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The Kia Soul has plenty


I like a small car when it has a bland, sedate ride like the Toyota Corolla. I don’t particularly like a small car when it has a pitchy, choppy ride like the Kia Soul. And so I was not terribly enthused after a week of driving the Kia Soul on potholey streets in Northern California. Until I took it onto California Highway 1 in Marin County.

I have never been on California 1 in Marin County before. A friend of mine who drove it a few months ago said her partner was “white-knuckled” in the passenger’s seat the entire time they were on that road together. Now I know why. Twenty kilometers of twisty, turny, hilly two-lane blacktop, with nary a straight stretch for more than 100 meters, all with a steep drop to the rocky ocean 250 meters below.

That’s where the Kia Soul really shines. With its short wheelbase, boxy urban-hipster styling, and all four wheels pushed out to the corners of the car, it has hardly any body roll at all. And the torquey 4-cylinder isn’t going to win a drag race, but it will definitely get the job done, even when accelerating uphill. It’s basically a Korean Mini Cooper, with a little less power, a lot more room (especially in the back seat), and much better reliability. It also costs a lot less than a Mini, and I still get 30 mpg in mixed highway/city driving. 

My navigation unit had recommended that I avoid Highway 1. At first I thought it was because of the road’s twisted nature. Then I came up behind a white Prius hybrid driven by someone who didn’t understand what the “Slower Traffic Use Turnouts” signs meant, and I understood why the navigator had suggested I avoid the road. It’s very easy to get stuck behind a driver who’s not up to the task of navigating its sharp turns and steep hills, and who refuses to pull over to let more capable drivers pass.

After 3 kilometers at 25 kph, we had passed fifteen of those turnout signs, and we had a dozen cars stacked up behind us. I was third in line behind the Prius, and the driver who was second in line seemed to be content to spend the rest of the evening dawdling down that road behind the inconsiderate Prius driver.

I wasn’t.

A lesser car would have kept me stuck in that slow-moving line of traffic snaking along the coast, but the Kia Soul had the ability to get me out of that torturous mess. I waited until we came to a hairpin inside turn where I could see the next several hundred meters of road on the other side of the canyon, and could verify that no one was coming the other way. Then I gunned it through the outside of the turn, passing the second in line and the inconsiderate white Prius. Dangerous? Yes, I wouldn’t have done it with someone else in the car with me. Illegal? Yes, on a double yellow line, which is there to make sure that people in less-capable cars don’t do dangerous things. Rude? Perhaps, but I had another two hours of driving to get to my destination, and I wasn’t going to let the white Prius make it three hours.

I left the slow-moving crowd behind, and made it home by eight. As far as I know, the Prius is still there, crawling along with a huge train of frustrated drivers behind it. But not me. The Kia Soul saved me.

I’m in the market for a newer car. We’ll see if my darling wife likes the Soul as much as I do, now. Unfortunately I can’t show her the real reason why I like it, or she won’t ride with me anymore.

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