The Soul stands out in a segment that’s a lot of the same.
The Kia Soul stands out thanks to a blueprint the company nailed nearly 10 years ago: funky styling, fun dynamics, and accessible tech at a fair price. The 2020 Kia Soul, completely redesigned and entering its third generation, looks sharper, is more fun to drive, and casts a wider net with additional trims like the X-Line model tested here.
So Much Soul:
For a reasonable price you get a good amount of standard tech, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and a cavernous cabin that’s comfortable enough for five passengers. It’s a recipe Kia hasn’t messed with despite the Soul be completely new for 2020
The 2020 Soul starts at $17,490. That makes it the most affordable vehicle in its class, more than $1,000 cheaper than the next-most-affordable Nissan Kicks ($18,640). Move up to this X-Line model and the base price rises to $21,490, but the Soul gets new standard features like 18-inch wheels, rugged trim pieces, upgraded fog lights, a bit more leather, and some extra safety features. The only option on our tester was carpeted floor mats ($130).
At $22,610 out the door, our rugged-ish X-Line is more affordable and stylish than most other vehicles in the segment. The Fiat 500X, with a bit of a lift and some plastic cladding, costs $25,995. The Jeep Renegade Trailhawk (though it’s probably the most capable of the bunch) costs a pricey $27,545. If you want the look of an SUV without the jacked up price, the Soul X-Line is a great option. And if you want to spend more, the Soul tops out at $30,825.
The 2020 Soul is a sublime follow-up style-wise to the last-gen we loved so much. It's more-defined up front with sharper light fixtures and a bigger grille, the back has a new interpretation of the Soul’s iconic “boomerang taillights,” and while we grow tired of the trendy “floating roof,” the element is acceptable here.
The X-Line trim ups the style ante, rugged-izing all the things. This trim adds plastic fenders all around, extra cladding up front, matte silver accents, and trim-exclusive 18-inch wheels. Taken together, we’re supposed to believe these pieces toughen up the Soul's exterior, giving it a strong, off-road character. Don't try taking it to the trail, though – all of the updates are visual rather than functional. The Soul still doesn’t even offer all-wheel drive to get you out of trouble.
For a car that costs just $21,000, the interior looks and feels premium. As expected, there's a lot of black plastic on the dash and some silver trim thrown in for good measure. But most, if not all of the trim pieces, are soft to the touch and well finished. Nothing looks or feels cheap.
To match its unique exterior, there’s a funky silver trim piece on the front door panels, which adds some extra texture where other designs simply phone it in. The triangular air vents are a nice touch too and catch the eye. And the seats, though they’re just cloth, have a nice two-tone black and grey texture to them.
The Soul's boxy styling makes it one of the roomiest subcompact crossovers. The high-rising roof provides an open, airy feel, and tons of visibility, resulting in 39.6 inches of front headroom and 39.5 inches of rear headroom (without a sunroof). Sleeker alternatives like the Honda HR-V and Toyota C-HR, both with smaller interior dimensions, feel cramped in comparison. The Nissan Kicks and Jeep Renegade, however, are both a bit better in this department. Still, the Soul feels generously sized inside considering it’s classified as a subcompact.
The cloth seats, though, aren't very soft or cushiony, the engine is a little buzzy as speed, and the Soul’s front legroom, in particular, feels cramped. There’s less room for your knees up front than what you get in the Toyota C-HR , Honda HR-V, Nissan Kicks, and Jeep Renegade. The backseat is a bit bigger, though, and feels like enough space for this writer’s lanky six-foot frame. With 39.1 inches of legroom, the Soul’s backseat bests all the vehicles mentioned except the HR-V.
The Soul X-Line is as well equipped as other crossovers at this price point. The same 7.0-inch touchscreen from the base model carries over. Style-wise, we like that the screen is embedded in the dash and not jutting up like a hastily fastened iPad. We also like the standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available throughout the range, even on the base model, and the system’s sharp, attractive graphics.
The screen itself feels a little cheap, though, and doesn't react well to touch inputs. The X-Line also lacks navigation and Kia's more advanced UVO link infotainment, which are only available on the larger 10.25-inch screen that comes on the EX model and up. But for $22,000, it's still a good setup and competitive for the class.
The 2020 Kia Soul has two engines: a base 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated four-cylinder features on every trim, although the range-topping GT-Line is available with a turbocharged 1.6-liter, four-cylinder. Our X-Line’s 2.0-liter works alongside a continuously variable transmission (what Kia calls “Intelligent Variable Transmission) and produces 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque.
The CVT smartly mimics a traditional six-speed automatic with faux shift points, but otherwise, there's nothing that stands out about it (which is a good thing). It's a perfectly adequate, totally inoffensive engine and gearbox tag team expected of most crossovers in this class.
Handling is where the Soul stands out. While competitors like the Kicks and HR-V might lull drivers to sleep with their dull chassis and listless steering, the Soul is somewhat fun, even if it’s not as lively as the Mazda CX-3. The direct steering input, responsive chassis, and quick throttle allow drivers to dart around town with some urgency. And though the Soul is front-wheel-drive exclusively, it never lacks for grip… though, possibly because it never moves fast enough to require much.
On higher trims, the Soul offers active safety equipment like automatic front braking, lane centering technology, adaptive cruise control, and others (some of it standard, depending on the trim). But the X-Line limits safety features to items like blind spot monitoring, cross-traffic alert, and lane-keep assist. It doesn't even have LED headlights. Because it’s so new, the Soul hasn't been crash-tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or Insurance Institute for Highway Safety yet.
The most-efficient Kia Soul, the Eco Dynamics model, returns 29 miles per gallon city, 35 highway, and 31 combined. The X-Line model isn't the same fuel sipper, but it’s efficient enough. At 27 mpg city, 33 highway, and 30 combined, th Soul X-Line is better than competitors like the Toyota CH-R (27/31/29), Jeep Renegade (24/32/27), and Ford EcoSport (27/29/28), but less efficient than the Hyundai Kona (28/32/30) and Nissan Kicks (31/36/33). At 31 mpg combined, the Soul sits right in the middle of the pack.