The Kia Soul has long been one of our favorite vehicles – cool style, hip vibe, strong performance, loads of tech at a reasonable price. What’s not to love? And we were equally thrilled when we recently tested the all-new 2020 X-Line, we came away very impressed.
Except we kind of missed the Hamsters that Kia has killed from their ad campaign.
What Kia didn’t kill was the available turbo-engined model, which has always been the enthusiast’s choice. But with the new 2.0-liter, non-turbo we tested we didn’t miss the turbo rush as much as we he had remembered.
So, the question really is, to Turbo or not to Turbo?
Storm Trooper Styling
Like our previous tester, the Soul still looks like a Soul, with the familiar boxy lines that really are cute. There are some differences here. The X-Line model is designed to look a little rugged with off-road accents, body cladding and overfenders.
The GT-Line is more of a piece, with unique front and rear bumper fascia with a very cool hot stamping grille with integrated fog lights. You also have side sills with red accents, a silver rear skid plate, and more body-colored key components, and subtle accents.
That all-in-one color scheme really hits you with the front end – if you want to drive around in a car that looks like a Star Wars Storm Trooper helmet, you’ve found your vehicle. (You might want to go for Snow White Pearl for ultimate effect.) Unique 18-inch alloy wheels give a sporty vibe while the GT Turbo model stands out with center-mounted dual exhaust tips out back.
Color choices are limited –the GT-Line turbo is offered in the fewest colors of all Souls. Ours was an eye-popping Inferno Red. Not your ticket? Along with Snow White Pearl, you can get Cherry Black, Gravity Gray or Neptune Blue. You don’t really get the GT Turbo to be a wallflower.
Super Soulful Sofino Interior
Getting in is easy. The Soul isn’t quite a tall SUV, so there’s no climbing up into the seating position – more like a perfect and graceful glide from standing to sitting.
Like our previous tester, you score impressive leg and headroom front and back, a nice upright seating position and big windows providing lots of visibility. The big box design means plenty of cargo space, and with a wide rear gate and a low liftover height.
While the GT-line is similar to the X-Line, you definitely know you’re in SOFINO (leatherette to you and me) and cloth seat trim with the GT-Line exclusive red color pack. Touches of red stitching feel upscale too, and we love the quirky design, including the red etched-design door handle surrounds, the “hippo ears” around the vents and speakers, and the clean gauges.
Living in Turbo town brings some nice goodies like the flat D-shaped steering wheel, and an upgraded Sport display with torque and boost readouts in between speedo and tach. Our tester also had a heads-up display, which is projected on a small plastic screen that motors up from above the gauge display. It works great, but looks kind of cheap.
No such cheapness on the center stack. The Turbo has a massive 10.25 HD touchscreen which made our WAZE display totally awesome, and also slays the squished screen we had in our recent Subaru Outback. Also awesome was the great sounding 10-speaker, 640-watt Harmon Kardon sound system. Wireless charging is also included, a nice premium touch.
Well, the spirit of those fun and funky hamsters lives on in a very cool customizable lighting system, which will pulse to the beat of your favorite tunes. And with themes including Hey Yo!, Party Time, Traveling, Romance, Midnight City and Café, it brings a smile to your face when you use it.
Red Hot Soul
If there’s one thing that will put a smile on our face, it’s power. And the GT is the most powerful of all Souls, with the turbo 1.6-liter kicking up 201 hp and a muscular 195-lb.-ft of torque at just 1,500 rpm. (The non turbo model produces 147 hp and 132 lb.-ft.) It’s also got a throaty little growl that adds to the fun.
Even better, rather than the non-turbo’s CVT transmission, which is really quite good, turbo models get a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic, which shifts extremely quickly and positively, especially in Sport Mode. 0-60 mph in about 6 seconds makes for one quick little vehicle. Keep it in Regular Mode and it’s smooth and efficient, but occasionally takes a little while for the power to come on tap.
Thanks to the GT-Line’s sport-tuned suspension handling is responsive, and for a relatively short vehicle, the ride remains quite comfortable. That small size makes the Soul especially adept at slicing and dicing traffic, and with the turbo kicking in the afterburners, few vehicles can keep up with it in real-world traffic. Thankfully Kia gives the turbo model larger disc brakes to match the added power. In many ways, the Soul Turbo reminds us of VW’s GTI – or a super-budget BMW X2 not bad company to be in!
Along with a boatload of tech, the Soul gets an ample share of safety gear, including on the GT-Line, Forward Collision Avoidance with Pedestrian Detection, Lane Keeping and Lane Changing Assist, Driver Attention Warning, Blind Spot and Rear Cross Collision Warning and Smart Cruise Control. That’s a lot of confidence in a small package.
How Much to Play in the Turbo Zone?
Ahh, now we come to the crux of the matter. There are 6, count ‘em 6! Trim levels of the Soul, starting with the LX at a super-reasonable $17,490. With standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, 6-speed manual transmission (automatic is available) it’s a lot of fun for the buck. We would consider paying a little more for the S at $20,290, to get Blind Spot Detection, Automatic Emergency Braking, Alloy Wheels, Cruise control, and standard automatic transmission.
If you opt for the GT-Line but want to go without turbo, it’s also $20,290. The X-Line we tested before starts at $21,490 and gives you that rugged off-road styling. Luxury-minded types should consider the EX at $22,690. You get that massive 10-inch navi screen, power driver’s seat, pushbutton ignition, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats, and wireless charger.
Going to Turbo Town is not a cheap trip. At $27,490 the Soul GT-Line Turbo includes the 201 hp motor and DCT transmission, Harmon Kardon Audio system, sunroof, 18-inch alloy wheels and unique GT-Line trim. There are no options, so with $1,045 destination, we came in at $28,535.
Load up a VW GTI, and you’re looking at over $35,000. A RAV4 Hybrid over $37,000. Closer to home, a Hyundai Kona Ultimate features the same powerful turbo engine and DCT transmission and comes in at $28,845. Will call that a tie.
The one that still sticks in our craw though, is the GT’s sibling the Soul X-Line. For about $22,400 you get great style, and most of everything we loved about the GT-Line turbo. Sure, it doesn’t have the boosted motor, but the new standard motor and cvt transmission work very well. It doesn’t have all the safety and tech of the turbo, but for us, we’d rather save the $6,000, and go have some adventures. But if you want the ultimate thrills, we won’t make you wrong for your choice.
The 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo is great fun, marvelously well-equipped, and a strong value for those who want performance in a small, stylish package. But give the X-Line a look before you decide!
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.