2017 Kia Soul Driving Impressions

The base 1.6-liter engine is slow. One hundred thirty horsepower and 118 pound-feet of torque is minimal. But if you don’t commute on the freeway, it keeps up. For an entry-level new car, considering the cargo capacity and cool factor, the base model with the six-speed manual is a good car for the money.

The 2.0-liter only comes with the six-speed automatic transmission whose downshifts are responsive and quick, although at freeway speeds, it shifts between fifth and sixth gears too much. It can be locked in manual so it only upshifts at redline, but that probably won’t keep it from downshifting from sixth to fifth.

The new turbo engine, built by Hyundai, makes 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque, enough so there’s torque steer if you stand on it. With this engine, the Soul is a quick car on a winding backroad.

However, when driven slowly, running errands around the neighborhood, it can feel lethargic and unwilling, and with non-linear acceleration. Throttle response is sluggish when transitioning from coasting to slow or moderate acceleration. Push on the accelerator harder and it then it surges with more gusto than wanted. In short, the car feels sluggish.

Underway, Soul is neither as tippy as the boxy profile suggests nor is the ride as busy as the short wheelbase suggests. Twin-path dampers deliver good control, confidence in corners, and isolation from small bumps. The Soul offers reasonably responsive handling, braking and acceleration when driven quickly on a winding road, where it can feel sporty and fun, and there’s a Sport mode that firms up the steering, but the Soul is no VW Golf or Mini Cooper.

The transmission can be so slow to transition from Drive to Reverse and back to Drive that it reminds us of an old movie where the sea captain moves the power lever from Half to Full, an engineer below deck sees the lever has moved and then shouts “Full steam ahead!” to another seaman who moves a lever to increase engine speed. This can seem tedious when in a hurry.

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