No soul searching required to replace older Kia

Dear Car Talk:

I currently have a 2012 Kia Soul, which I bought (used) to get something higher up off the road than my old Mazda 3. I live with my mother, who has a 2011 Toyota Camry. We’re talking about going to one car, this year or next, and Mom is fine with it being another (used, but newer) Soul, since I’ll be doing more of the driving than she will. And I’ll be doing all the night driving.

I have no problem with the Soul, but I was wondering if there were other options I should be considering that are similarly high up (or not low, at least), and in the same ballpark on cost. We do want four doors, but don’t need anything much bigger than the Soul (or it will be harder to get into the garage).

Do I want something else, or do I just want a 2020 Soul, and if the Soul, which one? -- Caroline

RAY: When the Soul first came out, my late brother test drove one for a week. He came back raving about how much people loved the car. I asked him how he knew. He said that everywhere he went, people would roll down their windows and yell “Ah, Soul!” at him.

We like the Soul, too, Caroline. It’s compact, gets good mileage, is easy to get in and out of, easy to see out of, and it makes excellent use of its interior space. So, if you like the Soul, there’s no reason we can think of not to get a newer one.

Kia redesigned the Soul in 2020, and unfortunately, we’ve seen mediocre reliability reports on the brand-new one. Previously, up through 2019, reliability was very good. So I’d look for a 2019.

If you can find a Plus trim level, that’ll include the 2.0-liter engine, which produces about 160 horsepower. That’s plenty for this car. More importantly, on the Plus, you can get the “Primo” option package -- hey we don’t name this stuff, we just write about it -- which includes crucial safety equipment like automatic emergency braking and blind spot warning. So, as long as you can find one with all that safety equipment (I wouldn’t buy a car these days without it), a Soul should be a good sole vehicle for you and Mom, Caroline.

Outdoorsy image may be costing you -- and the environment

Dear Car Talk:

I have a question for your MIT engineering team.

Many people where I live in California leave their empty rooftop bike/surfboard/kayak racks on their cars all the time. They’re either too lazy to remove them, they think they might use them again soon or they just like the coolness vibe these carriers give off.

What is the fuel economy hit for doing this? Even more important to us here in the Golden State: When we’re not carrying anything and we don’t take down those mounting bars and carriers, how many more grams of pollutants are we spewing per mile? Are we looking at a 1% or a 10% effect?

What about empty behind-the-SUV bike carriers mounted into the trailer hitch? Are those as bad? Or is it significantly less of an impact to be behind the vehicle rather than on top? Thanks for any solid information. -- Cliff

RAY: Well, we didn’t have to go to our lab at MIT to answer this question, Cliff. Consumer Reports did some testing and has the answer.

They found the fuel economy loss is as low as 2% and as high as 19%, depending on the type of car and type of equipment carrier.

Sedans are naturally more fuel efficient than SUVs, due to their shape and lower stance. And when CR put just a roof rack on a Nissan Altima traveling at 65 mph, it cost the Altima an 11% fuel economy penalty. When CR added a cargo carrier to the roof rack, mileage dropped 19%!

They also tested a 2019 Toyota RAV4. Since SUVs are already shaped like refrigerators, fuel economy is worse to start out with but dropped less during testing. The RAV4 saw only a 2% drop from the roof rack alone and a 13% drop when the cargo pod was added. The bike rack that attaches to a tow hook behind the car did less damage to the car’s fuel economy, averaging a 2%-3% loss when not carrying bikes.

While they didn’t test the corresponding increase in pollution these rack and carriers cause, you can assume that pollution is roughly proportional to fuel use. So, for the purposes of shaming your Sierra Club member neighbor, I think you can use those same numbers.

Needless to say, we recommend removing your surfboard, bike and Bactrian camel carriers when they’re not in use. If you’re afraid your outdoorsy image will take a hit, go old school and slap on some bumper stickers.

Got a question about cars? Write to Ray in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email by visiting the Car Talk website at

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