2020 Kia Souls many different color combos.jpg

Entry Price: $17,490; as tested: $22,615

This week, it’s the 2020 Kia Soul we’re driving, a new third generation model that Kia stresses is totally transformed, fun to drive and offers more advanced technology. Additionally, Soul now competes in a class all by itself, as the original compact “shoe box” class has been decimated.

Specifically, the Nissan Cube is gone, Honda Element is no longer available and Scion xB disappeared when Toyota decided to stop producing its low cost line. So, call it longevity or stubbornness, it’s the Soul that is the only one left of this compact, “box car” brand segment. Granted, other cars are now morphing back into a Soul-like” motif, but Kia receives credit for outlasting the competition in what was once a very unique design that attracted a niche class of consumers.

And how niche is this class of buyers nowadays?

Surprisingly, the second generation 2019 Kia Soul is now outselling all other Kia models and ranks Number One as per May, 2019, sales to date. (Talk about surviving and then thriving). Specifically, Kia Soul has sold 46,697 units (versus 40,165 last year), well ahead of the Forte, Sorento and Optima, all of which have sold 39,000-plus units for the first five months of 2019. (And this new 2020 model will probably do even better).  

Other than longevity, Soul’s sales success lies in its ability to attract consumers from all demographic age groups, be it young college student all the way to their baby boomer grandparents. It’s a good looking little car that offers much in its EPA categorized “small station wagon” looks that won’t break anyone’s bank account. The only thing Soul lacked was a 4x4 model, and that will change as a 4x4 Soul is rumored to be on its way by June of 2020.  

This third generation 2020 Soul is redesigned both exterior and interior, but not enough to lose its overall appeal. Along with all-new high-tech safety features and visual upgrades, Soul now offers five distinct models instead of last year’s three, and an all-new GT-Line that includes Soul’s first ever turbocharged engine and unique GT additions like center exhaust outlets.

There’s also the new, more rugged looking Soul X-Line (our tester), proving Soul is ready to adapt to the needs of the many aforementioned consumer groups. Everything from the shape of the driver’s door panel to an expansive footwell has been reworked to ensure entering and exiting a Soul is fast, easy and non-cumbersome regardless of age.

Starting at just $17,400 for the base 2020 LX, pricing moves up the ladder to the S or GT-Line at $20,290; our tester X-Line at $21,490; EX at $22,690; and then the top line GT-Line Turbo at $27,490. Built on a new platform and sharing time with Kia Forte, a 2.0-liter, 12.5 to 1 compression four-cylinder powers four of the five 2019 trims, the other being the 201-horse 1.6-liter turbo headliner we mentioned above that motivates the GT-Line Turbo trim. The 2.0-liter produces 147 horses and 132 lb. of torque, just enough to allow acceptable passing and merging power. A CVT style automatic is standard on our X-Line, although the entry LX comes with a six-speed manual if you are still into shifting gears. The LX offers the CVT automatic as a $1,500 option and also kicks in cruise control with the automatic option.   

The GT-Turbo turbo ups the horsepower up to 201 horses with 195 lb. ft. of torque. Another difference on the GT Turbo is a better automatic transmission that features a seven-speed dual-clutch design. The only drawback is the $27.5K entry price, which is a bit too high for my liking considering the entry LX is $10,000 cheaper. 

The 2.0 delivers good fuel mileage, with 27 city and 33 highway the EPA estimates. We traveled over 200-miles during our week long test and finished up with a 32.3 average attained mostly on two-lane country roads. The engine shuts off at stop signs and red lights, assisting better MPG numbers.

The new generation 2020 Soul receives a front end with larger grille, more pronounced fender flares, a bit more cargo room, raised trunk hatch, new turn signals and a really neat boomerang style taillight motif that nearly encircles the rear hatch. These sculptured upgrades deliver Soul’s fun “box car” strategy that still has a strong family resemblance to the original 2009 design.

Suspension upgrades are noteworthy thanks to a stiffer layout featuring MacPherson struts up front and a coupled rear torsion beam setup out back. The X-Line Soul comes fairly well-equipped with Hankook 18-inch tires on sporty alloy wheels that improve ride, handling and comfort.  The ride is on the firmer side but is still comfy while handling is good for a small car. If you need to park in city traffic, it’s a breeze.

Important safety equipment like rear back view camera, all the air bags, four-wheel disc ABS, traction and stability controls are included on all trims. As you move up, the high tech safety equipment kicks in as our mid-level X-Line includes blind spot collision warning, rear cross traffic alert and lane change assist at no extra cost.

Inside, the cabin receives upgrades with a new instrument panel cluster, more high tech steering wheel controls, enhanced seating, more amenities and a more room, overall. All Soul trims feature Apple and Android smart phone compatibility and when you move up from the LX, forward collision avoidance assist and lane keep assist are added to the standard features.   

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 102.4 inches, 5.9 inch ground clearance, 2,879 pound curb weight, from 24.2 to 49.5 cu. ft. of cargo space, 14.3 gallon fuel tank, and a 34.8 ft. turning circle.   

Considering Kia’s 10-year, 100,000 mile warranty, it’s tough to find major faults with the new generation 2020 Soul. It is indeed an improved, fun economical car and by keeping your choice to the lower priced versions, you’ll ease any depreciation issues that a $27.5K turbo model might bring with it. Start with either the GT or S trims as they both come with desired safety upgrades.

Check with your dealer for discounts and incentives as Kia is always finding ways to lower the retail price.   

Likes: New generation “shoe box” design, roomy interior, more car per dollar spent.

Dislikes: Turbo model too expensive, some road noise, LX lacks some safety features.

 

Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist.