2020 Kia Soul review: As practical and offbeat as ever
The Kia Soul is the last remaining funky crossover. The Nissan Cube and Scion xB are gone, but the tall-hatchback Kia Soul carries on. Now in its third generation, the 2020 Soul remains a quirky box on wheels, but it's more practical and value-packed than ever before.
The new Soul looks better than ever before. It keeps the usual Soul styling elements intact, like the "floating" rear roofline and large, vertical taillights. The front fascia is a little squinty now, which is still quirky, but not as cute as before. X-Line models like this one get unique 18-inch wheels, body cladding, roof rails and silver mirror caps. It's not a bad look, but I definitely prefer the style of the GT-Line, which we reviewed earlier this year.
The Soul's boxy shape means it offers an extraordinary amount of cargo space. Behind the rear seats you'll find 23.4 cubic feet of space, but fold the back seats flat and that area expands to a whopping 62.1 cubes. You won't get nearly as much space in competitors like the Nissan Kicks or Mini Countryman. Heck, that's even more cargo space than larger vehicles like the Jeep Compass and Mazda CX-5 have.
The Soul is available in LX, S, X-Line, GT-Line, EX and GT-Line Turbo trims. Every model except the Turbo gets a 2.0-liter, naturally aspirated I4 engine, while the range-topping Soul uses a 1.6-liter turbo-4. You can get a manual transmission on the most basic LX trim, but all the others get a continuously variable transmission. The GT-Line Turbo, however, rocks a dual-clutch automatic.
The version you see here is a rugged-looking X-Line, which uses the aforementioned 2.0-liter engine. This power plant has enough, but not copious amounts of power, to the tune of 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. No, the Soul isn't the quickest thing on four wheels, but it handles surprisingly well, with crisp steering and a firm yet comfortable ride. But despite its butch appearance, folks in colder climes be aware: The Soul X-Line is not offered with all-wheel drive. In fact, every Soul uses front-wheel drive, regardless of powertrain.
The transmission is tuned to give off simulated "shifts" so it doesn't produce any high-revving whine or drone, a bad trait of older CVTs. And despite its decidedly nonaerodynamic shape, the Soul returns an EPA-estimated fuel rating of 27 miles per gallon city, 33 highway and 30 combined with the 2.0-liter engine. During my time with it I saw 28 mpg. If you're willing to trade acceleration for economy, drive the Soul in Eco Dynamics mode and the EPA says you'll up your efficiency to 29 mpg city, 35 mpg highway and 31 mpg highway. If an EV is your jam, a new electric Soul is headed our way soon, though its arrival has been delayed slightly.
If technology is your jam, I'd recommend skipping the X-Line trim, which features blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and nothing else. The Soul's trims aren't progressive, either -- the S trim is less expensive than an X-Line, but it gets emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert and avoidance. Adaptive cruise control is only available on the top-of-the-line GT Turbo. Check the available trims carefully to be sure you're getting the driver assistance tech you want.
A 7-inch touchscreen is standard across most Soul models, running Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in addition to Kia's excellent Uvo infotainment system; a 10.2-inch screen is available on more expensive trims. My X-Line tester doesn't have many charging options -- just one USB port and two 12-volt chargers up front. Nothing for rear-seat passengers, either. Wireless charging is available, thankfully, but only on higher trims.
That tech is set inside of a cabin that's well appointed and surprisingly comfortable. You sit upright in the Soul, with nicely bolstered seats, and all of the car's controls are neatly organized on the dash. Rear-seat passengers have lots of headroom and a decent amount of legroom. This might be a subcompact crossover, but inside, it feels downright huge.
No, the X-Line isn't the most robust in terms of features, but it does only cost just over $21,000. For my money, however, I'd step up to the EX. It costs $22,690, plus $1,045 for destination, but you get heated front seats, a wireless device charger and the larger infotainment screen as well as some driver's aids like lane-keeping assist and forward-collision warning and assist. I'd lose the rugged look of the X-Line without the body cladding, but really, I'd rather have a warm tush.
Of course, there's a lot to choose from in the subcompact crossover space. The Jeep Renegade is great for those who want a small SUV with legit off-road chops, while the Nissan Kicks has an excellent available Bose audio system and can be optioned up in some cool two-tone exterior colors.
Still, you can't deny that the 2020 Kia Soul is a practical and stylish little runabout. Its small footprint makes it an excellent choice for city dwellers while the copious amounts of storage mean it's practical to boot. It looks great, drives well and still offers great value. Maybe that's why it's the only box on wheels that's still standing tall today.