2020 Kia Soul GT-Line Limited: The Modern Art of Cubism

Strong points
  • Sharp, elegant new design
  • Surprisingly roomy and versatile cabin
  • High levels of quality and technology
  • Attractive prices
Weak points
  • Only one engine and no AWD option
  • CVT is a buzzkill
  • Noisy cabin
  • Over-sensitive safety features
Full report

Kia calls it the most fun, innovative and futuristic Soul ever. Sure enough, the third generation of the lovable Korean cube makes a big statement and finds many ways to please.

In fact, we at The Car Guide named it the Best New SUV of the Year. The updated design is a success and the fully electric Soul EV impresses with a range of nearly 400 kilometres.

We’ve just spent a week with a 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line Limited that only validated our pick.

An SUV, Really?

While the original Soul defined itself as a compact hatchback, the latest iteration is more akin to a sub-compact SUV by today’s standards. Slightly larger than its predecessors, it compares favourably to a Hyundai Kona or Mazda CX-3, for example. However, the fact it’s missing an AWD option keeps the Soul in the same boat as the Toyota C-HR, Nissan Kicks and Hyundai Venue.

When you step inside, there’s not even a question. The rear seats are accommodating, the trunk is versatile with two-position height adjustability and total cargo volume amounts to 1,758 litres, which is more than in every other small SUV—and even some compact models like the Mazda CX-5. Bless the boxy silhouette!

Much More Elegant

The first two generations of the Kia Soul made a name for themselves with their unique shape and cutesy exterior, but they could hardly be described as elegant. Third time’s the charm? You bet! Designers obviously preserved the general aspect of the vehicle, but they found a way to add a thoroughly modern and classy touch, especially up front.

The combination of the thin LED headlights and massive lower grille is way more attractive than the old design, even more so in GT-Line trim. Personally, no other Kia sports a sharper-looking front fascia. In the rear, the taillights that wrap around the hatch are a nice evolution, too. And the brand continues to offer a great selection of wheels and body colours.

Incidentally, the 2020 Kia Soul was designed to attract more mainstream customers. We talked to the sales manager at a local Kia dealer and he confirmed that men are showing a lot more interest in the car, er SUV now.

Simplicity and Efficiency

Claiming most sub-compact SUV buyers prefer fuel economy over performance, Kia simplified the lineup for 2020. While it gave the Soul a major competitive edge, the 201-horsepower turbo engine is no longer available. Same thing for the six-speed manual gearbox.

Instead, we get a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine that produces 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. Shared with the Forte (and Kona), this unit does a decent job around town, but it won’t win any drag races. The problem is that the CVT it’s mated to hates to be pushed. When you do push it, the Soul responds by generating more noise than acceleration, which is amplified by a lack of noise insulation in the first place.

At least this so-called “intelligent” variable transmission is more fuel-efficient than the old six-speed automatic (8.6 L/100 km in the city and 7.1 L/100 km on the highway) and it deftly simulates gear shifts to give more rhythm to the drive.

As for handling, the Soul is still blessed with short overhangs improving stability, though it suffers from body roll in sharp corners. The lack of lateral support from the seats doesn’t help. The ride is not uncomfortable and visibility is excellent. There are many driver assistance systems available and even though some of them are adjustable, like lane keeping assist, they prove far too sensitive. What good are they if you turn them off?

Party Time

The cabin of the 2020 Kia Soul is a reminder that the brand leads various quality rankings in North America. It also makes for fun times on the road with variable ambient lighting that can be synchronized with the sound of the available Harman Kardon stereo. What’s more, you can have a large 10.25-inch touchscreen (EX Premium and higher) powered by an attractive and fairly easy to use infotainment system—one of the best in the industry according to a recent J.D. Power study. If you prefer Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, both are included as standard.

By the way, the base LX model is nicely priced at $21,195, but things start to get really interesting with the EX models. At the top of the ladder, the fully loaded GT-Line Limited stands out with sport bumpers, roof rails, leather seats (cooled up front and heated in the rear), a sport steering wheel, head-up display (via a small plastic panel and not the windshield, sadly) and a full assortment of safety features. All that for just under $30,000 before freight and delivery charges—impressive.

Verdict

A major improvement over the outgoing model and a better proposition than many small SUVs, the 2020 Kia Soul is a stylish, modern-looking vehicle that delivers plenty of space and bang for your buck. The excellent warranty and low maintenance costs will also appeal to your wallet. Sure, the drive is not spectacular, but we still quite enjoyed our week with the new Soul.

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