For its third act, the 2020 Kia Soul maintains its predecessors’ fun, lively DNA while showing off a more futuristic look. With multiple powertrain options, various tech upgrades, and a number of new appearance packages, the Soul hits the market with something for everyone.

With five trims to choose from, Kia’s high-riding hatch is ready to offer the right amount of zest to anyone who wants a taste. No longer relying on the previous car’s kitschy punctuation-mark-based model designations, the new Soul is available in LX, S, GT-Line, X-Line, and EX trims. Kia brought both the sportier GT-Line and rugged looking X-Line models to a recent drive event in San Diego, California, where I spent time puttering the former model around Southern California’s backroads.

The athletic kid in the family, the $20,290 GT-Line is available with two different powertrains: a 147-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder shared with the rest of the Soul model line and a 201-hp turbocharged 1.6-liter inline-four. The naturally aspirated unit mates to a continuously variable transmission (or as Kia calls it, an intelligent variable transmission), while the forced-induction engine sports a slick-shifting seven-speed dual-clutch automatic. Jumping to the more powerful engine carries a steep $7,000 price jump. But that price includes more than just additional performance, adding a full suite of safety and technology equipment that is either an optional extra or just not available on GT-Lines equipped with the 2.0-liter four-pot.

Gallery: 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line: First Drive

Regardless of trim, Kia didn’t phone it in with the Soul’s design. The front and rear fascias are significant departures from the second-generation car. The overall design is sleeker, with the Soul’s mug featuring much thinner driving lights and a large, low-mounted rectangular grille. I think its face is grumpy and makes the car look like it needs a hug, but others might feel differently.

The Soul’s side profile gains some character, as well, including a very on-trend floating D-pillar with integrated Soul badging. Meanwhile, the back of the car is more familiar, and the taillights maintain their place above the car’s beltline as in previous generations. However, the lamps now connect to form a near-complete circle around the rear end, a design cue Kia cheekily refers to as boomerang taillights. A wider, lower hatch opening allows for easier loading and unloading, while cargo capacity grows by 5.0 cubic feet to 24.2.

2020 Kia Soul GT-Line: First Drive
2020 Kia Soul GT-Line: First Drive
2020 Kia Soul GT-Line: First Drive

Unfortunately, Kia cuts three-tenths of an inch of rear legroom from the new Soul, despite the wheelbase growing 1.2 inches. Regardless, both the three-across rear bench and two front bucket seats are very comfortable, even if all are lacking a bit in side support. The Soul’s high roof also provides a welcoming illusion of space – enough to keep five people comfortable on a road trip.

Updated tech accompanies the car’s new looks. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto now come standard on every Soul, and there’s a 10.3-inch infotainment display with split-screen functionality that comes standard on EX and turbocharged GT-Line models but isn’t available for any of the other trims. The more affordable LX, X-Line, S, and naturally aspirated GT-Line trims get a 7.0-inch touchscreen sans navigation.

The larger display makes a big statement, with its high placement on the dash and generous screen real estate. Its super-wide layout makes it a perfect partner for CarPlay, where it fits numerous apps across the display. When your phone isn’t calling the shots, however, the native layout is excellent. Having the ability to display three sections (weather, navigation, and radio), for example, makes for a user-friendly and logical experience.

The larger display makes a big statement, with its high placement on the dash and generous screen real estate.

Exclusive to the turbocharged Soul GT-Line is a wonderful Harmon Kardon sound system. The 10-speaker setup is one of the best sounding audio systems I’ve experienced in this segment. At 640 watts, the system pumps out double the power of any previous Soul’s. It’s a shame Kia limits this audio system to the priciest GT-Line model. I’d like to see it at least move to the options menu of the Soul’s other trims.

The 10-speaker audio system sounds good, but also adds a fun party trick. Like the last soul, an ambient lighting system illuminates the door panels to the beat of the music. Though a bit gimmicky, the mini light show remains fun and true to the Soul’s character – we all remember the Party Rockin’ hamsters, right?

The Soul’s cabin maintains the ergonomic functionality and funky cues that define its predecessors. Kia hides the cost-saving materials away from the interior’s major touchpoints, while the center console and side armrests sport adequate padding for my bony elbows.

2020 Kia Soul GT-Line: First Drive
2020 Kia Soul GT-Line: First Drive

Kia’s Drive Wise suite of safety features includes blind-spot monitoring, forward collision avoidance, lane-change assist, rear cross-traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control. The base LX gets none of the above, and the X-Line is limited to just blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and lane-change assist. Most of these systems, however, are available in the S trim and higher, including my turbo GT-Line tester.

The sportiest looking trim packs a blacked-out grille and mirror caps, and a set of sweet looking 18-inch alloy wheels, regardless of powertrain. Turbocharged models add a center-exit exhaust with a chrome tip, a stiffer sport-tuned suspension, and larger disc brakes.

On very wet San Diego back roads, the Soul GT-Line offers approachable performance and friskier than expected dynamic character. With Sport mode engaged, the electric steering firms up noticeably and the dual-clutch gearbox holds onto gears through turns, only shifting when additional power is a must. The longer wheelbase improves overall comfort, and the “sport-tuned” suspension affords reasonable body control through the bends but isn’t too stiff at the expense of ride quality.

Fast isn’t a term that immediately comes to mind when describing the Soul’s performance, but the powertrain offers decent low-end torque.

Fast isn’t a term that immediately comes to mind when describing the Soul’s performance, but the powertrain completes its mission by offering decent low-end torque (there’s 195 pound-feet of it available from 1500 rpm) and adequate fuel economy figures (an EPA-rated 27 miles per gallon in the city and 32 on the highway). The much cheaper GT-Line with the 2.0-liter engine is arguably the better value, but if you’re in it for the full Soul experience, then the turbo model is where you’ll find it.

Over a million Kia Souls have hit the road in the car’s nine years on the market. Since that time competitors such as the Nissan Cube and Scion xB have bit the dust in favor of less boxy replacements like the Nissan Kicks and Toyota CH-R. Though formidable and equally quirky in their own right, the competition can’t quite keep up with the charm of the latest Soul. With a plethora of trim levels and a number of new tech and safety features, the third-generation Soul is a check in the W column for Kia and stands its ground as the last true boxy hatchback.

2020 Kia Soul GT-Line 1.6

Engine 1.6-Liter Turbocharged Four-Cylinder
Output 201 hp / 195 lb-ft
Transmission Seven-Speed Dual-Clutch Automatic
Drive Type Front-Wheel Drive
Speed 0-60 MPH 6.5 Seconds
Efficiency 27 City / 32 Highway / 29 Combined
Weight 3,036 Pounds
Seating Capacity 5
Cargo Volume 24.2 Cubic Feet
Base Price $27,490
As-Tested Price $27,490
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