The 2020 Kia Soul saves everything we’ve enjoyed about the previous versions of this quirky hatchback, then adds some extra fun and practicality to the mix, too. There’s no denying the Soul carves a unique niche for itself in the marketplace even when up against newer competitors like the Hyundai Kona, Toyota C-HR, Nissan Kicks, Kia Niro and Hyundai Venue.
If you think being square is hip, you’ll love the upright lines and bolder face of the 2020 Soul. Gone are the wide-eyed headlights of the previous model; a narrow light bar now gives the Soul a more focused and angrier-looking face. The headlights have migrated to the spot in the front bumper where you’d expect the foglights to live.
In terms of power and economy, it’s a double dose of good news because the base engine in the Soul delivers plenty of punch and better gas mileage. A turbo motor is also available if you’re looking for a city-friendly vehicle that’s nimble and can dart into any gap in traffic. Now, if only Kia didn’t make the safety features so confusing across the trim levels, and there’s also one key item missing from the Soul’s options sheet — especially for shoppers living in snow belt states.
Let’s see which 11 things stood out in Cars.com reviewer Fred Meier’s experience with the 2020 Kia Soul, along with some things that left room for improvement.
Things We Like
1. Still Fun, Still Funky
While it doesn’t look dramatically changed from the outgoing model, the 2020 Soul rides on an entirely different chassis. The wheelbase is stretched by about an inch, and overall length is exactly 2.2 inches longer than the 2019 Soul. That’s not a massive difference, which is good, because there’s no reason for Kia to throw away the successful blueprint that’s made the car so appealing. The upright lines provide lots of space inside while giving the Soul plenty of presence and style for a budget-minded vehicle.
2. Better Base Engine
The less said about the previous Soul’s base motor, the better. The standard engine is now a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that delivers 147 horsepower to the front wheels. Available with the choice of a six-speed manual or a nicely mannered continuously variable automatic transmission, this engine provides more than enough power for everyday driving.
3. Peppy Turbo
If you want more pep in your Soul’s step, there is an optional turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder that delivers a total of 201 hp to the GT-Line trim. It’s the same engine you’ll find in the Kia Forte, along with the Hyundai Veloster. Coupled to this more powerful motor is a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission; like the CVT with the base engine, this transmission is impressive and operates in the background.
4. More Cargo Space
Since the proportions aren’t radically altered, there isn’t a huge amount of extra room inside the 2020 Soul. But Kia has done a solid job when it comes to carving out some extra space in everything from the door panels to convenient cubbies in the dashboard. There is now 23.8 cubic feet of cargo space in the trunk, with the rear seatbacks in place. That’s a more than 25 percent increase from what you’d find in the previous Soul.
5. Passenger Room Aplenty
Luggage and shopping bags won’t be the only things to appreciate the extra wiggle room in the 2020 Soul — there’s also room for passengers in the front and rear. The tall roof provides plenty of headroom and, while the seats can sometimes feel on the firm side, occupants won’t struggle to find a comfortable space in this square-shaped hatchback.
6. Nimble Handling
Thanks to its petite proportions and nimble handling, the 2020 Kia Soul is a perfect car for anyone who lives in a crowded urban area. You won’t fool yourself into thinking this is a sports car, but the handling does a fine job at helping you zip the Soul into bustling traffic or tiny parking spots.
7. Lots of Safety Features (If You Can Find Them)
The good news is that the 2020 Soul offers a long list of safety features, with everything from automatic emergency braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and much more available. The bad news is that each trim level seems to come with its own bewildering array of safety items. Making sense of what’s available (and what isn’t) takes lots of patience; more on that in a minute.
8. Tech Touches, Too
Every Kia Soul comes standard with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility. Isn’t it funny how these two simple features aren’t available on base versions of some luxury models that cost thousands more than the Soul? A 7-inch touchscreen infotainment system is used on most models, though a 10.25-inch screen comes on higher-end EX and GT-Line Turbo models. To be honest, the basic screen is fine, with menus that are easy to navigate.
9. Beat-Bouncing Light Show Remains
The 2020 Soul still has its hilarious interior light show, which features adjustable lighting in the door panels that pulses to the beat of the music being played. A 640-watt, 10-speaker Harman Kardon sound system is optional if you want heavy bass for the disco-themed cabin.
10. Electric Model Has 243 Miles of Range
Did we almost forget to mention there is an electric-powered version of the 2020 Soul? Folks in much of the country shouldn’t get too excited: It’ll only be available in California and “other select markets,” according to Kia. That’s a shame, because the 243 miles of driving range compares nicely with rivals like the Chevrolet Bolt EV (238 miles) and Kia Niro EV (239).
11. Improved Fuel Economy
You don’t necessarily need to drive an EV to feel good about doing your part for the environment by way of gas mileage. The Kia Soul motivated by the base four-cylinder and CVT returns a stout 27/33/30 mpg city/highway/combined. As for the turbo variant, it returns a still-reasonable economy average of 27/32/29 mpg.
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Things We Don’t
1. Safety Features Are Confusing
Depending on which model you choose, the Kia Soul’s standard and available safety features can vary dramatically. To start, the base Soul LX comes with no advanced safety tech, such as forward collision alert or automatic emergency braking. While higher trims offer a good degree of safety features, it’s confusing when it comes time to understand which Soul trim comes with which suite of safety gear.
2. All-Wheel Drive Absent
Like the Toyota C-HR and Nissan Kicks, the Soul is not available with all-wheel drive. There were hints that this popular option might migrate to the Soul for the 2020 model year but, as of now, this Kia is strictly front-wheel drive.
3. Ride Is Firm in City Driving
Blame here might have something do with the fact that Meier’s Kia Soul testers rode on the optional 18-inch alloy wheels during his review drives. These are the biggest wheels fitted to the Soul, and less aggressive 16- and 17-inch alloys could provide a smoother ride — especially on pock-marked city streets.
4. Looks Like an Angrier Soul
Maybe it’s us, but does the new Soul look a little too angry? The light bar stretching across the front end give this Kia a meaner, more squinty appearance. The headlights reside lower down the front bumper in the nacelles, where you’d expect to find foglights. This is a practical and fun small hatchback — does it have to look quite so cranky?
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