Ten years ago as crossovers were gaining popularity, a number of car companies introduced small people movers that can be best described as “boxy.” At that time Kia joined this boxy trend with the introduction of the all-new Soul. Now 10 years later those other boxy models are no longer on the market, and Soul is the one that has not only survived but flourished. This year the Soul is entering its third generation with the introduction of a completely new 2020 model that sports all-new styling and an array of fresh features.
“The Soul has been a massive success since its introduction to the U.S. market, blowing its (now defunct) rivals out of the water and establishing itself as an automotive icon with its fun-loving character and eccentric style,” said Orth Hedrick, executive director of Car Planning and Telematics at Kia Motors America. “Even with an entirely new generation of competitors now crowding the marketplace, we are confident the all-new Soul will once again prove to be a tough contender given its unparalleled style and impressive level of invigorating technology and customization options,” Hedrick concluded.
New Yet Familiar Look
This 2020 Soul may be all new, but wise Kia designers did not venture far from what has become the Soul’s signature look. While the Soul retains its iconic shape, it gets a modern edge with slim headlights, LED daytime running lights and boomerang-shaped taillights that frame the rear window. Soul is also new under the skin thanks to an all-new lighter-weight platform designed to reduce road noise while improving handling and comfort.
Kia has revamped the Soul lineup — which seems a bit more complex than the previous generation — but at least the company has now opted for letters and names rather than punctuation to identify different trim levels. The new Soul will be available as the LX, S, X-Line, GT-Line, EX and GT-Line Turbo. There is also a fully-electric Soul EV coming a bit later this year —more details about the EV will be revealed closer to its on-sale date. It is worth noting that Soul is front-wheel drive only, with no plans to ever offer all-wheel drive.
Kia Soul LX
With a starting price of $17,490, the Soul LX comes standard with cloth seat trim, a trip computer, a 7-inch color touchscreen display, Android Auto / Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity, one USB outlet, a split-folding rear seat and 16-inch steel wheels. The LX is also the only trim available with a 6-speed manual transmission — swapping to the Intelligent Variable Transmission adds $1,500 to the price.
Kia Soul S
Priced at $20,290, the Soul S adds a center console armrest with storage, premium cloth seat trim, cruise control, remote keyless entry, 16-inch alloy wheels and the IVT. The Soul S also gets advanced safety features that include forward collision avoidance, lane-keeping assist, lane-change assist, blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert.
Kia Soul GT-Line
The GT-Line is designed as a sporty version of the Soul. With the same base price as the Soul S, the GT-Line has a unique look via sporty front and rear fascias, special side sills and front fascia with red accents, integrated fog lights and 18-inch alloy wheels. Although the GT-Line gets almost all the same features as the Soul S, lane-change assist, blind-spot collision warning and rear cross-traffic alert are optional.
Kia Soul X-Line
Where the GT-Line is the sportier Soul trim, the X-Line is billed as being more adventurous. Priced at $21,490, the X-Line stands out with body cladding, overfenders, off-road inspired accents, silver outside mirrors, roof rails, fog lights and unique 18-inch alloy wheels. X-Line is not available with forward collision avoidance.
Kia Soul EX
The EX is the more luxury-minded trim of the new Soul and has a base price $22,690. Features that set the EX apart include 17-inch alloy wheels, projector headlights, LED running lights, heated outside mirrors, a rear center armrest with cupholders, a dual-level cargo cover, heated front seats, dual-zone climate control, two front and one rear USB outlets, wireless phone charging, pushbutton start and a 10.25 inch touchscreen display with satellite radio and navigation.
Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo
At the top of the Soul lineup sits the GT-Line Turbo, priced at $27,490. The turbo gets all the features of the GT-Line with the addition of power driver’s seat, upgraded cloth seat trim, heated steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, a power sunroof, satin-chrome interior door handles, LED interior lighting, head-up display, adaptive cruise control, a 10.25-inch display screen, wireless phone charging and a 640-watt Harmon Kardon premium audio system with light-up speakers. The GT-Line Turbo also gets LED headlights and fog lights, LED taillights, heated outside mirrors and a chrome-tipped center exhaust outlets. The most important difference is the addition of a 1.6-liter turbocharged engine for a considerable upgrade in power.
Under the Hood
There are two engine options for the 2020 Kia Soul. The standard powerplant is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine producing 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, teamed with either a 6-speed manual gearbox or a new Intelligent Variable Transmission.
The more powerful option — only available on the GT-Line Turbo — is a 1.6-liter twin-scroll turbocharged 4-cylinder motor producing 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque. The turbo engine is teamed with a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox.
Both engine variants are quite fuel efficient. The 2.0-liter engine has EPA fuel-economy ratings of 25 mpg city / 31 mpg hwy / 27 mpg when combined with the 6-speed manual; the ratings are 27 mpg / 33 mpg / 30 mpg respectively with the variable transmission. Fuel economy for the turbo is rated just slightly lower at 27 mpg / 32 mpg / 29 mpg respectively. In our drive we saw around 29 mpg with both engine options.
One benefit of the Soul’s somewhat boxy style is space. There is much more interior room than the small exterior dimensions would suggest. The 2020 Soul has plenty of headroom and legroom in front, as well as stylish, comfortable seats. The red stitching on the GT-Line lends a higher-end touch to this relatively inexpensive model.
The new large display screen is a good for the Soul — meaning that it is fully integrated with the dashboard. The top-level GT-Line also features wireless cell phone charging as well as two USB ports in the center console. The lower level trims get a smaller (but still decently-sized) display screen, but only one USB outlet. Given that this is an all-new model, we were surprised that there weren’t multiple USB outlets available in all trims.
Kia offers the Soul with a great-sounding Harmon Kardon audio system and enhances the experience with speakers and door panels that light up with the music. Surprisingly, Kia does not offer this option on any of the “lesser” trims — the Harmon Kardon system and light-up speakers are only available on the top-level GT-Line Turbo.
Similar to the front seats, the Soul’s rear seats offer a surprising amount of room. There’s plenty of legroom in back, and with the flat floor even the middle seat is not a bad place to travel. The higher-level trims also have a USB outlet in the rear.
Again, the square shape of the Soul adds functionality, creating enough space for plenty of cargo. Several large suitcases would easily fit behind the rear seats and the large opening makes loading simple. The higher trims offer a hard cargo cover that can be used as a second floor. Rear seats fold flat to easily handle larger items.
On the Road
At a Kia press event in San Diego, attending auto writers had the chance to spend some time behind the wheel of the all-new 2020 Soul. Although we did not drive every variant, we did experience all engine options and discovered that each has its strong point. We did not have the opportunity to try out the manual transmission which is not likely to be sold in very high numbers.
One might expect the non-turbo X-Line to feel sluggish and slow, but this is not the case. It certainly won’t win any races, and it doesn’t exactly push you back in the seat at full throttle, but in most situations the power is perfectly adequate. The Soul cruises on the highway at 80 mph without a problem, still delivering close to 30 mpg. However, the engine is a bit loud under hard acceleration.
Adding more than 50 horsepower with the turbo in the Soul GT-Line Turbo is certainly noticeable, especially in such a small vehicle. Acceleration is strong, and definitely pins occupants against their seatbacks under hard acceleration. After spending a few hours with the turbo, it would have been hard to go back to the lesser-powered Soul — obviously the turbo is more fun to drive.
One surprising aspect of the 2020 Soul is how much smoother the continuously variable transmission can be versus the dual-clutch gearbox. Yes, test vehicles at the press event were teamed with different engines, but the CVT worked well, feeling only slightly rubber bandlike under full throttle (a common issue with CVTs). Dual-clutch transmissions on the other hand are typically very quick and smooth, but we found the DCT in the Soul to be a bit rough — shifts were unexpectedly abrupt, especially during hard acceleration.
The suspension is tuned differently for the GT-Line Turbo, but it was difficult to notice any difference between the trims. That said, both vehicles handled winding roads without a problem while delivering a smooth and relatively quiet ride on the freeway. The Soul is in no way a sports car — nor is it trying to be — and most buyers will be pleased with the way it drives.
Right for You?
In the entry-level marketplace, crossovers have really taken the place of the everyday sedan, and the 2020 Kia Soul is a perfect example of why this is the case. A well-equipped Soul is available for under $20,000 and it offers much more utility and comfort than a sedan ever could. Add to that a choice of fuel-efficient powertrains — one of which is quite quick — and standout styling and the new Soul makes great sense for a first-time buyer, small family or empty nester.
Pros: Excellent use of space; standout styling; fuel efficient.
Cons: Clunky dual-clutch transmission; best features not available on lower trims; no all-wheel drive.
Bottom Line: Soul continues to hold its place as an economical funky but functional ride.