The Kia Soul enters its third generation with more aggressive styling, a stronger array of tech and greater cargo-carrying capacity. It basically takes everything we’ve always enjoyed about the Soul, and improves on that likable formula. Turns out, the 2020 model year update makes Kia’s subcompact box more well-rounded than ever.
For 2020, the third-generation Kia Soul looks much sharper than its two previous generations. My GT-Line model’s front fascia appears to have malevolent intentions for any stretch of tarmac it faces. Looking at it from a front three-quarter perspective, I like the butch proportions, the floating, tapered roofline and how the window profile is finished off in back with a nifty black “Soul” trim piece.
I’m not particularly fond of the rear fascia and how the taillights wrap into the rear liftgate, but the center exhaust tips are a choice finishing touch to an overall design that looks unlike anything else on the road today. (The Soul’s cubic competition, namely the Honda Element, Nissan Cube and Scion xB, went extinct in 2011, 2014 and 2015, respectively.)
The Soul’s interior does a good job of matching its quirky exterior. My tester has red trim pieces surrounding the door handles, and they’re flourished with a woven light pattern that looks stellar at night, especially alongside the light rings that surround the door-mounted speakers. The cabin is pretty spacious, too, with plenty of room for up to five occupants. The firm driver’s seat doesn’t immediately present itself as comfortable, but like other Kias I’ve tested, that firmness keeps backaches at bay during extended stints behind the wheel. My tester’s heated front seats, heated steering wheel and sunroof also make those extended stints more enjoyable.
Out back, there’s plenty of space for your stuff, with 23.4 cubic feet behind the rear seats. Fold those puppies down, and you’ve got yourself 62.1 cubic feet of cargo space, which not only bests the capaciousness of other subcompact crossovers, but is even competitive with vehicles a size class larger.
I’m impressed with the level of tech in my Soul tester, beginning with its 10-speaker Harman Kardon. At 640 watts, it makes the Soul bump with the same enthusiasm as the Nissan Kicks’ Bose system, which is one of my favorite OEM premium audio systems on the market today.
Kia complements the bangin’ tunes with a sweet 10.3-inch touchscreen. The display is incredibly sharp and a great focal point on the Soul’s center stack. My loaded tester also features goodies like embedded navigation, HD/satellite radio and wireless smartphone charging expertly integrated into a nifty tray ahead of the shifter, but the base Soul ain’t too shabby with its standard tech. With zero option boxes checked, you still get a 7-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a six-speaker stereo.
Conversely, the Soul features a dearth of standard driver-assistance features, but that’s forgivable for a starting price of $18,485, including $995 for destination. If you’re all about that safety, though, the Soul’s optional extras have you covered. My loaded example at $28,485 features pedestrian-detecting automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control and robust LED headlights. The Soul even offers a head-up display, albeit the cheaper “CHUD” type, that’s really only effective for shorter drivers, as we recently noted in our roundup of.
Unboxing the power
My Soul GT-Line tester is powered by a 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder making 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Power is routed to the front wheels via a seven-speed, dual-clutch transmission.
Stomp on the accelerator and the 3,000-pound Soul responds with excitement. Off-the-line acceleration is urgent, but once the revs climb past 3,000 rpm, the engine comes into its power band, and that’s where things get really interesting. I derived endless entertainment from easing away from stop signs slowly, grabbing the right paddle shifter for second gear, and then hitting wide-open throttle to ride the wave of turbo torque.
The Soul GT’s Goodyear 235/45R18 all-season tires are eager to spin under full throttle, even in second gear. The paddles dispatch shifts with nigh on zero delay. The transmission switches gears plenty quick when left to its own devices, too. The gearbox isn’t as fast as a Volkswagen, Audi or Porsche dual-clutch transmission, but it does offer a celerity approaching that of the Germans.
With a well-modulated brake pedal, the Soul stops with respectable poise. The steering is well-tuned, too, delivering plenty of quick and accurate responses to my inputs, along with a little bit of feel, as well. The Soul doesn’t offer the kind of driving character that makes me want to hustle it through corners, but at slightly elevated speeds it handles confidently, all while offering a well-damped ride.
If you’re more interested in using your Soul for sensible commuting as opposed to making yourself giggle when accelerating between stop signs, Kia offers it with a 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine good for 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, which can be paired with either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission.
The CVT model is the way to go for maximum efficiency, rated at 29 miles per gallon in the city and 35 mpg highway, but my hotter Soul GT still offers a respectable 27/32 city/highway mpg. After 189 miles of mostly city driving, I achieved 24.1 mpg. That said, my tester only had 77 miles on the clock when it was delivered to me, so the real-world economy might have improved post break-in.
Outside the box
The Kia Soul is a great way to stand out on crossover-cluttered roads. The boxy machine is a comfortable, efficient commuter, and offers cargo-carrying capability superior to similarly sized subcompact crossovers.
When optioned with turbo power, the Soul can even exhibit some hot-hatchback traits that are sure to spice up any supermarket run, while still being respectably efficient. The 2020 Kia Soul, as a result, is one of the most well-rounded vehicles you can buy today.