First, a moment of silence.
Today we mourn The Hamster.
Well, not a real Hamster, but the special-FX rodents that came to be identified with the Kia Soul, thanks to their great commercials.
For the all-new 2020 Soul, it looks like the furry funmakers have been tossed in the proverbial dustbin. (At least they could have been buried in the backyard, no?)
Shed no tears, though, because this is an all-new Kia Soul, and while it keeps the, errr…Soul of the previous model, it sports a lot of great improvements that keep it one of the most enjoyable and endearing small crossovers.
Kia’s smart. While you want to give a fresh new look on a new model, you also don’t want to walk to far away from what customers love. And they’ve succeeded – instantly recognizable, yet modern and fresh, this is a masterful redesign.
It’s still boxy, with a bulldog stance that looks fun and capable. While the width and height are unchanged, it is 2 inches longer, and enjoys a 1.2-inch longer wheelbase. You’d hardly notice.
What you would notice is the new attitude. Following the trend of squintier lighting, you have a slim, aggressive bar of daytime running lights that pan across the front of the vehicle. The large front grille is prominent with an expressive two-tone treatment, and the front fenders are curvier for a more muscular look. (It has been noted that the front end does resemble an Imperial Storm Trooper’s helmet. Choose a white exterior for maximum effect…)
The profile remains familiar, with fun little details like C-pillars designed to look like airplane wings, and a new embossed “SOUL” in big letters that’s just cool. Around back, the large boomerang taillights, and vertical rear window are pure Soul. It’s a handsome vehicle.
Our tester was especially handsome, being an X-Line trim, upping the excitement with a body kit that features body cladding, overfenders and off-road accents. You also get special X-Line badging, Roof-rail accents, fog lights, and very cool “rimless” 18-inch alloy wheels that give a chunky, funky, and hunky stance.
Our Gravity Gray tester looked classy, but we’d probably opt for one of the brighter colors to really show of the lines and off-set the body kit. Solar Yellow, Inferno Redo or Snow White Pearl would really sell the lines. There’s also an Undercover Green that looks pretty tasty, and even a couple of two-tone are offered. You won’t have any trouble finding something that speaks to you.
Pump up the Volume
Inside, the Soul impresses with edgy design, combined with impressive comfort. Let’s start with comfort. The front seats are supportive and fit taller drivers comfortably. Rear seat headroom and legroom are generous too – when our front seats were adjusted for our 5’10” test driver, he could comfortably sit in the rear seat behind them. It feels notably more spacious than competitors like the Mazda CX-3. Cargo space is good too, with a wider, lower liftgate opening for easy access, and a cool dual-level cargo board you can drop to accommodate taller items.
Just as important, the Soul looks premium – our X-Line is in the middle of the trims, but there’s a fat leather-wrapped steering wheel, clear concise gauges, a driver’s info system, and a 7-inch touchscreen display. The cool angular shaped vents and 3D surface trim looks very cool – almost like the $100k Lexus LS!
We did mention that this is at the value end of trim level, but the only sore point we found was the lack of keyless entry and pushbutton ignition. Yes, we’re spoiled, but it does feel old school to have to pull out the fob, flip out the key, and insert in the ignition.
This does leave you open to opting for a higher trim level, and there’s some tempting stuff if you’re willing to step up. There’s a new color-customizable sound mood lighting system – moods include Hey Yo!, Party Time, Traveling, Romance, Midnight City and Café. You can also get a 10.25” HD touchscreen which looks huge in the Soul, and a 10-speaker 640-watt Harmon Kardon sound system (twice the power of the previous model!). Available head’s up display and wireless charging should satisfy the technophile.
The Soul is probably more fun to drive than most buyers would care about, but for us enthusiasts, it’s a big win.
We’ve driven Kia/Hyundai’s mighty 1.6-liter, 201 horsepower turbo four cylinder many times, and were wondering if we’d be disappointed in the standard 2.0-liter four cylinder that lives in our X-Line.
Actually, we were more than pleasantly surprised. 147 horsepower and a CVT automatic transmission doesn’t sound like a recipe for success, but it is. The engine is happy to rev, and kicks out plenty of power. The CVT is probably the best one we’ve driven – which is to say it never really feels like a CVT – it mimics the shifting of a traditional automatic beautifully, is responsive in Sport mode, and makes the Soul quick off the line and powerful on the freeway.
Not only that, but the Soul is impressively quiet – no wind noise, suspension noise, a serene and peaceful cruiser for a big box with a hatchback. That is impressive engineering.
Ride quality is excellent too. Hit a pothole and you’re aware with a thump that the suspension is dealing with large 18-inch wheels and tires, but otherwise little ruffles the Kia. And it’s worth having the X-Line’s big meats – the handling is lively, the steering direct, and you find yourself hunting down your favorite on-ramps and off-ramps.
You also feel confident driving the Soul. Standard on our X-Line were Blind Spot Collison Warning, Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Warning & Avoidance Assist. They came in handy. If you want additional safety tech, it’s available on higher trim levels.
Do I have to sell my soul to get a Soul?
Nope. This is a Kia. Value is still important. The 2020 Soul lineup starts with the LX, you get that punchy 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, 7-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, privacy glass and rear camera display. It’s also the only Soul with a manual transmission. Yours for just $17,490. (Automatic with cruise control is optional). While the S model is a bit more at $20,290 you get Forward Collision Avoidance, Blind Spot, Rear Cross Traffic, Driver Attention Warning, Lane Keep Assist, Alloy wheels and more.
Our X-Line tester comes in next. You lose a couple of the S model’s Safety features –but gain an aggressive body kit, 18-inch alloys, roof rails and fog lights. An excellent blend of goodness at a most reasonable $21,490.
Competitors would include the Nissan Kicks competitively price at $20,970. The Nissan is more feature rich, but the Soul has more style. Both are good drives. The Mazda CX3 Sport starts at $20,390, Also a great drive – but with smaller 16” rims, and no Apple CarPlay, you’d be getting a sportier experience, but not a richer one.
The Soul also offers additional models including the Navigation and luxury equipped EX at $22,690, the Sporty GT-Line at $20,290, and the powerhouse GT-Line Turbo at $27,490 – really kind of bargain in its own right, we hope to test one soon. Also, the Soul EV is coming, and based on our experience with the Kia Niro EV and Hyundai Kona Electric, it should be excellent.
We’ll miss those hamsters, but the all-new 2020 Kia Soul’s combo of unique style, excellent value, and fun to drive personality are hard to beat.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.