For the past few years big, boxy SUVs have given way to small boxy crossovers as Americans look for that hard-to-find combination of roominess, utility and fuel economy.
All of these qualities are beautifully combined in the third generation of the five-passenger Kia Soul, now arriving at dealerships as a 2020 model, with a starting price of just $17,490 (plus $995 freight).
Kia says the 2020 Soul is “completely new yet familiar,” which was immediately apparent to me when one of these was delivered to my driveway recently.
Even though there are multiple changes, improvements and upgrades, this is still instantly recognizable as a Soul, which is a good thing. The Soul’s funky styling is what makes it stand out from the constantly growing field of small crossovers.
The base engine is a new normally aspirated 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder with 147 horsepower and 132 foot-pounds of torque, replacing last year’s normally aspirated 1.6-liter base engine and optional 2.0-liter four.
There is also a 1.6-liter turbo engine available, which comes with the top model, the GT-Line Turbo ($27,490 plus $995 freight). It’s rated at 201 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque. It carried over from last year.
Transmissions include a six-speed manual, continuously variable automatic, or seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (GT-Line Turbo only).
EPA fuel-economy ratings are a plus for the 2.0-liter engine: 27 mpg city/33 highway/30 combined with the CVT, or 25/31/27 with the six-speed manual. The GT-Line Turbo model is rated at 27/32/29.
The $17,490 price is for the base LX model with the 2.0-liter engine and six-speed manual gearbox. Next in line is the LX model with the 2.0 engine and continuously variable automatic.
Other trim levels are the Soul S ($20,290); Soul GT-Line ($20,290); Soul X-Line ($21,490), our tester for this report; and Soul EX ($22,690). All of these come with the base engine and CVT, which Kia refers to as an IVT, or “intelligent variable transmission.”
A new Soul EV is coming later in the year, totally battery powered. No prices have been announced yet.
With the redesign, the Soul’s “iconic shape” has “evolved,” but has not been replaced, Kia says. But even though the outward appearance remains quite familiar, underneath the Soul features a completely new “platform,” which is car talk for the basic architecture of the vehicle from the ground up.
The new Soul is 165.2 inches long, which is 2.2 inches longer than the 2019 model. Wheelbase is now 102.4 inches, which is 1.2 inches longer. The width (70.9 inches) and height (63 inches) are the same as before.
Front door openings are now larger, making the Soul easier to get into and out of for the driver and front passenger.
The rear liftgate opening is wider and lower, which helps with loading and unloading of gear and groceries. There is a new easy-grip handle on the liftgate, and a dual-level “cargo board” offers more loading flexibility.
Front legroom is up slightly, while rear legroom is down by 0.3 inch. Headroom and shoulder room are basically unchanged.
Significant changes have been made inside the vehicle, along with its safety and infotainment systems, which embrace state-of-the-art technology.
There is a “technologically advanced cockpit” in the new Soul that’s designed to provide a “visceral musical experience,” Kia says. This is a major concession to the Soul’s primary target consumer: young singles and couples for whom the in-vehicle audio experience is a huge consideration.
While these young millennials and Gen Z consumers make up the bulk of the Soul’s clientele, the vehicle also is quite popular with older empty nesters looking for value, style and utility in their primary vehicle.
Kia says a new, optional 10.25-inch wide display and available Head-Up Display help “play up Soul’s high-tech image.”
The new X-Line and GT models add some visual cues that make them look sportier. The GT-Line Turbo replaces last year’s Soul! (exclamation point) model, which came with the 1.6-liter turbo engine for a base price of $22,990.
We found the power of the 2.0-liter engine to be more than adequate in our X-Line tester. The CVT shifted smoothly and at just the right times during our drives over highways, city streets and twisty country roads.
Among new exterior design features are a high-tech front headlight configuration; slimmer daytime running lights and turn signals; a larger grille with two-tone appearance; revised front fenders; three-dimension wraparound boomerang-shaped taillights; and rear side panels (C-pillars) “designed to resemble airplane wings,” Kia says.
The signature vertical rear windows carry over as part of the “Soul design heritage,” the company says.
The newly available sound mood lighting is designed to generate light from the center door panels and a unique 3-D pattern surface on the upper door panels, Kia says, “with the ability to synchronize to the beat of the music playing through the Soul’s audio system.”
“There is a “rainbow of customizable colors,” the automaker says, with pre-set selectable “moods” with names such as Hey! Yo, Party Time, Traveling, Romance, Midnight City and Café.
This lighting system is an option, but was not included on our X-Line tester, which came with only one extra – carpeted floor mats ($130).
To help keep the occupants safe, the new Soul uses more Advanced High Strength Steel, along with hot-stamped body/frame components and structural adhesive.
Special features on the X-Line include a “rugged body” kit with body cladding and over-fenders for a “chunkier” look; off-road-inspired accents (although this is a front-drive vehicle with no off-road equipment); unique 18-inch alloy wheels; roof-rail inspired accents; optional two-tone paint (not included on our tester, which came in the Gravity Gray color); and fog lights. Our tester came with a black interior.
Standard safety features on our X-Line also included Blind-spot Collision Warning; Rear Cross Collision Warning; Lane Change Assist; antilock brakes with brake assist; electronic stability control, with traction control; hill-start assist; and tire-pressure monitoring. There are front seat-mounted side air bags and full-length side-curtain air bags.
Other standard equipment included AM/FM/MP3 stereo with seven-inch touch screen and rear camera; manual HVAC; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity; power windows/mirrors/door locks with remote; Bluetooth wireless technology; steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls; tilt and telescopic leather-wrapped steering wheel; and automatic headlights. Pushbutton start was not included; the key must be inserted to start the vehicle.
We did find the new Soul to be remarkably quiet inside, even during highway driving, a marked improvement over the first generation of this vehicle. The first generation was so noisy in the cabin that it was hard to hear the audio system at highway speeds.
The completely manually adjusted front bucket seats were mostly comfortable, although I did experience some discomfort in my thighs from the high front of the seat bottom cushion after riding for a while.
The front seats had plenty of head, leg and knee room. Outboard rear passengers found those seats comfortable, but three adults in the rear might not be the best arrangement for a long trip. Child-seat tethers are included in the back seat.
The cargo compartment has 24.2 cubic feet of space behind the rear seat, but can expand to as much as 62.1 cubic feet with the rear seatback folded. The seatback has a 60/40 split-folding feature.
Total sticker price of my 2020 Kia Soul X-Line tester was $22,615, including freight and the floor mats.
2020 Kia Soul
The package: Five-door, five-passenger, front-wheel-drive, gasoline four-cylinder normally aspirated or turbocharged, subcompact crossover utility vehicle.
Advantages: Kia’s boxy small crossover, which has been redesigned for 2020, continues to have edgy exterior styling, a roomy and functional interior, and a long list of standard amenities. And it’s affordable, too.
Negatives: Rear seat is best for two people only.
Engine: 2.0-liter four-cylinder, normally aspirated; 1.6-liter four-cylinder, turbocharged (GT-Line Turbo model).
Transmission: Six-speed manual, continuously variable automatic, seven-speed dual-clutch automatic (GT-Line Turbo only).
Power/torque: 147 HP./132 foot-pounds (2.0-liter); 201 HP./195 foot-pounds (1.6 Turbo).
Length: 165.2 inches.
Curb weight range (base): 2,802-3,036 pounds.
Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.
Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; side-curtain for both rows.
Electronic stability control: Standard.
Cargo volume: 24.2 cubic feet (rear seatback in place); 62.1 cubic feet (rear seat folded).
Fuel capacity/type: 14.3 gallons/unleaded regular.
EPA fuel economy: 25 mpg city/31 highway/27 combined (2.0-liter, manual); 27/33/30 (2.0-liter, CVT); 27/32/29 (1.6 Turbo).
Major competitors: Nissan Kicks, Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3, Chevrolet Trax, Hyundai Kona, Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Subaru Crosstrek, Ford EcoSport.
Base price range: $17,490-$27,490, plus $995 freight.
Price as tested: $22,615, including freight and options (2020 Soul X-Line with carpeted floor mats).
On the Road rating: 8.7 (of a possible 10).
Prices shown are manufacturer’s suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.