This latest iteration of the Soul is a very linear evolution of the previous model.
The last box standing; a title the Kia Soul has truly earned, far outliving its box-based competitors from the last decade. In fact, the Soul hasn’t just survived, it has flourished and now for 2020 is entering its third generation. The compact hatchback has won many hearts over the years with its quirky charm, eye-catching colours, and ultra practical design. This new version simply builds on the formula that Soul buyers have already come to love, a car that has found its niche. To see what has been improved, and gain some insight into why the Soul has remained so popular, we spent a week with a 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line Limited.
This latest iteration of the Soul is a very linear evolution of the previous model, and the styling makes that very clear. More modern and slightly more fluid, there’s still no mistaking this car for anything other than a Soul. The most attention has been lavished on the front and rear fascia with a big gaping lower grille up front flanked by LED daytime running light strips, LED headlamps and matching LED fog lights. The Soul maintains its iconic box shape, and our tester came in Neptune Blue with red accents and 18-inch alloy wheels as part of the GT-Line package. The blue and red suit the car’s personality well and it’s nice to see Kia continuing to offer a colorful palette.
By comparison to the exterior, the interior of the Soul is a bit bland with lots of black plastic, though many in our top-of-the-line tester have been upgraded to soft-touch material. The layout is simple and logical, and there are real buttons and knobs for frequently used controls, including volume and tuner. The dash is dominated by a 10-inch touchscreen with Android Auto, Apple CarPlay and, in the case of our tester, navigation as well. Lesser trims get a smaller seven-inch screen, but functionality remains largely unchanged. The touchscreen also controls the quirkiest feature of the Soul; interior lighting on the door panels and footwells that can be set to different color themes and flashes in sync with the music and volume.
The interior of the Soul is one of its biggest assets, simply because of the amount of space available. Its boxy shape provides loads of headroom and maximizes both passenger and cargo space which means that the Soul can carry and haul way above what its weight class would suggest. In fact, I put the Soul to work carrying a load of eight-foot lumber and it handled the job easily. The other advantage of the boxy shape is the fact that there’s plenty of glass all around you, meaning outward visibility is outstanding. You also sit fairly high in the Soul, much higher than in a regular hatchback or sedan, so ingress and egress is easy.
All models in Canada come powered by a recently updated 2.0-liter naturally aspirated Atkinson cycle four-cylinder that makes a respectable 147 horsepower and puts 132 lb-ft. of torque to the front wheels at 4,500RPM. All models come with a CVT, or as Kia has coined it, an Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT). This is one of the best CVTs around, and does a very good job simulating shifts. It’s not a fast car by any means, but the Soul has good response and feels perky and agile. As is the case with any four-cylinder CVT drivetrain, passing can feel a bit laboured, but the Soul is more refined than most.
The chassis has been stiffened over the last generation and the dynamics of the Soul are fairly impressive. It rides very well for a compact, and cruises quietly on the highway with positive on-center feedback from the steering. Steering feels direct yet light, turn-in is sharp and for a box, it displays surprisingly good body control. All this means is that the Soul isn’t all just practicality and quirks; it can be fun too, especially when you get a chance to toss it around some on-ramps or twisty backroads with a bit of speed.
The one feature that the Soul does not offer, though it’s obviously very popular with this buying group, is all-wheel-drive. It is available on the likes of the Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona, Subaru Crosstrek and others, yet the Soul remains without it like the Nissan Kicks (reviewed here). It’s definitely not necessary for getting around in most cities, as the Soul proved during the test week; we had our first major snowstorm of the season and, fitted with a brand new pair of Yokohama Ice Guard tires, it soldiered confidently through unplowed city and suburban streets with relative ease.
Thanks to the Soul’s simplicity and naturally aspirated engine, it’s capable of delivering some impressive fuel economy numbers as well, despite the less than aerodynamically perfect shape. In fact, we observed as low as 5.9L/100km on a highway drive, much better than the rated highway economy. After a week of rush hour commuting we noted an average of 7.7L/100km, right in line with the Soul’s rated consumption.
The Soul isn’t a cheap car, but there is a lot of value for your dollar here. You can get yourself into a base model LX for a rock-bottom $21,195, which still comes with heated seats and the seven-inch touchscreen. The EX at $22,895 adds a heated steering wheel and driving aids such as blind spot warning, lane keep assist and forward collision avoidance assist. For an extra $2,000 you can get the EX+ with LED lighting all around, a sunroof and upgraded seating materials.
Finally, at $28,995 the EX Limited gets power heated and cooled leather seats, adaptive cruise control, heads up display and Harman-Kardon sound. If you prefer the looks of the sportier GT-Line, it starts at $27,595 and includes the added exterior accents, a flat-bottom sport steering wheel, unique alloy wheels and roof rails. Our tester, a GT-Limited comes with everything you’d find on the EX Limited, and is priced at $29,595. At this price I’m not sure how it would be possible to squeeze any more content and features into this car.
Part of the Soul’s success is its widespread appeal; it may be targeted towards a younger crowd, but buyers from all stages of life can appreciate the charming practicality and vibrance offered. An EX with advanced safety features and smartphone connectivity would make a fantastic first new car for young buyers, while the fancier trim levels deliver even more features while building on the car’s unique charm. What the Soul does best of all is not trying to be everything to everyone, but rather resonate with those who appreciate its quirks.