Soul ! and adds a sport-tuned suspension, a red and black two-tone interior, metal pedals and unique exterior trim details. The sunroof is optional on the Sport.
Buyers can opt for the Premium package on Soul ! and Sport models, which adds leather upholstery, heated front seats and keyless ignition. Other stand-alone options include a body kit, a cargo cover and an auto-dimming rearview mirror.
Powertrains and Performance
The base 2011 Kia Soul is powered by a 1.6-liter four-cylinder that produces 122 horsepower and 115 pound-feet of torque put to the ground by a five-speed manual transmission. Higher trim levels receive a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 142 hp and 137 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual is standard, and a four-speed automatic is available as an option. In performance testing, a Soul Sport with the manual went from zero to 60 mph in a respectable 8.8 seconds.
The EPA estimates the base Soul's fuel economy at 26 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 28 mpg in combined driving. The 2.0-liter engine is estimated at 24/30/26 mpg for either manual or automatic transmissions.
Standard safety equipment for all 2011 Kia Soul models includes four-wheel antilock disc brakes with brake assist, active front head restraints, stability control, traction control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags.
The Kia Soul has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash-testing procedure. Its 2010 rating (which isn't comparable to 2011 ratings) was a top five-star rating for frontal and side crash protection for both front seat occupants and four stars for side-impact protection for rear passengers. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the Soul its highest score of "Good" in its frontal offset, side-impact and roof-strength tests.
In recent Edmunds brake testing, a Kia Soul ! came to a stop from 60 mph in 121 feet, which is about average for cars in this class.
Interior Design and Special Features
While the Kia Soul's interior is a model of practicality, there are plenty of youthful design touches and colors to spice things up. A podlike center stack protrudes from the dash, placing simple audio and climate controls within easy reach. Optional special upholstery and two-tone color schemes add a modern feel to the cabin, something missing in much of the Kia's competition.
There's no shortage of space inside, with high-mounted seats providing plenty of legroom for even the tallest passengers, while the tall, boxy roof line offers ample headroom. Luggage space behind the rear seats amounts to 19 cubic feet. Folding these seats flat kicks that figure up to 53 cubes. This is marginally less than the Honda Fit, several feet shy of the Nissan Cube and well short of the Scion xB's 70 cubic feet.
The 2011 Kia Soul, particularly the Sport model, feels nimble and well-planted in high-speed turns. Steering has a numb on-center feel and an odd nonlinear effort, though. Around town, the Soul is pleasantly comfortable. With a change to the rear shock absorbers, we expect the highway ride to be less choppy than in the previous model years. While the optional 18-inch wheels and tires are certainly attractive, they can also cause excessive noise and some harshness over major bumps.
The Soul's base engine struggles to get the vehicle underway, but since it's only offered with a manual shifter, we're inclined to think most shoppers will gravitate toward the 2.0-liter engine and its automatic transmission. This engine is at home around town and in traffic, thanks to a solid amount of low-end torque and an eagerness to rev. The manual shifter is direct enough, but the throws are long and the clutch take-up is vague.