Kia Soul — Delightfully quirky

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

More than a decade ago several sub-compact imports hit the marketplace defying classification. We called them boxes on wheels. The Honda Element and Scion xB in 2001 were among the first such vehicles to hit our shores followed by the Nissan Cube in 2009 and Kia Soul in 2010. They had charm and enormous interior space for their little size.

All have become automotive history — except the Soul. We aren't surprised that the Soul is the last man standing because not only does it have a quirky charm, it's loaded with creature comforts, outstanding handling traits, and the connectivity younger people crave. Add to that a roomy cabin and useful cargo space that makes it suitable for everyday use. The Soul's delightful personality shines through with the all-new 2020 third-generation, which is now available.
Proving the point that “there is a Soul for everyone,” a normally aspirated and optionally turbocharged Soul is available in six trim levels — LX, S, X-Line, GT-Line, EX, and GT-Line Turbo. And if you think it’s time to go all-electric, Kia has you covered with the all-new Soul EV.

For instance, the X-Line is the rugged-looking model — if you like an off-road persona — with unique 18-inch wheels, special exterior body cladding, and leather-wrapped steering wheel. The GT-Line adds sporty exterior accents, unique 18-inch wheels, and a triangle-pattern grille. The EX is more the luxury trim with a full range of infotainment and safety features including a 10.3-inch screen and a navigation system. The top GT-Line Turbo combines a turbocharged 1.6-liter engine with the GT-Line's sporty accents and the EX line's luxury features.

While the Soul is still instantly recognizable and the measurements are about the same as the outgoing model, it appears wider due to squinty headlights, and a larger two-tone grille that expands the front end. The taillights are more expressive nearly wrapping all the way around the rear glass.

There are two engine and three transmission offerings. The engine-transmission pair most used across the lineup is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder paired to a continuously variable transmission. The base LX can be purchased with a six-speed manual transmission paired to the 2.0-liter. The cream of the crop is a 201-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged four paired to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which is used in several other applications across the Hyundai--Kia lineups.

The turbocharged engine, which comes only in the GT-Line Turbo, transforms the Soul into a hot hatch with a nicely weighted steering feel with built-in quirkiness and smile-inducing cornering prowess. It gives the lovable box a whole new personality, making it a blast to drive fast and hard. By the seat-of-our-pants testing we think it can break into six-second range from a standstill to 60 mph. It takes the Soul a split second to get moving off the line as the turbocharger spools up, but then things get moving very efficiently.

Inside, engine and road noise are kept at a minimum although there is a bit more wind noise than we like. The front seats are supportive and leg and head room are good for rear-seat passengers. Storage space behind the rear seats is a useable 24.2 cubic feet, and carrying a big load from Costco is possible with 62.1 cubic feet with the seats folded. That's more than most small compact crossovers.

As in the past the Soul mood can be dialed up as found on our GT-Line Turbo test car with soft lighting from the center door panels and a unique 3D pattern surface on the upper door panels with the ability to synchronize the light to the beat of the Soul's audio system. There's a rainbow of customizable colors available.

For those who desire the latest technology, the Soul has that covered with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, Bluetooth connectivity with the capability of connecting two devices at the same time, an eight-inch head-up display, and an available 640-watt Harmon Kardon audio system with 10 speakers.

Prices range from $18,485 including a $995 destination charge for the base LX with manual transmission. On the up side EX trim comes with a nice array of equipment for $23,685 including keyless entry and ignition, dual-zone climate control, the 10.3-inch touchscreen with navigation, heated front seats, a wireless charging pad, and several driving aids including blindspot monitor with cross-traffic alert.

Our GT-Line Turbo test car — in addition to the larger engine and dual-clutch transmission — carried virtually every feature available on the Soul for $28,710.

And don't forget the Soul gets the outstanding Kia warranty that includes 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper, 10-year/100,000-mile drivetrain and 5-year/60,000-mile roadside assistance.

Base price: $18,485; as driven, $28,710
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 201 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 195 pound-feet @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed dual clutch automatic
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 102.4 inches
Length: 165.2 inches
Curb weight: 3,036 pounds
Turning circle: 34.8 feet
Luggage capacity: 23,4 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 62.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 14.3 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 27 city, 32 highway, 29 combined
Also consider: Subaru Crosstrek, Jeep Renegade, Hyundai Kona

The Good
• Fun to drive in GT-Line Turbo format
• Charming vehicle inside and out
• Roomy for a subcompact
• Loaded with features

The Bad
• Weak base engine

The Ugly
• Excessive wind noise