If the sound of a $28,000+ Kia Soul makes your jaw drop just a little - you wouldn’t be alone. Considering it’s long-been a funky, economical subcompact car aimed at budget-conscious shoppers enamored with boxy design, that’s certainly understandable. But here I’ll make the case that the extremely likeable Soul deserves its chance to climb out of the upper-teens and mid-20s as it does with the new top of the line GT-Line 1.6T.
First it must be said that the Soul is currently Kia’s best-selling vehicle. In the first quarter of the year, sales were at 25,553, up from 21,418 in 2018. That is quite a testament to its mainstream popularity given that other cars in its segment like the Nissan Cube and Juke as well as the Scion xB are no longer with us.
The all-new third-generation 2020 Kia Soul sits on a new, longer platform and has a more modern and refined look to it, without losing any of the funky personality that made it a star. Look for new tech in the cockpit, new engines and a new trim lineup: the LX, S, GT-Line, X-Line, EX and GT-Line 1.6T. Pricing starts from $17,490 and stretches past $28,000 as equipped for my test model, the GT-Line Turbo. A 2020 Soul EV will also be available.
The Soul lineup shares a new standard 2.0-liter 147-horsepower engine. But to get the most powerful engine you’ll need to step up to my Soul GT-Line Turbo test model. It’s equipped with an upgraded 1.6-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine mated to a 7-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. The powertrain is good for 201-horses and 195 pound feet of torque. On the road, its pep didn’t disappoint given the Soul’s 3,036 curb weight. A button will disable the Stop/Start system. A manual is available but only on the base LX model.
If you’re comparing models, while the GT Turbo is pricing itself in line with the base VW GTI S, it’s not closing in hot hatch territory, falling short of the GTI’s base 228-horsepower. But the Soul Turbo does boast more power than the Jeep Renegade’s similarly priced top of the line 177-horse turbo engine as well as the decidedly lower-powered non-turbo 144-horsepower Toyota CH-R.
Ride and Drive
Behind the wheel, the Kia Soul offers a fun to drive ride with great ride height. The X-Line I drove recently at the Texas Auto Roundup delivered great ride quality and the GT-Turbo’s larger disc brakes and sport-tuned suspension enhanced it even further. It’s enjoyable (especially in sport mode) and easy to drive with a great turning radius. Steering felt on the tighter side (although I would not go as far as to call it sports car handling.) The cabin was fairly quiet as well.
The third-generation Soul is slightly longer than before and its structure is made with more high strength steel. Looks-wise, simply put, you either like the Soul’s boxy look or don’t. The 2020 features a new, larger, grille design up front as well as new headlights and slim daytime running lights. Note: LED headlights are only standard on the GT-Line Turbo. Optional on the EX. But the rest of the lineup has to make due with less desirable reflector headlights. The GT-Line features sport bumpers and side sills, along with 18-inch alloy wheels, integrated fog lights on front grille, gloss black side mirrors and GT-Line badging. Add the Turbo engine and you also get a chrome tip center exhaust.
The Soul’s interior is a nice place to be. It’s classy, clean and uncluttered. It’s also interesting without going too far over to funky town. Designers for sure had fun with a mix of shapes on the door panels, and center stack. Speakers find themselves integrated into the side air vents.
The black-interior featured red stitching with pops of color on the door panels. My favorite interior feature is the GT-Turbo’s leather-wrapped D-shaped steering wheel with paddle shifters, red stitching and a GT logo. My Turbo sported a comfortable Sofino and cloth black-trimmed 10-way power driver seat. (By the way, the GT-Turbo is the only model with heated front seats and a heated steering wheel.) A power sunroof is standard but I wish it were bigger.
The GT-Turbo center console sports the push button start, leather gear shifter, hand parking brake, and buttons for the heated front seats and steering wheel. There is wireless charging, as well as a 12-volt and USB port up there, too. Above on the center stack you see knobs for the dual zone climate control. The tachometer sports some nice graphics in the great digital drivers display.
The cockpit of the Soul is thoroughly modern with the technology to match (Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard.) Three standout features:
10.25-inch Split Touchscreen with Navigation. WOW it is fantastic. Great resolution, modern mapping and graphics with a superb high resolution rearview camera. It also comes with parking guidance. The system is responsive and the only thing that makes me think it might not be exactly designed for a woman is the screen has little padding on the top, so if you have nails, you have to angle your way in from the side. (The larger touchscreen also comes on the EX while the other trims get a 7-inch.)
Harman Kardon Audio: Audio is also a highlight of the GT Turbo. It ditches the standard 6-speaker audio system for a terrific 640-watt Harman Kardon audio system with an amplifier and 10 speakers including tuned center speaker and subwoofer.
Sound Mood Lamp: The Soul’s mood lighting surrounds the speakers and pulses to the beat of the music. Kia says it also listened to customers and made the lighting brighter and more responsive this model year. You can also customize colors to fit your mood and there are themes as well.
The Kia Soul is in a word, roomy. There is a ton of leg- and headroom along with a 60/40 rear split seats, plus great visibility out the back. The 2020 comes with a wider and lower rear liftgate opening to make loading and unloading easier. You close the liftgate with a grab handle. Door scuff plates and cargo net hooks are standard across the lineup. The trunk offers 24.2 cubic feet of space with the rear-seat up (62.1 cubic feet overall.) A dual-level cargo board and cargo cover are standard on the EX and GT-Turbo trims. A 12-volt in the cargo area is standard on EX and the GT-Turbo.
If you want all the driver assist tech Kia has to offer, you’re going to have to spring for the GT Turbo. It comes standard equipped with the complete suite of Kia Drive Wise technology which includes:
None of the above technology is even available as an option on the base model LX and It is disappointing that automatic emergency braking is not standard on the LX.
The 2020 Kia Soul delivers 27 city, 32 highway and 29 combined MPGs which is in line with the segment.
The base model Kia Soul starts $1,000 higher for 2020, but overall the Soul lineup remains a great buy, except if you go for the LX which offers nothing really in terms of standard advanced driver assist tech or even automatic emergency braking. The less expensive non-turbo trims will save you some money if horsepower isn’t important to you. But on the loaded top of the line GT Turbo you’re getting a lot of cool content and driver assist features for my test model’s $28,710 MSRP. In today’s world, when the average price of a new car is well into the mid-30s, that’s saying something.
2020 Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo
What I liked most: Leather-wrapped steering wheel, Harman Kardon sound system, 10.25-inch screen with navigation, mood lighting.
What I would change: Give me a bigger moonroof and more trims with standard LED headlights.
MSRP: $27,490 base price, total MSRP with transportation: $28,710.