Boxy models trended earlier this millennium, then gradually faded as crossovers took over. But don’t tell that to Kia as its 2020 Soul launches the third generation of this stylish four-door hatchback. The Soul’s staying appeal goes beyond styling as it delivers ample technology, two engine choices, and available driver-assist features.
What’s new this year
For 2020, the Soul gains about an inch between the wheels and two inches overall. Kia dropped the base 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine, retaining the middle and turbo engines previously offered. Also, Kia doubled the number of trims from three to six.
Design: exterior & interior
We call the Soul’s latest design upgrade an evolution, not a revolution. This fact suits most fans fine who are long accustomed to the squared shoulders, high roof pillars and the outlandish lighting elements of the previous two generations. Quite frankly, why mess with success?
The new model retains the overall vibe of the previous versions, but it adds some interesting touches, including the narrowest of an upper grille, a gaping lower grille, and a floating roof design. The boomerang tail lamps are more pronounced than before and if you’re looking at the GT-Line models, you’ll find a special grille and color treatments.
Inside, the cabin is spacious and offers room for five, although four is the ideal number. The slightly longer wheelbase translates into more room for the cargo area with the passenger capacity unchanged. That said, we found the Soul offers ample legroom in the first row and decent space in the second row. This model has very good head, shoulder, and hip space too.
The Soul’s dashboard is curvilinear with rounded edges and rectangular touches. As for the instrument panel, it has a simple design with a pair of analog dials flanking a digital driver’s information center. The center stack is highlighted by a crisp rectangular screen with the driver controls located between the front seats.
Our GT-Line 1.6T model had attractive orange-stitched seats with matching ribbed door inlays and handle accents. The LED lighting elements unique to this trim gives this model a sophisticated, yet playful look.
Technology & safety
The Soul’s youth appeal is evident in its styling. But it’s also apparent in Kia’s choice of technologies. Among the standard features are a 7-inch color touchscreen display, a 6-speaker audio system, Bluetooth, multiple USB ports, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone compatibility.
Some models include additional USB ports and wireless charging, features that make the Soul a tech hub on wheels. Also available is a Harman Kardon audio system and a 10.25-inch display with satellite radio and navigation.
On the safety front, Kia’s “Drive Wise” features are not available on the base trim, but are included elsewhere. Here, you’ll find forward collision avoidance, lane keep and lane change assist, blind spot collision warning, and rear cross-traffic alert.
Advanced features such as smart (adaptive) cruise control and a head-up display are reserved exclusively for the top trim. This is disappointing as we would’ve liked to have these features available across all trims in an upgradeable package. Notably, the competing Toyota C-HR offers adaptive cruise control as standard equipment.
If you want a manual transmission, it comes with the base model only. But that’s a big tradeoff as the Soul LX has few amenities of note. All models except for the top trim have a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 147 hp and 132-lb. ft. of torque. A continuously variable transmission sends power to the front wheels.
For buyers who crave performance, only the top-trim GT-Line 1.6T model offers turbo power. This engine delivers 201 hp and 195-lb. ft. of torque, and works with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission.
Most shoppers will choose the standard engine as the higher price point of the 1.6T is outside the reach of the average Soul buyer. The standard engine delivers sufficient step-off acceleration and passing power, although it’s geared to optimize efficiency, not performance. Indeed, the Soul delivers as high as 35 mpg on the highway, which is laudable.
The Soul steers with ease and offers a weighted steering feel. On twisty roads there’s some lean apparent as the hatchback’s higher profile is factored in. The ride is fairly comfortable and the brakes are firm with little fade detected.
Our test Soul 1.6T had the turbo engine, which supplies ample off-the-mark acceleration and passing power. The dual-clutch transmission is not as refined as we had hoped, with some hesitation at lower speeds. We think the standard powertrain combination is the better choice as the CVT makes for an ideal pairing.
Start your search beyond the base model and the 2020 Soul offers many of the amenities customers want.
For example, the Soul EX adds a 10.25-inch touchscreen, navigation, a power driver’s seat with lumbar support, and heated front seats. For an additional $1,500 the EX Designer Collection Package features designer wheels, LED light treatments including fog lamps, a two-tone roof, and imitation leather seats. This brings your final cost to about $25,000, which is a reasonable price point for a well-equipped Soul.
We think the latest Soul does everything to maintain this model’s appeal, while delivering a fresh take on the segment. For drivers who need all-wheel drive, the similar-sized Kia Sportage is worth considering.