Intentional or not, the diminutive, boxy five-door Soul morphed into the unofficial spokes car South Korean automaker Kia during the past decade. Now, a third-generation effort hits the streets for the 2020 model year generating additional 'cool kid' hype.
This unlikely front-wheel drive four-cylinder caught the fancy of multiple generations of buyers, not just the 'hip-hop' in-crowd Kia targets on line and on television by a pantomiming street smart team of mute furry computer-generated-imaged hamsters. Non CGI, human-sized versions of these rodent hordes make public appearances at auto shows and promotional events, going viral in the process.
Consider the two-row Soul subcompact a five-door crossover, but with an upright 'wagon' posture with pricing in the swing spot of first-time new-car purchasers. Its car-based platform tackles congested urban roads tactfully, but off-roading is not a viable option.
In 2017 Kia Motors proudly introduced its new rear-wheel drive Stinger, a track-worthy family offering serving as the aspirational choice; but not the face of the brand. While Stinger produces 255 horsepower with a 180 mile per hour top speed, the urban-friendly Soul casts a wider net with easily maneuverability in tight parking spots with a simplistic, user-friendly dashboard and cockpit that welcomes, not overwhelms pilots.
Soul debuted in 2009 as a 2010 model year vehicle. A second-generation severed from the 2014 model year until 2019. Since Soul's inception, underpinnings have been shared with Kia's compact Forte sedan, which underwent its own next-generation redo in the 2019 model year. Soul, Forte and all Kia vehicles sold in America benefit mightily from the company's 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, one of the longest-duration engine warranties available.
This Gen Three design grows 2.2 inches in overall length while wheelbase (distance between front and rear axles) extends an additional 1.2 inches. Height and width remain unchanged. It's grown close to compact specifications (although skewing towards the smaller end of that spectrum) but still feels subcompact-ish. This larger version includes all visual hallmarks of the first two efforts. No doubt this 2020 newbie has the heart of a Soul.
Lighting design up front and towards the rear gets reworked. Up front, narrow, thin highly-mounted slit openings wrap around housing daytime running lights and amber turn signal blinkers, resembling a tabby cat's eye lids as it drifts off to sleep (dreaming of a tasty hamster puree no doubt). In back, elongated vertical night lighting continues flank the manually-operating hatch door with a slightly inward curving, red boomerang-like aesthetic at the bottom.
The bulbous front end also includes an enlarged lower honeycomb-pattern grille flanked by headlights ensconced in a large, square housing. In select trims including our tester, composite plastic surrounds and protects circular wheel wheels and lower door regions from unwanted, wayward stone dings. Wheel wells now incorporate a bolder, flared design.
Reviewing Kia's 2018 calendar year U.S. sales, Soul checked in as the automakers second-best-selling vehicle surpassing the 100,000 sales mark at 104,709. Only the mid-size Sorento crossover sold more units. While substantial, Soul's numbers are down from 2016's calendar year sales of 145,768, an all-time high. With a slightly larger footprint and a category popular with consumers, Gen Three updates should spice up sales.
Soul introduces a revamped trim lineup in 2020. During previous generations, Soul promoted three trims, Base, Plus (marketed via a symbol '+') and exclaim (also utilizing a non-word descriptor '!'). This time around base models receive a LX designate, joining S, EX, X-Line and sporty GT-Line, the sole trim with an optional turbocharged engine.
An all-electric, zero-emission redesigned for 2020 Soul EV is also an option, but only for those residing in select coastal states (not yet reaching Illinois).
Two updated powertrains for 2020 include a retweaked 2.0-liter inline naturally aspirated four cylinder cranking out 147 horsepower. Only the GT-Line includes a new, optional turbocharged 1.6-liter four cylinder delivering 201 horses.
Three transmissions are offered. Base LX editions come with a six-speed manual transmission connected to the 2.0-liter four cylinder. Fuel-extending, built and designed-in house, Intelligent Variable Transmission (Kia's branding of a traditional CVT, or continuously variable transmission) mates to other trims with the naturally-aspirated 2.0-liter four cylinder, an update from last year's six-speed conventional automatic transmission. The higher-performance turbo engine teams with a sportier seven-speed dual clutch transmission. From a driver's perspective, both CVT and dual clutch transmissions have a floor-mounted shifter with no foot clutch, making the experience similar to a conventional automatic tranny.
The 2.0-liter four cylinder includes engine start-stop technology. This, along with the newly introduced CVT helping pump up fuel economy in 2020 by three miles per gallon in both city and highway estimates. Of the two engines (both utilizing 87-octane regular unleaded), the 2.0-liter delivers one mile better in highway designates.
The lowest-priced 2020 Soul, a LX trim with six-speed manual transmission checks in at $17,490. Our new-for-2020 Gravity Gray X-Line tester started at $21,490, ending at $22,620 after factoring $130 carpeted floor mats and a $995 destination charge.
Exterior wise, X-line trims include front fog lights and 18-inch alloy wheels, upgrades not included in S or LX trims. The X-Line also adds high-tech radar-sensing nuances including rear-cross traffic collision warning, blind spot warning and lane change assist.
The tall-standing design creates ample headroom front and back. Both front buckets slide fore and aft with manual effort. Smallish dimensions invite two-rider travel in the back row for optimal comfort; three's a crowd. When unoccupied, seatbacks manually fold down flat onto cushions with a 70/30 fashion opening up better cargo-carrying opportunities.
Three easy-grab dials monitor the single zone fan speed, temperature and blower direction. Air conditioning and defroster buttons intersperse between dials. A mid-size seven-inch multi-function touch screen (a larger screen is optional in some trims) interacts seamlessly with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto Smartphone integration, allowing many cell phones Apps to play through the screen and car audio. Audiophiles may geek up with diminutive, yet sweet-sounding dashboard speakers adjacent to outboard air vent.
Flanking the screen's left and right sides; well-marked push-button columns assisting on-screen commands. Two twist dials control volume and station selection as well as secondary push buttons on the manually tilt and telescoping, three-spoke steering wheel's left side. Cruise control functions operate on the face's right side.
Long side power windows and a slightly boosted driving positon help minimize side blinds spots. Drivers can choose between two drive modes, sport and normal, via a push button aft of the floor-mounted transmission shifter.2020 Kia Soul
Price as tested: $22,615
Engine: 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder
Fuel estimates: 27 mpg city/ 33 mpg highway
Length: 165.2 inches
Wheelbase: 102.4 inches
Height: 63.0 inches
Curb weight: 2,844 pounds
Powertrain warranty: 10 year, 100,000 miles
Assembly: South Korea.