Don’t look for hip-hop hamsters inside the boxy Kia Soul GT, the crossover-wagon-thing that somehow makes square seem fashionably anti-sleek.
Sure, the likable 2020 Soul GT still looks as if it was assembled from sheets of plywood with everything but the wheels and tires a celebration of right angles, but the gangster-hamsters – a signature component of the Soul’s hipster image – apparently found a new ride.
The turbocharged GT-Line model I had recently replaced fashionably cute with a bit of swift, offering some surprising hot-hatchback moves in a thick, tall compact crossover.
My red Soul, for example, scowled through thin new headlamps mounted high and connected by a nifty slender light-bar that gave the front a slightly angry look.
Below them was a huge blacked-out grille that eased around to short front fenders and flat, thick-looking sides.
A sloping, flat top kept things squared off, while enormous new taillamps more or less encircled the Soul’s entire back window.
Although the 18-inch alloy wheels and 235/45 tires are reasonably sized, they looked small beneath the bulk of the Soul’s van-like body.
Hey, that’s always been part of the Soul’s anti-sleek charm.
Now, however, the front-wheel-drive Soul sports some grit as well in the form of a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine spinning a seven-speed automatic.
The 201-horsepower engine – shared with sibling Hyundai’s Veloster coupe – can be deceptive. At slow speeds, it felt soft and tentative, requiring a sharp prod to awaken it. When punched hard, the engine responded with a subdued growl and a trace of torque-steer as it revved its way to 60 miles per hour in a respectable 6.4 seconds, according to Car and Driver.
Though quick, it never really felt as torquey as I’ve come to expect from turbocharged four-bangers.
Likewise, the dual-clutch seven-speed tranny could be clunky and slow to respond, but functioned pretty well most of the time, helping the compact crossover to overall fuel economy of 29 miles per gallon.
Still – and this may come as a surprise given the vehicle’s shipping-crate shape – I was more impressed with the Soul’s handling than its straight-line speed.
Defying its proportions, the 3,100-pound GT turned crisply into corners with surprisingly minimal body-lean, showing off its relatively firm suspension.
As a sporty sort of vehicle, the Soul GT bounced a bit over big bumps, but wasn’t jarring or harsh.
Appropriately, the steering felt fairly quick but lacked much road-feel, though I’m not sure that matters much in a Kia Soul.
Nonetheless, the Soul GT likes to be hustled – a new facet to its stolid, black-shades personality.
As you might expect in a vehicle costing less than $30,000, the black interior of my Soul – so to speak – was largely a bin of plastic, but it was well-crafted plastic.
A deep black dashboard in semi-pliable plastic, for instance, featured an amusing rounded display area in its center anchored by a 10.3-inch display screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capability.
Buttons for the audio system kept the distractions down, while the safety stuff included forward-collision avoidance, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic warnings and active cruise control.
A leather-wrapped flat-bottom steering-wheel added a few more smiles, as did wild oval climate vents at the corners of the dash.
Maybe the best feature, though, was the textured dark-orange centers in the Kia’s door panels with dark-orange bands around the armrests.
Both were back-lit with subtle LED lighting that pulsed to music, making even a Boomer like me look slightly cool – especially when screeching away from the parking lot at the retirement home.
The black seats, meanwhile, sported leather-like bolsters stitched in red with sectioned black-cloth centers.
They also provided good leg- and head-room in back despite the Soul’s sloping top -- though the seat in the five-passenger Kia was mounted kind of low.
The Soul has always been a pretty good bargain and mine had two affordable options: carpeted floor mats, $130; and a rear cargo tray, $95.
Every time I climbed into the little Kia, I felt as if I was entering a tiny indie bar somewhere, about to get belted by an electric-mandolin band.
Still, it was fun, functional and affordable, and may it long be wonderfully weird.
2020 Kia Soul GT-Line 1.6T
- What I liked most: The Soul GT-Line’s quirky personality and surprising features.
- What I would change: GT-Line versions of the Soul need engines stronger than the turbo 1.6 – maybe something like a souped-up version of Kia’s 2-liter four.
- MSRP: Base price of the GT-Line, $27,490; as equipped, $28,710.
- Official color: Inferno Red.
- Fuel economy: 27 miles per gallon in the city, 32 on the highway and 29 mpg combined with filler on the left.
- Odometer reading when tested: 9,133 miles.
- Spare tire: Temporary compact.
- Weight: 3,130 pounds.
- Length-width-height: 165.2 inches long/70.9 inches wide/63 inches tall.
- Fuel-tank capacity: 14.3 gallons.
- Towing capacity: 2,400 pounds.
- 2020 Kia Soul GT in a few words: The most likably unorthodox crossover-wagon on the market.
- Warranty: Five-year, 60,000-mile basic warranty and 10-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.
- Final assembly location: Gwangju, Korea.
- Manufacturer’s website: www.kia.com
- E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Up next: 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLE450