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First Drive: 2020 Kia Soul Review

Goodbye Kia hamsters. Hello refinement and attitude.

PROS:

  • Redesign is bold, sleek, and mature
  • Improved handling and fuel efficiency
  • Sporty Soul GT-Line
  • Loaded with cabin tech

CONS:

  • Turbo, AWD, and 6-speed manual only for the US (sorry Canada)
  • Cube design not for everyone

Toronto, ON – When the boxy Soul first arrived ten years ago it was definitely a quirky-looking oddball, carving out its own little niche alongside other fun-spirited crossovers like the Nissan Juke, Nissan Cube, Scion xB, and Chevy HHR, to name a few. 

Some call this the Boxy Movement. I call it the era-of-bubbly-design-and-looks-only-a-Mother-can-love. Or middle-age women. Or young buyers and Japanese exchange students. But I digress.

Today, however, in a sea of distinctly styled, smaller crossovers like the new Hyundai Kona and Honda C-HR entering the market, the Soul isn’t as weird anymore, fitting in just fine. 

Problem is: in a hyper-competitive small crossover market, does weird still sell in large numbers? The answer: No. 

2020 Kia Soul review amee reehal side view
Still boxy but with a much more stylish look, the new 2020 Soul can hang with the big hitters in the small crossover market. Photo: Amee Reehal

Fortunately, the redesigned 2020 Soul is more grown up sporting bolder SUV-ish looks, improved fuel efficiency, better handling, and more ergonomic interior packaging; simply, much more refined both inside and out. 

The new 3rd-generation subcompact still retains its charm and identity but without alienating its fans, while adding a much needed dose of maturity and feature list to compete with the big boys in the growing market. 

For Kia SUV shoppers looking for something much bigger, there’s always the new Telluride 3-row hauler.

Exterior Design: Bolder, Sleeker, Less Goofy

Overall, the Soul retains its cube-like shape first introduced in the 1st-generation model a decade ago. But now, the redesigned model finds more refined, sleeker details from front to back, rendering it more beefy with that boxy style (and less funky).

The 2020 model is bigger than before and rides on 16, 17, 18-inch wheels.

New lighting setup is a game-changer

2020 Kia Soul review lighting setup amee reehal
Those super-long, vertical defining taillights still exist but now look much sharper in LED and in all red (no more white or black). Photo: Amee Reehal

An easy win for Kia designers was to revamp the lighting assembly.

Gone are those cute, round fog lamps found on the front and rear bumpers, replaced by skinny red lights in the back and larger DRL-style lamps in the front. The new full LED headlights look mean and super-sleek with its ultra-slim design versus the outgoing bulky headlights. Those super-long, vertical defining taillights still exist but now look much sharper in LED and in all red (no more white or black).

The front bumper is about the same size but gets an updated look. The EX model (step up from entry-level LX) finds LED signal repeaters on the side mirrors.

GT-Line: Sportier Soul

The new Soul LX and EX do look sportier overall, but it’s the GT-Line’s design that levels up everything. This trim’s features include:

  • Front sport bumper and grille
  • Red side sill accent and body colour rocker panels
  • Roof rails
  • Rear sport bumper
2020 Kia Soul gt-line review
The 2020 Soul GT-Line gets a 1.6L turbo in the US and 147-hp 2.0L 4-cylinder in Canada. Either way, it looks sharp. Photo: Amee Reehal

Especially in the vibrant red (sorry, Inferno Red), the Soul GT-Line looks low, angry, and ready to pounce.

Engines, Performance, and Handling

The good news? The new Soul still benefits from the spirited tubro, the benefits of all-wheel drive, and flexibility of a 6-speed manual transmission. The bad news? None of these are available for Canadian buyers. Hopefully, at the very least, Kia will throw an AWD model into the mix. 

Engine choices across North America

The US market gets two choices for power: a 2.0L 4-cylinder engine matted to either a 6-speed manual or CVT, or the more robust 201-hp turbocharged 1.6L 4-cylinder found in the top-end Soul GT-Line. 

Canadians get one choice but it’s a good one (also found in the new Forte): the new 2.0L MPI engine paired to the Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT — basically, a CVT tranny) with a simulated 8-speed gear-shift feature functioning manually via the Sportmatic shifter. 

Our tester found the latter, Canadian-spec engine, putting down 147-hp and 132 lb-ft or torque. 

2020 Kia Soul rear view review

Driving impressions

On the road, the new Soul handled well both on the highway and city driving. Could it have used a turbo? Sure. Would an all-wheel drive setup make a difference? Yeah, probably. But the new engine provides enough pull when needed, handles corners appropriately (especially in the GT-Line spec), and overall, provides improved fuel efficiency (9.2% increase, to be exact) due to the expanded shift ratio possibilities. 

Sure, the manual transmission is missing but let’s be realistic: manuals are missing in pretty much all new cars these days. Instead, Kia is thrown in a ‘simulated’ alternative where sportier driving can be had via an 8-speed manual mode while the shifter is in Sportmatic position. It’s no stick-shift however does offer a more spirited drive for those open roads. Frankly, that’s all you can ask for with new cars these days. 

New Soul Interior and Technology

One of Kia’s strong points is the extra features that come as standard. The 2020 Soul is no exception. Paired to all the new tech the new vehicles are seeing these days, it’s easy to see how these once overlooked, not-up-to-par Korean vehicles have gained so much ground so quickly. The Kia-Hyundai combo is real and slowly car buyers are finally noticing. 

Inside, the buttons and feature placement is similar to outgoing model, while layout and textures are upgraded. A 7-inch display, dual level centre console tray, and side air vents are all standard. 

to compete in this competitive small crossover market, being odd might not cut it anymore. The new Soul does a good job retaining its character while adding a good dose of maturity and style, appealing to a broader market of CUV shoppers. 

In the back, the 2020 Soul gets 60:40 split folding rear seats, plus a new dual level luggage board.

New screen and more speakers

New for 2020 is the 10.25” wide screen LCD multimedia interface with navigation, providing a split screen view, a customizable home screen, and Bluetooth multi-connection. As for audio, the Harman Kardon premium sound system now gets 10-speakers opposed to 8-speakers in the outgoing model.

2020 Kia Soul interior
Inside, the buttons and feature placement is similar to outgoing model, while layout and textures are upgraded. A 7-inch display, dual level centre console tray, and side air vents are all standard. Photo: Amee Reehal

Light it up

You can’t have a fun, vibrant, ‘funky’ car without some lighting effects. The door trim of the Soul features the indirect mood light that change colour and intensity based on the tunes blaring out those 10-speakers.Modes include ‘Glow Mode’ based on colour, and ‘Theme Mode’ based on the driver’s current mood. 

As gimmicky as it may seem, this lighting thing is actually a nice little touch. And, yes, it’s fun. Really. 

High tech

Also new for 2020 is the head up display (HUD) – Kia’s first combiner type HUD which splashes key info including speed, safety icons, and navigation all while helping minimize driver distraction. 

A wireless cell charger that powers up a mobile by simply placing it on the charge pad is a nice touch; so is the rear view camera featuring a rear top-view look up to 15 km/h. 

2020 Kia Soul shifter interior

Kia’s new UVO Intelligence app-based system also makes its way into the new Soul, allowing remote functionality from a smartphone. Operations like remote start/stop, a car locator, monthly vehicle health reports, and maintenance alerts, to name just a few features. 

Takeaway: is the new Kia Soul worth it?

There’s a place for the fun-spirited, quirky little crossovers like the Soul, Nissan Juke, Nissan Cube. Some have looks only their mothers (or middle-aged women) would love, while several of these oddballs like the Chevy HHR and Scion xB are long gone. 

But to compete in this competitive small crossover market, being odd might not cut it anymore. The new Soul does a good job retaining its character without losing too much of its identity while adding a good dose of maturity and style, appealing to a broader market of CUV shoppers. 

In other words, if you were embarrassed to drive a Soul before, you may not feel this way anymore behind the wheel of a more bold and stylish crossover that appropriately sets itself apart. 

Shopping for a new crossover? Check out more reviews here.

2020 Kia Soul Price and Models

US:

  • LX – $17,490
  • S – $20,290
  • GT-Line – $20,290
  • X-Line – $21,490
  • EX – $22,690
  • GT-Line Turbo – $27,490

CANADA:

  • LX – $21,195
  • EX – $22,895
  • EX+ – $24,895
  • EX Premium – $26,995
  • GT-Line Premium – $27,595
  • EX Limited – $28,995
  • GT-Line Limited – $29,595

2020 Soul Gallery

© Amee Reehal

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Amee Reehalhttp://ameereehal.com/
Shooting motors professionally since film was a thing, Amee's work has been published in various outlets including NBC Sports, Chicago Tribune, SuperStreet, GlobeDrive, MotorTrend, and others. He's a writer, editor at TractionLife.com, AJAC member, and full-time digital marketer at Traction Media working with national brands. Find him traveling, spending time with his kids and family. Or golfing, poorly.

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