Test Drive Review: What we like, and don’t like, about these cars to flat tow

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By Nanci Dixon
If you’ve been following along with me the past couple of weeks, you’ll know I am still checking out new vehicles to flat tow behind our motorhome. There are some great deals, or at least advertised as great deals, at the end of the year. I had reviewed the specs on the Chevy Trailblazer and the Kia Soul in a past post but hadn’t driven them. I decided to take a look at what is available and instead of just researching online, don mask and gloves and take them for a test drive.

The first thing I found out is that inventory is unusually low due to the COVID pandemic and manufacturing shutdowns earlier this year. I was searching hundreds of miles from our campsite near Phoenix for the “ideal” car and finally decided to just find one that perhaps was not the color or have all the bells and whistles I wanted but close enough to test.

2021 CHEVROLET TRAILBLAZER

I had pinned my hopes on the AWD Chevrolet Trailblazer. I liked the looks, the size, seating capacity and that it was flat towable without a lot of pulling fuses, disengaging this or that. The only thing left was to find the color “Zeus Bronze” and test drive. It seemed easy to hook up – just disconnect the negative battery cable, put  it in neutral and go! It was an automatic, I liked the design and it was 3,226 pounds… I thought I was set!

I was able to test drive without a salesperson next to me and they assured me that each vehicle is sanitized between each drive. After a pretty thorough interrogation and handing over my insurance card, driver’s license and pointing out my car in the parking lot, I was handed the keys. After figuring out how to actually use the push-button start, I hopped on the Interstate. My goal is to have something fun to drive, comfortable on the highway and have enough power to haul at least four people up the mountain grade from Phoenix to Flagstaff. My current 2016 Kia Soul has some difficulty doing that with a loaded car.

I was so disappointed. The transmission felt as if it was slipping and just couldn’t decide what gear to be in as I zipped up the entrance ramp and it was shifting back and forth. I had difficulty getting enough power to keep up with the other cars speeding past me. Okay, well, all the other cars that were speeding at 75 to 80 mph. The 3 cylinder engine was just a little under-powered for me. Others have found it a great fit for them; it is just not for me. When I returned the car and they asked if I liked it I had to say no. I didn’t like the shifting and I didn’t like the lack of power. I did NOT mention that I couldn’t get it to go 80 mph easily.

2021 KIA SOUL TURBO2021 Kia Soul GT turbo

I had driven the 2020 Kia Soul GT Turbo last year and although I really liked it, it was not as comfortable as my current 2016 Kia Soul. It did not seem to have the same room inside. My elbow was hitting the large center console and the headrest pushed my head forward, no matter how I adjusted it. First thing I noticed this year, the second year of the Kia Soul Turbo production, is that both of those irritants had been fixed. The console was smaller, the cup holders were back and the headrest fit properly.

The Turbo is the only model in the Soul and the Seltos that is flat towable because they are the only ones that have a Double Clutch Transmission (DCT). Salespeople don’t necessarily know the difference and even Kia’s website does not list the Turbos accurately. I think it must have been a copy/paste day when putting parts of the website together.

I loved how zippy the 1.6 Turbo engine was. It did great on the entrance ramp and could match speed with other vehicles on the Interstate. It was just plain fun to drive! I can’t judge the bells and whistles. I didn’t know how to work them! The salesman was way too close, even with a mask on, so I just shut the driver’s door and took off without a lot of explanation. I can say the lane warning works well though. I kept hearing ding, ding, ding, and had no idea what that was until I purposely went over the center line a few times. It has a little clear panel that driving info is projected on but I could not see it unless stretching my head up. I even tried raising my seat height but still could not see easily. Great idea but not made for someone 5’5”. Perhaps it could be changed, but I didn’t want to have another conversation with the too-close salesman.

The steering felt a little sloppy, even when setting the different drive modes. Not sure if it was this particular vehicle or common on the Souls now. It handled well on the highway and on streets. It was a particularly windy day, with 32 mph gusts, and I could definitely feel the wind but it never felt out of control. I’ll definitely keep this as an option.

2021 KIA SELTOS TURBO

KIA
2021 Kia Seltos

I had not intended to test drive the Seltos. It just looks too much like an SUV. Well, that’s because it is a mid-size SUV! When they told me it was a Turbo and flat towable I decided it was worth a try. Note that it is not listed as a 2021 flat towable vehicle in the dinghy guides, so I would want to check the owner’s manual or see a service bulletin before I decide to love it too much…

Wow! This thing is impressive! Shifting was smooth, it handled well at high speeds and is heavy enough with a curb weight of 3,317 pounds to defy the wind but not too heavy to tow. The 1.6 Liter 4 cylinder Turbo definitely had enough power and the AWD would be great for winter. It has good ground clearance but I wouldn’t consider it for off-roading except getting in and out of some boondocking sites.

It was bigger than I wanted and it felt like, umm, an “adult” car. Yes, I know, I am so far into being an adult that I have passed by mid-life crisis several times. I liked it a lot but I’m still waiting for the WOW!

##RVT981

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Gary W.
12 days ago

If you are looking for a toad, why would you test a car that can’t be towed?
Also the Blazer 4 cyl 0 to 60 in 8 secs. It can be had with a 308hp V6.

John Lucke
12 days ago
Reply to  Gary W.

She was actually looking at the Trailblazer, not the Blazer. Similar names, but very different cars.

I was wondering what engine was in the Trailblazer you tested? Your description of the transmission behavior sounds like the CVT which only comes with the 1.2L engine. The 1.3L engine might have had enough power for you and comes with a 9-speed transmission with AWD but I don’t know if that combination is flat towable or not.

Hope you find something you like!

Dianne Carlton
13 days ago

I am enjoying your articles Nanci. We just purchased a 2016 Kia Soul for our “toad” even though it is not listed in the RV Motorhome’s Dinghy Towing Guide. Which I find interesting since one of predominate photos shown in the 2016 guide shows a motorhome towing a Kia. Do you have any pointers for us before we have it modified for towing? Thanks again and we’re all interested to see what you choose.

Dianne Carlton
12 days ago
Reply to  Nanci Dixon

Thanks!

Ken
13 days ago

Does the owner’s manual for the exact year, make and model support flat towing. Each year can be different.
If it’s not written exactly for your choice of vehicle, it doesn’t matter what the salesperson says.

Steve - Alaska
13 days ago

We were looking for a toad to pull behind our 40′ DP last year and wound up with a 2018 Jeep Cherokee with a small engine and 9 speed transmission. Love the little car, it gets up to 28mpg on the road. But it IS uncomfortable, especially on long drives. While it is a 4 door, no-one can ride in the back seats cause wifey and I run our seats back as far as we can.

It’ll do but we would never buy another one. Might consider a Grand Cherokee, but they are another $10K or so, but would not buy what we did again! First trip was to drive from Palmer, Alaska to Oregon to pick up our new (to us!) 2004 DP. That was a very long uncomfortable trip! But we averaged 25 mpg on the 3,500 mile trip!!

Larry
13 days ago

Nanci, Try the Buick Envision. We love ours and there is a work around for pulling the 2 fuses. Larry

Randall Joe Davis (Capt. Randy)
13 days ago
Reply to  Larry

2818 Buick Envision. Super comfy. Great acceleration. Wonderful fuel mileage, easy to set up and easy to tow.

Gary W.
12 days ago

And made in China.