2020 Kia Soul Review - A Crossover by Any Other Name Would Sell as Sweet

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2020 Kia Soul X-Line

2.0-liter inline four, DOHC (147 horsepower @ 6200 rpm, 132 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm)
Continuously-variable transmission, front-wheel drive
27 city / 33 highway / 30 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
29.3 (observed mileage, MPG)
2020 Kia Soul not yet rated in Canada
Base Price
$22,485 (U.S)
As Tested
$22,615 (U.S.)
Prices include $995 destination charge in the United States. Kia doesn't sell the X-Line trim in Canada, so we've reached out to Kia for information on similarly-speced Canadian trims. We will update this section if and when we hear back. UPDATE: Kia
2020 kia soul review a crossover by any other name would sell as sweet

Names and categories used to matter when referring to cars. Coupes used to have two doors, period. Porsche got a bunch of flak last week when they called their electric sedan a Turbo. Tesla uses the term Supercharger for a device that isn’t connected to a crankshaft with a big belt.

Click through to Kia’s website (open a new tab, please – don’t leave me here alone!) and you’ll note five distinct categories. Sedans, hatchbacks, minivans, and hybrids/electrics all follow the hot one – SUVs and Crossovers. Unsurprisingly, this 2019 Kia Soul sits right atop that list, though by any traditional automotive taxonomy this box is a hatchback. Peel back the sharp edges, however, and the Soul offers many of the advantages of a popular crossover without the compromises.

Kia is leaning into the crossover-lite theme with this X-Line trim, which has plastic cladding on the lower edges along with fog lights. It’s not garish, just a touch of garnish – and it’s easily overlooked especially when the car is a dark hue like this Gravity Gray. I didn’t realize that Kia was going for an offroad-inspired look with the X-Line until I read the marketing materials.

Otherwise, the Soul looks very similar to those that have come before, though the new narrow headlamps take away some of the playful look of the predecessor. Notable is the disappearance of Kia’s signature “Tiger Nose” grille treatment, replaced with a narrow strip connecting the headlamps and a yawning trapezoid below.

Out back, Kia’s yielded to the floating roof trend with a flat black strip extending from the quarter light to the vertical taillamp assembly. It’s not as convincing as many others, especially with a Soul logo embossed in the plastic.

Open the door, and I’m delighted to see a hardy textile lining the seats. I’m a bit put off by the presence of leather-ish seat covers in otherwise budget-friendly cars, as it’s easier to keep cloth looking good over years of ownership. Plus, cloth is so much more pleasant on shorts-clad thighs in warmer weather.

[Get new and used Kia Soul pricing here!]

I apologize to anyone who just had a mental picture of my legs.

The seats are comfortable enough, though I’d appreciate a longer lower cushion for more thigh support. The plastics throughout the cabin are hard to the touch, though they look to be long-wearing. I’m OK with that – just like the cloth seats, I’d like to have long-lasting materials in a budget car that will likely find homes with many young, first-time buyers.

The rear seats offered plenty of room for the kids, including the ever-growing 13-year-old, who is at last check five-foot-eight and likely to shoot past her mother any day now. She doesn’t get to call shotgun until she’s over six feet, however – kids gotta know their place. Her knees were never pressed into my back, thankfully. Headroom front and rear is another appealing feature of the high-roof box from Kia.

This X-Line trim sits somewhere in the middle of the Soul lineup. Rather than a nifty 10.25-inch touchscreen, this gets the entry-level 7-inch screen that works incredibly well in many other Kia models. Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are always nice to see. Interestingly, this X-Line still uses a traditional key for engine start – a step up to the EX or the GT-Line is needed for a push-button start. It’s a minor thing, but I’ve been spoiled by so many cars that allow me to keep my keys in my pocket and simply drive away that it’s something worth noting.

Driving the Soul shows that it doesn’t have much soul behind the wheel. One-hundred forty-seven horsepower is perfectly adequate, but it doesn’t light up the tires. The ride is improved over previous models, with less choppiness over expansion joints and less wind and road noise intruding into the cabin. Steering is light, but a bit numb. For the type of driving this Soul will see, it’s perfectly adequate.

I’m going to sing the praises of Kia’s continuously-variable transmission. I never felt like the trans was hunting for the ideal ratio – some CVTs from other automakers tend to cause a rubber-banding feel and sound as the engine races under acceleration. Never here. It simply fades into the background, which is ideal for any powertrain.

I’m still disappointed by the fuel economy. While 33 mpg highway and 30 mpg EPA combined isn’t bad considering the cargo space, this same 2.0-liter and continuously-variable transmission is rated for 40 mpg highway and 33 mpg combined in the more conventional Kia Forte. In my testing, I managed 37.2 mpg in the Forte earlier this year, compared to 29.3 in this Soul. It’s certainly not easy to push a massive box through the air, which likely accounts for much of the difference.

It’s fair to say that I like the Soul, and I have for all three generations. If not for a bout of sudden unplanned underemployment literally a week before I planned to sign a note, I’d likely be the owner of a first-generation Soul right now. It’s a practical, rational package with plenty of style and fun baked in. This latest model, with plenty of style and substance upgrades in a familiar package, is yet another win – no matter what category you slot it in.

[Images: © 2019 Chris Tonn]

Join the conversation
5 of 54 comments
  • 65corvair 65corvair on Sep 10, 2019

    How about including length, wheel base and width? Also cargo capacity? You told me nothing about the car I need to know. We rented a first generation once. Two carry on suit cases did not fit in the luggage area with the rear seats upright.

  • Kyree Kyree on Sep 10, 2019

    I wasn't even aware that Kia marketed the Soul as a crossover until we got a new 2014 for my grandmother. Prior to that, I'd always thought it was a hatchback, especially since it does not and has never offered all-wheel drive. I agree with you on the fuel economy. Grandma's 2014, which my sister recently inherited, delivered a disappointing 26.9 mpg on a 6-hour highway jaunt. And the 2.0-liter, which ours also has, still needs to downshift a couple of times on the highway. I can just imagine how bad the old 1.6 N/A engine was. If I ever got a Soul, it would definitely be the Turbo; I do not like loud engines with no low-end torque.

    • See 2 previous
    • Kyree Kyree on Sep 10, 2019

      @scott25 Well, the offensive thing about the Crosstrek is that it uses the exact same body shell as the hatchback Impreza. But at least it has good ground clearance. There was a point in time during which I would have bought one, had not it been dog-slow.

  • Inside Looking Out "And safety was enhanced generally via new reversing lamps and turn signals fitted as standard equipment."Did not get it, turn signals were optional in 1954?
  • Lorenzo As long as Grenadier is just a name, and it doesn't actually grenade like Chrysler UltraDrive transmissions. Still, how big is the market for grossly overpriced vehicles? A name like INEOS doesn't have the snobbobile cachet yet. The bulk of the auto market is people who need a reliable, economical car to get to work, and they're not going to pay these prices.
  • Lorenzo They may as well put a conventional key ignition in a steel box with a padlock. Anything electronic is more likely to lock out the owner than someone trying to steal the car.
  • Lorenzo Another misleading article. If they're giving away Chargers, people can drive that when they need longer range, and leave the EV for grocery runs and zipping around town. But they're not giving away Chargers, thy're giving away chargers. What a letdown. What good are chargers in California or Nashville when the power goes out?
  • Luke42 I'm only buying EVs from here on out (when I have the option), so whoever backs off on their EV plans loses a shot at my business.