• Car Review

Driven: 2020 Kia Soul

By Chris Teague | January 2, 2020

Autolist rating: 5/5
But would we buy it? Yep!
Price range: $18,535 - $28,535, including destination but before options

Key takeaways:

  • Redesigned for the 2020 model year, with a new GT-Line model
  • No all-wheel drive is available
  • Head and legroom are generous, and the cargo area is large
  • Despite its polarizing styling, the Soul promises great practicality and everyday driveability

What is it?

The Soul is a compact crossover-type vehicle from Kia that’s now in its third generation. It’s been around for over a decade now and has outlasted all of the other boxy hatchbacks that it once rivaled.

Though the styling is still instantly recognizable on this 2020 model, the car has been updated in several crucial ways.

Outside the Soul, its signature style got an overhaul for the new generation. Fans of the original shape will be pleased by its boxy-but-attractive shape, though the new car has decidedly more aggressive angles than the models that preceded it. Kia also updated the car’s exterior lighting fixtures with a narrower shape up front and a unique taillight design that wraps around the rear window.

Inside, the Soul no longer has the light-up speakers that became a hallmark of the partying hamster commercials in the car’s early days. Now, we see what Kia calls “Mood Lighting,” where interior lighting can be adjusted to one of six different settings with names like “Hey! Yo!” and “Midnight City.”

14779 2020 Soul GT-Line

The Soul is available in six trims: LX, S, GT-Line, X-Line, EX, and GT-Line Turbo. All but the GT-Line Turbo model come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that has 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque.

This engine is paired with a continuously variable transmission (CVT) and front-wheel-drive (the S trim gets a six-speed manual as standard equipment, with an optional automatic transmission upgrade).

The GT-Line Turbo gets a smaller turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that has 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. This engine is mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The Turbo also gets a sport-tuned suspension system.

The top EX and GT-Line trims also come with a 10.25-inch touchscreen that has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability. The entry-level LX trim misses out on features like blind-spot monitors and forward-collision warnings, but stepping up one level to the S trim adds those features, as well as a driver attention warning.

What’s good?

TLDR: Almost endless practicality and a fun driving experience in a unique package.

Practicality: The 2020 Soul’s shape isn’t just funky and unique, it also gives the car a lot of practicality and usability. There’s a reason big trucks are square: their shape gives them the ability to stack and shove things into every corner. The same concept applies to the Soul. Inside, there’s headroom for days, and the cargo area is large enough to carry plenty of gear for the entire family.

14757 2020 Soul GT-Line

Fun: This might sound surprising, but the new Soul is actually fun to drive, especially in the top GT-Line Turbo trim. Here, the dual-clutch gearbox pairs well with the turbo engine to deliver an engaging and lively driving experience. Even with the base 2.0-liter engine and CVT, the transmission and engine play well together to optimize the available power and keep things moving.

Style: There are polarizing vehicles and then there’s the Kia Soul. Love it or hate it, there is no denying that the Soul stands out in a world of increasingly smoothed-out crossovers and SUVs. The updated appearance leans into the polarizing philosophy with its futuristic headlight design and wrap-around taillights.

What’s bad

TLDR: Interior isn’t as comfy in lower trims, advanced safety tech locked away to higher trims.

Interior Comfort: We can’t fault every company that uses hard plastics and slacks on seat padding in sub-$20,000 vehicles, but it’s more noticeable here. In lower trims, the cloth seats feel under-padded and flat, but the problem is helped a bit with leatherette in higher trim levels.

14986 2020 Soul X-Line

Safety Tech Missing: In a world where Toyota and Honda have started adding their advanced driver assistance systems to even entry-level vehicles, it feels like the Soul is left behind. The lowest S trim doesn’t get any advanced features, and the list of tech only grows incrementally as buyers step up through the Soul catalog.

5 stars of execution

Safety Features? YES

  • Despite the lack of advanced features on the base trim, Kia gave the Soul a long enough list of features in most trims to get a ‘Yes’ here.
  • Starting with the S trim level, the Soul comes with lane-change assist, forward-collision avoidance, a driver attention warning system, blind-spot monitors, lane-keep assist, and rear cross-traffic alerts/avoidance.
  • Higher trims get radar cruise control, a head-up display, and forward collision avoidance with pedestrian detection.
  • With those features, the 2019 Soul earned a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS. Though the 2020 model has not been rated, it’s reasonable to expect a similar result.

Value? YES

  • Most buyers can do without the highest-level features and stronger engine in the GT-Line Turbo model. As a result, the Soul packs a long list of useful features into an affordable package.
  • Even loaded, the GT-Line Turbo tops out under $30,000 and comes with plenty of safety features, great entertainment technology, heated seats, a sunroof, and a wealth of usable space.

Efficiency? YES

  • The EPA rates the Soul with CVT at 27/33/30 MPG city/highway/combined and the Turbo model at 27/32/29 MPG.
  • These fuel economy numbers are good enough to be competitive with the rest of the segment
  • Shoppers looking to prioritize a green Soul should look at the Soul Electric, which offers a 114 MPGe rating from the EPA and a certified 243 miles of electric range, competitive numbers against the Chevrolet Bolt, Hyundai Kona EV and Nissan Leaf Plus.

Driving experience? YES

  • The Soul stands out against rival appliances like the Toyota CH-R, offering an engaging and lively driving experience.
  • Unfortunately, we also noticed too much road and tire noise when the vehicle is at highway speeds. This is the biggest complaint with the Soul but detracts only slightly from what is otherwise a solid package.

14984 2020 Soul X-Line

Execution? YES

  • Years ago, Kia made a stand with the Soul, digging in when several of its competitors took their boxy models off the market (looking at you, Scion xB and Honda Element). The result is a surprisingly refined vehicle that retains its original personality and heaps of practicality.
  • Kia’s technology experience is top-notch, as its UVO infotainment system is one of the best.
  • We have to look very closely to find faults in the Soul’s packaging.
  • The vehicle touches nearly every high point that buyers in the segment expect and does so at a reasonable price.

Total Rating: 5 stars

What’s it gonna cost me?

The base LX trim starts at $18,535 (including destination) and comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine, six-speed manual transmission, 16-inch wheels, automatic headlights, manual seat adjustments, folding rear seats, a 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment display, a six-speaker audio system, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto capabilities, Bluetooth, cruise control, power windows, and door locks, and a backup camera.

The LX with CVT transmission starts at $20,035 after destination charges.

The Soul S starts at $21,335 after destination and adds 16-inch alloy wheels, blind-spot monitors, driver attention warnings, forward collision avoidance, lane change assist, lane keep assist, premium cloth upholstery, and rear cross-traffic alerts.

The Soul GT-Line also starts at $21,335 and includes 18-inch wheels, fog lights, a GT-Line appearance package, a sport steering wheel, dual USB ports in the center console.

14729 2020 Soul GT-Line

The S trim’s safety features are optional for the GT-Line, as is a power sunroof.

The Kia Soul X-Line starts at $22,535 after destination and adds an X-Line body kit, and roof rails.

The Soul EX has a starting price of $23,735 after destination and adds 17-inch wheels, an optional designer package that includes larger wheels and an appearance upgrade, power seats, a 12-volt outlet in the cargo area, automatic climate controls, a cargo cover, heated front seats, and a smart key system with push-button start.

The Soul GT-Line Turbo starts at $28,535 after destination, and includes all GT-Line features plus the more powerful drivetrain, 18-inch wheels, a power sunroof, LED headlights, LED taillights, mirror-mounted LED turn signals, forward-collision warnings with pedestrian detection, a Harman Kardon sound system, a head-up display, a heated steering wheel, LED interior lighting, leatherette and cloth upholstery with red stitching, and adaptive cruise control.

If we were shopping for a Soul, we’d pick the X-Line for its additional utility features like roof rails. It also gets a host of safety features and retains a reasonable price tag. The base engine has enough power for most people and the continuously variable transmission isn’t bad at all. The base model is “too basic,” and top trims may be too expensive for some buyers.

Also consider

The subcompact and compact crossover market is incredibly popular right now, as many buyers move away from cars into utility vehicles.

The Toyota CH-R isn’t all that new anymore, but buyers may be tempted with the updated 2019 model that gets standard Apple CarPlay and a larger 8-inch infotainment screen. The Toyota also sports an excellent reliability rating and solid handling.

The Honda HR-V wins the cargo space battle in the segment but falls short on standard features. Its powertrain, while reliable, is underpowered, and many reviewers note a lack of front-seat comfort. It does, however, offer optional all-wheel-drive.

We’d avoid the Ford EcoSport for this model year. The powertrains can be noisy and sluggish, and ride quality is below the rest of the segment.

The Subaru Crosstrek is a strong competitor with tons of cargo space and a well-built interior. It can also be equipped with Subaru’s excellent Eyesight safety features.

Honorable mentions go to the Nissan Kicks and Chevrolet Trax. We’ll also see a new entry from Hyundai called the Venue in the near future.