By on February 25, 2019

2020 Kia Soul

When you look at a Kia Soul, you likely peg it for just what it is – a boxy, utilitarian commuter vehicle. You wouldn’t expect it to be a blast to drive, or full of coddling luxury materials and content.

Sometimes, what you see really is more or less what you get. This is one of those cases, with some pleasant surprises along the way.

The updated Soul has new exterior duds, a re-imagined cabin, and a newly available turbo mill.

Kia is making the Soul available in seven trims (LX, X-Line, S, EX, EX Designer Collection, GT-Line 2.0L, and GT-Line 1.6T), and they gave us the keys to an X-Line and a GT-Line during our first drive.

(Full disclosure: Kia flew journalists to San Diego, put us in a nice hotel, asked us to wear a music-related T-shirt to dinner, and fed us. They offered to make a custom T-shirt; I did not take them up on the offer).

The reason those two trims were the only Souls on hand? Kia believes they will be the two best-selling trims. An electric version of the Soul will also be available, but that launch is scheduled for later this year.

2020 Kia Soul

My day started in the X-Line, with the 2.0-liter direct-injection four-cylinder from the Kia Forte – dubbed Nu in Kia-speak – underhood. The specs sound weak – just 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. But while a little more oomph would be nice for passing, it’s otherwise plenty fine for commuting duty. The biggest issue with this motor is refinement – it’s buzzy and loud.

The continuously-variable automatic transmission it pairs with is called Intelligent Variable Transmission by Kia. Whatever you call it, it has six ratios and the feel of a normal “step” transmission (read: conventional automatic), and it’s a tad slow to downshift. It does seem to hold on to the lower gears in Sport mode, though.

Kia dialed in nice heft to the steering, in both Sport and Normal drive modes, although feel is a bit artificial. The result is a car that’s pretty engaging to drive, if not a sleeper compact sport hatch.

2020 Kia Soul

That steering feel mostly carries over to the turbocharged GT-Line car, but the GT felt a little more buttoned-down in corners. Body roll is present on both cars, which isn’t surprising given the boxy roofline, and there’s a bit of understeer when you push.

The 1.6-liter turbo four makes 201 horsepower and 195 lb-ft of torque, and the additional power is welcome. This motor is also smoother than the 2.0, making it the preferred choice. While the Soul is a pretty good utility compact with the 2.0, it’s a much better car with the turbo.

Kia did miss an opportunity – the 1.6 turbo is only available with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Like the CVT in the base car, it too holds on to gears in Sport mode (Sport mode in both cars seemed to change throttle and transmission inputs more than steering). That’s not the missed opportunity, though – this car could be a real hoot to drive with a manual transmission. A six-speed stick is offered in the base trim only.

2020 Kia Soul

Ride quality on mostly smooth California roads is generally good, and even rougher stretches of pavement don’t disturb much. But road and wind noise was an issue in both trims, in addition to the X-Line’s engine noise.

Leg and headroom are aplenty up front, and the seats are comfy enough for a day’s driving. The X-Line is short on some content – no XM, really? – and both cars have soft-touch dashes marred by hard plastic along the bottom half.

2020 Kia Soul

I like the ovoid shape that surrounds the audio/infotainment system and the cool design touches along the top and front of the front doors, just ahead of the door handles. It’s a functional cabin with flair.

I’m also a fan of the overall look. It’s evolution over revolution – the shape remains unmistakable. But I like the larger grille, the horizontal light bar across the front, and the wraparound taillamps.

Both the GT-Line and X-Line have visual cues that set them apart from the rest of the line. For the X-Line, that means overfenders, body cladding, accents along the roof rail, fog lamps, 18-inch wheels, and available two-tone paint.

2020 Kia Soul

The GT is set apart by different front and rear fascias, 18-inch wheels, red accents on the front fascia and side sills, fog lamps integrated into the front grille, black side mirrors, D-shaped steering wheel, special badging, chrome center dual exhaust finisher (not a true dual exhaust), bigger brakes, and sport-tuned suspension.

The Soul gains a bit over an inch of wheelbase length and is 2.2 inches longer. Front legroom is up a tiny bit, and cargo space is up 5 cubic feet to 23.8. Speaking of cargo, the liftgate moves up quickly – watch your head.

Key available content includes Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, a 10.25-inch infotainment screen, two-device Bluetooth connection, eight-inch head-up display, sunroof, dual-zone climate control, heated seats, heated steering wheel, push-button start, satellite radio, tilt and telescope steering wheel, USB, and 640-watt premium audio system with amplifier and 10 speakers.

2020 Kia Soul

Available safety ninnies and nannies include forward-collision avoidance, lane-keep assist, lane-change assist, driver-attention warning, blind-spot collision warning, rear-cross collision warning, smart cruise control, and high-beam assist.

Pricing is as follows: A manual-transmission Soul LX will cost you $17,490, and an LX automatic will pop you for $18,990. An S goes for $20,290, and so does a GT-Line with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder. An X-Line checks in at $21,490, and an EX at $22,690. Opt for the GT-Line with the 1.6-liter turbo four and you’ll have to pony up a decent chunk of change: That car is priced at $27,490. All trims have a $995 destination fee.

Fuel-economy is listed at 27 mpg city/33 mpg highway/30 mpg combined for the 2.0-liter with IVT, 25/31/27 for the stick, and 27/32/29 for the turbo.

The end result of Kia’s changes to the Soul is a pleasant commuter car with just enough sportiness (especially in turbo models) to avoid being boring. Boxy styling isn’t for everyone, but for those looking for an affordable around-town grocery-getter that can also ferry you to work without putting you to sleep, the Soul is worth a look.

Also, if Kia/Hyundai continues to insist on reminding us that Albert Biermann works there now, maybe they can sic him on a new project – a hopped-up performance version of the Soul. That would make me take notice.

As well as perhaps exceed my expectations.

[Images © 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC, Kia]

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73 Comments on “2020 Kia Soul First Drive – Meeting Expectations Nicely...”


  • avatar
    jatz

    In our newly enlightened age where most everybody agrees with me about the primacy of roof height and ground clearance, some quantified mention of those for all the different option levels would be shiny, especially in the CUV sphere of vehicles.

    (That gray is sweet)

  • avatar
    ceipower

    The Soul managed to go from oddly homely to butt ugly. This trend to ever wider/bigger front grill openings is not a good look on most cars.Same goes for the sloppy looking styling referred to as a floating roof? Dopey.

    • 0 avatar
      jatz

      The Angry Bottom Feeder face is especially comic followed up as it must be by the popcan-over-unibody reality of the little car behind it.

      Can’t they just offer interchangeable clips for these things? I’d love to have a Soul with, say, a ’55 Chevy kind of face.

    • 0 avatar
      SlowMyke

      I think we’re on the same page here. The soul is an intriguing car for me, but the styling is just wrong in the details. I tried to fix the front end with ms paint if you feel like clicking…

      https://imgur.com/a/2Cp3pae

      As for the floating roof thing, the only fix for that is to eliminate it. It’s a pointless trend that I’ve yet to see even a half-decent implementation of. I totally agree that they are all sloppy – none of the lines ever make sense and the change in materials is often questionable as well.

    • 0 avatar
      redgolf

      yeah, I was never a fan of this body style, with that cut off rear, it’s soul ugly! The “rats in a cage” commercial was cool, much too cool for the car!

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        Still reminds me of an AMC Gremlin.

        I thought KIA was including XM on everything standard. (My friend’s seven year-old Rio had it standard, as did her husband’s Soul from the year after that model’s mid-cycle refresh.)

    • 0 avatar
      MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

      I actually like the new version better than the previous, FWIW.

    • 0 avatar
      Dario Sycco

      Actually my biggest problem with the upcoming model’s styling are the squinty eyes.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      To me, these bigger uglier front ends just look more delicate and harder to assemble. Theres no “blank” bumper area for license plates, let alone to actually “bump” stuff, which is kinda necessary on a city car.

      Likewise, outward visibility is good to have with a city car. Instead the stylists have gone for the floating helmet-visor rear pillar design thats way too common on modern cars.

      If I had a say in the styling I would’ve made the Soul look like the original boxy Dodge Caravan, with optional wood trim of course.

    • 0 avatar
      syncro87

      It is funny how subjective looks are. I think the new Soul is the best looking variant to date.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    Ah the narrow mean looking headlights – thank you, Jeep. (or whoever started that)

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Citroen (at least when it came to production vehicles; Hyundai, among others, did a split headlight look on a concept years ago).

      Jeep’s version of the split headlight was never “mean” looking (actually looked kinda dorky) which is why it failed.

  • avatar
    thatoneguy247

    Isn’t the whole point of a CVT that it has infinitely variable ratios, not just six?

    And why the insistance on making it feel like a step shift-like transmission?

    The idea of always being in the right ratio for efficiency or power is interesting, but in practice I wonder if the drawbacks of a CVT are inherent with the design. I had a rental Sentra recently and had to return it because the droning was just too much and it never seemed to be in the right ratio for how I was driving.

    • 0 avatar
      MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

      I have not tried a Sentra, although my soon to be son-in-law has the top of the line newish one and likes it, but I have sampled Nissan CVTs in Altimas (4 cyl) and Quests (6 cyl). I must be the only one on the planet to admit this in public, but I like em! Smooth, plenty of acceleration (this coming from a guy with a couple V8 Mustangs), and I did not pick up on any untoward droning. I’d be fine owning one.

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        The CVT is just the beginning of the Sentra’s problems.

        • 0 avatar
          Arthur Dailey

          Mike: Why all the hate among the B&B regarding the Sentra? I came close to getting a ‘nearly new’ one, albeit with a MT. Got beat to it by a tech working at the dealership. Personally I prefer the styling of the Sentra to that of most of its competitors. Primarily because of its higher roofline/larger greenhouse.

          As a ‘compact’ grocery getter/urban commuter/1st new car, it seems to provide a little bit ‘more’ of what the average consumer wants, for a slightly lower price. An ‘honest’ vehicle, not designed for or marketed to ‘enthusiasts’.

          • 0 avatar
            thatoneguy247

            I actually don’t hate the Sentra. In manual guise, I can see how it would be an appealing compact – plenty of interior space, good dimensions, and certainly not the worst driving experience in the world.

            I haven’t sampled the competitors (Corolla, Civic, etc.) so I don’t know how they stack up.

            Maybe I’m spoiled, but one thing that startled me was the lack of damping on the trunk struts; when you open the trunk, it just kind of right pops up. I only narrowly avoided a couple of good hits to the chin during my time with the Sentra.

          • 0 avatar
            FreedMike

            Arthur, I’d say the same thing about the Elantra, and it looks and drives far better than the Sentra. And I’d say that kind of sums up the Sentra’s issue – it’s not “bad” per se, just…undistinguished. I think that’s the reason it’s a fleet queen.

          • 0 avatar
            syncro87

            AD: I test drove a base Sentra. The one “pro” I could come up with was pretty good rear seat leg room. Other than that it struck me as feeling chintzier than the Elantra, Jetta, Civic, Corolla, or Forte. Engine noise was, to my ear, worst in class. Felt like the proverbial tin can, to a greater degree than anything else I compared it to.

            I wouldn’t say it is a horrible car, but I can’t see the case for buying it over any of its peers, really, rear seat legroom aside.

            If I was on a strict budget, I’d choose a base Elantra or Forte in a second over a Sentra. There basically wasn’t one thing about the S that made me think Nissan expended the slightest effort to beat the competition. Seemed like they did the bare minimum–phoned it in.

            If I could absolutely steal one price wise, eh, I could drive one. But I can’t think of a worse option in a small sedan based on my test drive, and I’d try to scrape up the extra funds to get something else if I at all could.

  • avatar
    MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

    I find CVT’s with “fake steps” to be just about the DUMBEST thing in tranny development. Why take the ONE THING GOOD about a CVT (no shifts, total smoothness) and mess it up?!!??

  • avatar
    Fred

    Of course, not having a XM Radio is only a disappointment to those who subscribe to it.

    • 0 avatar
      MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

      After living with it in my last 2 DD’s, gotta say “First Wave” and “Outlaw Country” would be rather tough to give up…..

      • 0 avatar
        FreedMike

        Pandora is your friend!

        Seriously, XM tossed in a few months’ service free when I bought my car a few months ago, and I’m letting it expire. Not really worth it. The Hanukkah channel was awesome, though – you haven’t lived until you hear a metal Hanukkah song.

      • 0 avatar
        Syke

        With me it’s “60’s on 6”, “Little Steven’s Underground Garage”, “Bluesville”, “40’s Junction”, “Ozzy’s Boneyard” (especially doing long distance on the Wing), and the 40’s radio drama channel (huge on my Florida trips in the van).

        Really wish they’d bring “The Beach Boy’s Channel” back (although my wife was grateful that is was only temporary). There’s something hilarious around tearing down I-95 listening to the Beach Boys rendition of “Little Honda.”

        • 0 avatar
          redgolf

          Syke – really wish I had my little Honda a 305 silver Honda scrambler, bought new in 67 ( $800 cash) ” it’s not a big motorbike it’s more fun than a barrel of monkeys, that two-wheeled bike we’ll ride on out of the town to anyplace I know you like”! go little Honda!

    • 0 avatar
      CKNSLS Sierra SLT

      Fred-the “XM Hate” normally comes from those who live in the South and the Eastern portion of our country who have no idea what it is to drive for three hours in the vast west and not have a cell phone signal. This is where XM shines. And yes-some of us don’t wish to download music.

      As far as the look of the Soul-for what it is I don’t find it that unattractive.

    • 0 avatar
      Syke

      I have both it and Pandora in my van, and SiriusXM plus the ability to plug in Pandora or an MP3 player on the Gold Wing. On long trips, I consider both a necessity. Sometimes I’m really in the mood for XM’s channel lineup, other times I prefer Pandora’s set up a channel based on one specific artist or band.

      My big love of Pandora is something I programmed (over a three year period) that I’ve got titled as “The Erie Channel”. It plays pretty much all the stuff I listened to in the years I lived there, mainly glam, punk, and pretty much any of Brian Eno’s odd stuff.

      Cannot see limiting myself to one or the other.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    “The updated Soul has new exterior duds, a re-imagined cabin, and a newly available turbo mill.”

    Is a repeat article? The new 1.6 turbo “mill” – woo hoo – came out for 2017. I know it’s tough being a managing editor and having to remember all this trivial car sh*t, but I do other things beyond reading TTAC and I managed to remember.

    • 0 avatar
      Dingleberrypiez_Returns

      Agreed, this was an odd review. First he mentions two types of “GT-Line,” then tells us he test drove one, but fails to mention which one until later. Also, spending a sentence lamenting the lack of XM radio seems pretty stupid in a very brief review. TTAC reviews kind of suck these days.

  • avatar
    Truckducken

    Confused about engine specs. My 2012 Soul has the 2.0 Nu engine, rated at 164hp/148ft-lb, and it’s not DI. I don’t know how Kia (or anyone else) could possibly have added direct injection and lost 17 hp. These sound very close to 1.6 DI (non-boosted) figures from 8 years ago. If Wikipedia is to be believed, the GDI Nu rates 174/157, which at least makes sense in light of the non-DI numbers.

    • 0 avatar
      syncro87

      Atkinson cycle, perhaps? Not sure.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      You missed this part of Wiki:

      “Nu MPi 2.0L Atkinson Cycle”—which this is using.

    • 0 avatar
      Blackcloud_9

      I was wondering this myself. I just got rid of a 2014 Soul, 2.0 rated @ 164 hp. Maybe Kia was overstating their HP figures. I remember when Hyundai did the major redesign on the Sonata 2010-11. They rated the 2.4 L @ 198 hp but nobody could seem to find the performance behind those numbers. At the next redesign, the same engine was rated at (I think) 159 hp. Which seemed more inline with its real-world performance.

  • avatar
    Dingleberrypiez_Returns

    What about rear visibility? The outgoing soul had a huge blindspot from the C pillar (as is common these days), and now it looks like they’ve worsened that by almost completely eliminating the rear side windows. I was ready to love this car, but I’m sorry, that’s a huge design fail.

  • avatar
    crtfour

    Not a great idea to redesign a geriatric-driven vehicle with LESS visibility.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “California roads is generally good”

    Sounds like Borat. is nice

  • avatar
    slavuta

    I sat in this. Are Kia interiors better than Hyundai, or I have something wrong with my brain?

    Yea… If they make something between normal version and ‘N I could consider, because I am fan of these boxy things. Don’t need 200hp or 19″ wheels. Give me 185Hp, MT, 16″ wheels and finely tuned steering and brakes, + nicely weighted clutch…

    • 0 avatar
      bd2

      Generally, they have been, esp. the Kia models available w/ the SX-L trim.

      This is in large part due to Kia not having as an extensive separate Euro lineup (need nicer interior for the Euro market)

      Hyundai has been quickly closing the gap (see new Santa Fe) and the upcoming Sonata (which will replace the i40 in Europe).

      • 0 avatar
        slavuta

        Ha! I just drove base Santa Fe. This is not cheap vehicle… but feels cheap, really cheap. Yea, higher models have better treatments. But you see, my base Mazda does not feel cheap, even thought, it is 5K cheaper by MSRP

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    I’m a bit taken aback by the fact with dest and tax I could be out 30 large on a hamster mobile which lacks AWD no less (top trim notwithstanding).

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    I’ve looked at the base Soul several times over the past half-dozen years or so, and always walked away disappointed. For one thing, some years back Kia decided you were not allowed to have cruise control with a stick shift. Betting it remains the case with the 2020 model.

    Thing two is what I consider abysmal fuel economy. The 2019 gets 24 city with a 1.6/6MT. The 2020 has a 2.0/6MT that offers 25 city MPG. There are V6 crossovers that do better.

    • 0 avatar
      jatz

      True, the FE is fairly dismal but the typical buyer won’t drive much anymore so it’s not a deal breaker.

      I would have said Kia knows the Soul’s market extremely well but then this 2020 surfaces.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Honda thinks that base models don’t need variable-intermittent wipers and spit-folding back seats.

      And for Kia, MT is obviously price advertising. They made it so lousy so nobody would want to buy it.

    • 0 avatar
      MiataReallyIsTheAnswer

      They need to allow total customization, like MINI. Stick, cruise, biggest wheels, big stereo, no problem.

      • 0 avatar
        syncro87

        Miata:

        You just added 10% to the price of every Soul sold. Not to mention instigated a dealer rebellion…and the dealers are Kia’s customers more than you and I are. Kia customers are probably a lot more price sensitive than Mini customers, just as a guess. Anything that would make the Soul more expensive by adding inefficiency to the production and dealer stock system might be a tough pill for Kia to swallow.

        Mini’s high price, low volume, and buyer demographic support such a thing. Not sure it would work for a higher volume, lower price car like the Soul. They already have too many trim levels with the new version, in my opinion.

    • 0 avatar
      SC5door

      Which V6 crossover that does 25 MPG city?

  • avatar
    Mackie

    Ugh. That massive wraparound taillight looks terrible.

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      The Soul has never been a particularly good looking car. All the good looking wagons are sport wagons with a sloppy rear end that restricts cargo area. So you have a choice sexy or practical. Or you can pick up a classic vintage wagon and have both. http://st.hotrod.com/uploads/sites/21/2006/03/curp-0603-01-1962-nash-rambler-front.jpg

  • avatar
    Flipper35

    So, they really CAN integrate the screen into the dash so it looks like it belongs there.


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