The 2020 Kia Soul is proof that even smalls things get better with age. Avant-garde style, light-up speakers, and a low price speak to many shoppers hoping to find style and substance. The Soul’s secret? Its hatchback practicality, fuel-efficient powertrains, and quiet ride are “just right” for many buyers. For 2020, the Soul is new but retains the characteristics that made it a surprise hit in the U.S. The new Soul is subtly different than the car it replaced. It’s bigger by inches, but the same boxy profile has returned. We like the new face, which is more unified than the outgoing version’s split grille.
The Soul is hardly fast, but it’s agile around town and its gearing makes it a good urban runabout at slower speeds. However, the Soul’s pride is in its packaging: it’s comfortable for four adults, with plenty of leg room for 6-footers or taller. The hatchback has an easy entry (which appeals to older buyers who snapped up the last generation in droves) and spacious cargo area that opens up to more than 60 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. It’s quiet down the road and more comfortable than its low price would suggest while active safety features are included on most trims including automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warnings.
Graduating from its hamster days, the 2020 Kia Soul’s new style will still be familiar to most shoppers. It’s a boxy hatchback with small twists that cleverly disguise from its budget construction. The exterior is better than good, it’s great, and the interior is clever, too. With the 2020 Soul, Kia didn’t rewrite its successful formula from last time around. It’s still a box with bling; Kia calls it a boar with a backpack. Its proportions are distinctive without going overboard. The original Soul arrived during a blitz of quirky hatchbacks: Nissan Cube, Scion xB, Honda Element; but has outlived them all. Kia claims that its corporate grille has been planted in the Soul’s snout, but we don’t see it. Instead, the new Soul is smarter and more angular than the last version, playing less with its lines along the windows and more with its taillights. Depending on trim level, the Soul has one of three headlight configurations, we like the GT Line the best. Around back the Soul is the same, regardless of trim level, with wide boomerang lights that reach toward the top.
Despite its price, and commuter-car aim, the 2020 Soul doesn’t dull drivers with a perpetual-Monday feel behind the wheel. The small Kia is bright and comfortable but doesn’t sacrifice fuel economy with gobs of power or substantial girth. Two engines are offered in the Soul this year. The base Soul is powered by a 2.0-liter inline-4 that makes 147 hp and 132 pound-feet of torque. It drives the front wheels only through a 6-speed manual transmission, or what will be ordered most of the time, a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The fuel-saving CVT has a secret: it’s better at low speeds than higher speeds, which makes the Soul more comfortable around town. There’s a sport mode that stiffens the steering slightly and revs higher, but normal is more the Soul’s speed.
Compared to the top-shelf, turbocharged engine, the 2.0-liter inline-4 feels a little timid. The 1.6-liter turbo-4 optional in the Soul GT Line makes 201 hp and 195 lb-ft, which is a considerable jump from the base engine. For the jump up, drivers get a stronger engine that delivers a big power for it’s size. It’s fun to wind up the turbo at highway speeds, but at slower speeds around town there’s less of a difference than 36 percent more horsepower would suggest. Part of the issue is the turbo’s 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission; at low speeds, it feels like it hesitates. Once off the line though, things smooth out as the gear changes are often imperceptible, the wonders of a DCT having two gears engaged for a split-second.
The Soul’s ride is calm and composed, edging closer to comfort than we’d expect from an economy car. Despite riding atop a suspension setup that’s typically known for its low cost instead of low turbulence, the Soul is calm on a variety of road surfaces. Our tester whore the X-Line trim which featured the taller 18-inch wheels that can stiffen rides. Even with the larger wheels we didn’t notice any harshness and the ride was still supple. The Soul steers with confidence and tracks well down the highway. It also rides quieter than most in the this segment, a boon for your commute.
Speaking of thrifty commuters: The 2020 Kia Soul is fuel-efficient in every configuration. The base powertrain in the Soul, the one that most shoppers will consider, is the most frugal managing a more than 30 mpg. It’s rated at 27 mpg city, 33 highway, 30 combined with an automatic transmission, according to the EPA. Manual-equipped Souls are not only rare, they’re also the thirstiest at 25/31/27 mpg. This year’s Soul EX gets “eco” badges and a 29/35/31 mpg rating. The turbocharged GT version is automatic-only and rates 27/32/29 mpg.
The 2020 Kia Soul earned top safety crash test ratings. The IIHS has crash tested the Soul and given it a Top Safety Pick+ award when equipped with optional automatic emergency braking (AEB) and LED projector headlights and the NHTSA gives it a four-star rating. Automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warnings and blind-spot monitors are standard on all but the base Soul LX. S trims or higher, which is what we’d recommend, add active lane control, and a driver-attention warning if the car drifts from its lane too often. GT Line models, when equipped with the turbocharged engine, get the full boat: pedestrian detection, adaptive cruise control, and a head-up display. Outward vision in the tall-riding hatchback is generally good, except toward the rear where chunky roof pillars can obstruct blind-spot views.
In the rear, more than 24 cubic feet of cargo room is available with the seats up, or 62.1 with the second row folded flat. An available floorboard can raise or lower to offer a flat loading floor from the hatch, or an additional 0.8 cubic feet of storage space when lowered. The liftover height is low but the hatch is just a little too low for 6-footers to stand upright beneath it, your editor included.
Inside, most of the Soul is new, although the speaker lights return in the top GT trim. The speaker towers and doors are different this year, but a center 7.0-inch touchscreen still dominates attention. On top trims, a big 10.3-inch touchscreen is available with more USB ports, a wireless phone charger and interior ambient lighting. Kia did well to cover the Soul’s economy car roots with dashes of style: the speakers run close to the door handles with silver accents and the black accent in the rear roof pillar is stamped with a “Soul” name.
Don’t be fooled: the 2020 Kia Soul is remarkable in its efficiency of space and room for a tall-riding hatchback. Five adults fit within the stylish Soul, with ample leg room in the front and rear for NBA-sized passengers. There are numerous cubbies and shelves, and the seats are comfortable for adults too, even base versions. The Soul is very good among its competitors, which typically rate below-average.
Up front, the Soul’s seats are thickly padded and all-day comfortable. Most cars get six-way manual adjustments with enough seat travel for drivers seemingly wearing stilts. The rear seats are impressive. Behind 6-footers, rear-seat riders can be 6-footers themselves and their knees will never touch the front seatbacks either. Three abreast is possible in the Soul and children will easily fit. The Soul’s fit and finish isn’t luxury grade, but it’s not bad either. In most trims, the funky hatchback has solid materials that feel durable and cleanable, although they wouldn’t be as interesting without the quirky speaker panels and shapes. Top GT Line trims separate from the pack with a large, slick touchscreen, illuminated door speakers and unique instrument cluster.
Cute may be the Soul’s calling card, but the good stuff isn’t hard to find. This year the Soul is offered in LX, X-Line, S, EX, and GT trims. The base Soul’s best feature may be its low starting price around $18,500, but it misses a few common-sense features that the rest of the line offers. The Soul LX gets 16-inch wheels with covers, cloth upholstery, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, one USB port, power windows and locks, but no keyless entry, center armrest, or active safety features.
A Designer Collection upgrade for the EX version adds bigger wheels, synthetic leather, upgraded headlights, but no runway strut. The GT-Line with the base engine is a better deal at just over $22,000, but it doesn’t offer the impressive 10.3-inch touchscreen or synthetic leather upholstery. The Soul GT-Line starts around $28,000 with the 1.6-liter turbo-4 adds synthetic leather upholstery, 18-inch wheels, a slick 10.3-inch touchscreen for infotainment with smartphone compatibility, two USB ports, a wireless smartphone charger, keyless ignition, premium audio by Harman Kardon, active safety features, a head-up display, and speaker lights.
The Kia Soul is an attractive, economical and flexible vehicle whether you’re commuting or running errands. Our recommendation would be to stick to the middle of the line-up, with either the GT, or X-Line like our tester, that adds bigger wheels, active safety features, and upgraded cloth upholstery. Regardless you get Kia’s impress 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty which is just icing on the cake.
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