First Drive: 2020 Kia Soul a Compelling Redesign of an Icon

by Feb 25, 2019All News, Kia, Reviews0 comments

2020 kia soul

When you build a car that’s as iconic to a brand as Soul is to Kia, it’s challenging to redesign it in a way that keeps what made the car special in the first place, while also making it better as it advances into the future and introducing something new to excite the brand faithful and bring in new customers.

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After driving two different trim levels of the next-generation 2020 Soul, the X-Line and GT-Line, it’s clear that Kia has managed to do this quite well.

This article is about the gas-powered Kia Soul. The new Soul EV with 240+ miles electric range will be coming this summer.

Exterior Styling

The funky cool style of the Soul has always been one of the reasons it sold so well in the United States, and the exterior styling of the new version definitely keeps this tradition alive. There’s no mistaking the car for anything but a Kia Soul. The design is more aggressive than the first two generations of the car, and it has a much greater level of detail than before. Take for example the creases on the car: subtle yet strong, using concave paneling to give more interest to the lines around the wheel wells, on the lower body trim, and on the hood.

The X-Line and the GT-Line have noticeably unique body kits. The X-Line features off-road-inspired cladding, roof rails, unique silver trim pieces, and chunky looking 18” wheels. Meanwhile, the GT-Line offers body colored bumpers and side skirts that look sporty yet refined, and a unique set of race-inspired 18” wheels. The GT-Line also features a center-mounted exhaust and a pair of fake vents in the rear bumper. Interestingly, these are the only fake vents on the car and I have to give Kia props for that. Even though our test GT-Line had roof rails, that trim level won’t come with them when the car arrives in dealers.

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Exterior lighting of the new Kia Soul is definitely noteworthy. In the X-Line, the lower set of lights in the bumper act as the headlights and the upper lights are simply driving lights, with fog lights set in the grille. The X-Line forgoes LED lighting altogether. However, the GT-Line’s full LED headlights are in the upper set of lights, with the lower set dedicated to the LED fog lights and LED turn signals. The front lighting on the GT-Line is impressive and sets the car apart nicely. Out back, the GT-Line also receives LED brake lights with traditional turn signal and reverse bulbs.

The taillights of the car are definitely one of the more controversial aspects of the redesign, with opinion’s split between the “I hate it” and the “Well it doesn’t look so bad” camps. The rear of the car looks much more pleasant in person than it does in photos, and the connecting piece between the taillights and the side windows looks decidedly modern with the “Soul” logo emblazoned on it.

2020 kia soul

Interior Practicality

This car is a box, so I don’t have to tell you that the Soul is a practical car inside the cabin. It has a 1” increase in wheelbase and a 2” increase in length over the outgoing model, so interior roominess has never been better. The rear doors are bigger and open wider, so it’s easy to get in and out of the car. The taller ride height has always been a benefit of the Soul and now that Kia is squarely placing this car on the “Crossovers” section of its website, it doesn’t have to ask forgiveness for this like it did when people were cross-shopping the Soul against smaller hatchbacks ten years ago. The car is comfortable and will be great for long journeys.

In addition, Kia has actually managed to lower the load floor even further than before to add more practicality to the cargo area. That, along with the wider rear door access means that you can stuff a lot of, well, stuff, in the 2020 Kia Soul, no matter which trim you buy. And despite the fact that those rear quarter windows start curving upwards earlier and square off closer to the front of the car, I felt like visibility was still exceptional for the class, and didn’t notice any increase in blind spots.

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Ah yes, features. This is the part where the 2020 Kia Soul is a little bit of a mixed bag, especially compared to the outgoing model.

First, the good. The fully loaded GT-Line has a couple of trick features that will impress anyone who rides with you in your new Soul. This includes the electronically raising and lowering 8” Heads Up Display unit, which clearly displays your speed, the speed limit, navigation instructions, and safety information such as lane departure in a large and easy-to-read format. It’s absolutely a joy to use this Heads Up Display, even with polarized sunglasses. That’s mated with the primary 10.25” touchscreen display that is wide enough to show you navigation, audio info, location and weather info at the same time. The resolution on this screen is wonderful, and as we’ve come to expect from Hyundai and Kia, it’s ultra-responsive and easy to use, with redundant physical controls located below the screen.

Kia has also added a dual-zone automatic climate control system which has a separate screen just for the climate controls, which is nice other than the fact that the climate control screen is small and looks dated in comparison to the ultra-modern touchscreen, HUD, and even the large display in the gauge cluster.

Kia has made audio a priority with the 2020 Soul, and offers a staggering 640-watt surround sound system from Harman Kardon which is optimized for the whole room rather than just the driver. Of course, you can switch that optimization if you’re the only one in the car. The sound system is excellent. When you opt for this feature, you also get the speaker lights, which are greatly updated from the previous generation. Not only do you get additional ambient lighting at the top of the doors in an intriguing pattern, but there are now multiple lighting modes such as “Party Mode” which allow you to customize how the ambient lighting works in time to the music in multiple ways. It’s a step up from the outgoing Soul’s two modes: “Music” and “Mood.” Although Kia says the new ambient lighting should be visible during the day, it seemed way too dim in the light, and probably requires waiting until nighttime for the full effect.

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The Smart Cruise Control system is also worth mentioning. It gets you close to the best automated systems on the market, allowing you to choose how far you want to stay from the car in front of you, providing active Lane Keep Assist to keep you in your lane without you touching the steering wheel. The whole system is above average, especially for the segment. Of course, you also get blind spot monitoring and forward collision avoidance. It’s also nice to see that Kia has blessed the 2020 Soul with tire pressure monitoring which tells you the instant tire pressure in each of the 4 tires whenever you want to check.

Now for the not-so-good. Kia has regrettably chosen to remove some of the coolest luxury features of the outgoing Soul in order to save money. This means you don’t get a panoramic sunroof any more, just a standard sized unit. Gone are the full leather air-conditioned seats (the best seats available now are leatherette-bolstered cloth seats), along with the removal of power passenger seat controls, rear heated seats, and motorized side-view mirrors. I felt that material quality was slightly lower than the outgoing car as well, with a greater percentage of hard plastics in places where you tend to touch the interior, despite the great overall design of the interior.

I don’t know why they chose to deny customers features that we had before. Even if they offered them only as part of a more expensive luxury package, this would have been a better decision than removing features, even if they can come up with a plausible reason why they did it.

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The Soul GT-Line retains the turbocharged 1.6L engine of the outgoing model with an unchanged 201hp. While this car can’t be considered fast, it does have enough power for any situation you may find yourself in and is definitely fun to drive. The acceleration is good, and it’s the only powertrain I could live with in the new Soul. The engine is mated to a 7-speed DCT with responsive paddle shifters. In terms of handling, the new Soul is slightly better than its predecessor. A little less body roll and a little tighter suspension, so if you are thinking of upgrading from a 2017, 2018 or 2019 Soul Exclaim, expect a similar and slightly more refined driving experience in the GT-Line.

The car also offers a much quieter cabin. The powerplant in the car doesn’t roar as much as it does in the outgoing Soul. Kia claims this is due to additional structural adhesive and sound-deadening they used in the new generation. However, you will still hear the engine when you floor it, but it’s a much nicer tone than before.

For all other trims besides the GT-Line, expect to find a 2.0L naturally aspirated four cylinder that gets just 148 hp, down 12 horsepower from the previous generation 2.0L. Gone is the lower powered naturally aspirated 1.6L Kia chose to connect that motor to the wheels using a CVT. Kia calls it an “IVT” or “Intelligent Variable Transmission,” and all the marketing aside, it isn’t much better than other CVTs I’ve driven from Nissan and Subaru. It makes the underpowered powerplant feel even more delayed and frankly takes the fun out of driving the car. According to Kia, this decision was made to improve fuel economy, and the X-Line gets a combined 30 MPG.

Looking on the bright side, they still offer the base model in a manual transmission The previous generation only offered a manual on the 130-hp engine, which means you can enjoy a bit more power if you get one of the last available stickshifts on a new car.

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Kia also took away the glimmer of hope that the new Soul might come with AWD. There is no plan for it in this generation of Soul at all. I’ve been told this is to retain the practicality of the car. With AWD, we would have a higher load floor and less interior space for passengers, along with a higher center of gravity and poorer performance. But I couldn’t help thinking that other manufacturers have figured this out.

To demonstrate that they didn’t need to provide us with AWD in the next-generation Soul, Kia had us drive the X-Line Soul through the mountains around San Diego. I don’t think they bet on it snowing, though. A Kia rep cautioned us at lunch, “You better get going, looks like it’s snowing and we don’t have any chains.” I replied, “Good job we have AWD. Oh, wait…” We then gingerly drove the X-Line Soul around corners it could have sailed through with two additional drive wheels as blustery snow surrounded the car.

Pricing and Information

The 2020 Kia Soul starts around $17,500 and will top out around $28,000 for the fully-loaded GT-Line trim with the Turbo engine. Expect a generous color palette including roof variant colors, and expect to see them arriving at dealers in March 2019. After reading this article, if you fancy a 2019 model, be aware that the dealers are looking to clear out their inventory to make way for the 2020 Soul, so you should be able to get a great deal…while they last.

Detailed Pricing Information:

Soul LX 6MT           2.0L I4                   $17,490

LX IVT                     2.0L I4                  $18,990

S IVT                       2.0L I4                  $20,290

GT-Line IVT          2.0L I4                  $20,290

X-Line IVT            2.0L I4                  $21,490

EX IVT                  2.0L I4                   $22,690

GT-Line 7DCT     1.6L turbo I4       $27,490


The redesigned 2020 Kia Soul sticks to its mission religiously. It retains its unique looks both inside and out, a youth-centered feature list, as well as value and practicality in spades. It is undeniably cool and one of the best options in the small crossover market. However, some missed opportunities such as the lack of AWD, the decision to move to CVT on the 2.0L engine, and the removal of features that made the second generation Soul great mean that Kia could have done better. Still, the Soul appears to have what it takes to be successful in the American market, and the upcoming Soul EV could take the market by storm with its increased range and cool factor.

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Written by Kevin Rooney

Kevin is a massive Korean car fan who lives in Los Angeles, California. He currently drives a 2019 Kia Stinger GT2 and also owns or has owned a 2017 Kia Soul, 2012 Hyundai Veloster, 2004 Kia Sorento, and 2001 Hyundai Accent.

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