2020 Kia Soul

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Kia has made the box bigger – but mostly on the inside.

This includes the boom inside the box!

The just-updated Soul is bigger under the hood, too.

But these improvements don’t come at the cost of the original Soul’s affordable fun factor. At just over $17k to start, it’s still one of the least expensive ways to have a good time in a new car you’ll find.

What It Is

The Soul is one of the original Box Cars – a type of car popular in Japan for many years that began to be seen here about ten years ago.

They are popular in Japan – where space (especially parking space) is scarce and gas is expensive.

They have become popular here because they’re different – for once – and inexpensive (for a change).

Practical, too. This little-on-the-outside Kia has more room inside than some crossover SUVs with a much larger footprint – and without being another crossover SUV.

Prices begin at $17,490 for the base LX trim, which comes standard with a 2.0 liter four cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission – part of the fun.

A continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission is available optionally.

Also available – a turbocharged 1.6 liter four cylinder engine paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. This is the heart and . . . soul … of the top-of-the-line Soul GT-Line Turbo.

It stickers for $27,490.

What’s New

The 2020 Soul is new from the tread up – but it takes a close look to spot the changes.

It’s only slightly bigger on the outside than before – but much bigger on the inside. Max cargo space has been opened up to 62.1 cubic feet with the back seats down – vs. 49.5 cubic feet previously – and there’s now 24.2 cubic feet behind the back seats vs. 18.8 cubic feet in the old Soul.

Front seat legroom has also been increased by about an inch.

Ground clearance, too – which will help on snow days, even though the front-wheel-drive Soul doesn’t offer all-wheel-drive.

And there’s 17 more standard horsepower under the hood – along with better gas mileage than before.

In addition that, the beat is bigger.

The Soul’s optional 10-speaker Harman-Kardon audio rig has twice the wattage (640) with amp and subwoofer plus visual syncopation via LED “sound mood” lighting keyed to whatever you’re jamming to.

What’s Good

Much more room – without much more size.

Still available with a manual transmission.

Still comes standard with verve.

What’s Not So Good

Manual transmission only available in the base LX trim – and only with the base 2.0 engine.

It’s a $5k price bump to get the optional turbocharged 1.6 engine – which is only available with the top-of-the-line GT Line trim.

Models with the CVT come standard with automated stop/start.

Under The Hood

The old Soul’s standard 1.6 liter engine – without a turbo – was easy on gas but didn’t make it easy to pass. Just 130 horsepower – and only 118 ft.-lbs. of torque.

It took about nine seconds to get to 60.

The new Soul comes standard with a larger 2.0 liter engine that makes 147 horsepower and 132 ft.-lbs. of torque while being easier on gas.

With the optional CVT automatic (Kia calls theirs an Intelligent Variable automatic) the 2020 Soul’s 2.0 engine rates 27 city, 33 highway – vs. 26 city, 31 highway for last year’s 1.6 liter-powered Soul.

That’s not a bad upgrade – especially given the power upgrade.

You can still get a six-speed manual, too – if you prefer to row your own. And you’ll still get 25 city, 31 highway vs. 24 city, 30 highway for last year’s lower-powered 1.6 liter Soul with the manual transmission.

You’ll get to 60 in the low eights, too – a noticeable increase in speed.

For more power – and speed – and nearly the same gas mileage – there’s the optionally available 1.6 liter engine with a turbo.

It makes 201 horsepower and 195 ft.-lbs. of torque, all of that available at just 1,500 RPM. The turbo delivers a maximum of about 18 psi of boost, according to the in-car gauge.

This engine comes only with Kia’s seven-speed/dual-clutch automatic.

Despite the upticked power, the mileage isn’t downticked.

It still gets 27 city, 32 highway – virtually the same mileage as the 2.0/CVT-equipped Soul and better mileage than the 2.0/six-speed manual-equipped Soul.

While also getting you to 60 in about 7 seconds.

This box moves.

Unfortunately, you have to pay significantly more to play with this one.

The old Soul was available with basically the same 1.6 liter turbo’d engine/dual-clutch auto combo for $22,900 in the !Exclaim trim, which has been dropped. If you want the more potent engine in the new Soul, you’ll have to pony up for the GT-Line and then opt for the turbo – which brings the MSRP to $27,490.

It’s curious that Kia chose to do this given the turbo’d Soul’s mileage is so good.

Some inside baseball: Federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) fatwas – which specify a “fleet average” MPG number all car companies must meet or be hit with”gas guzzler fines” – exert tremendous pressure on car companies to not sell engines that lower their “fleet average.”

These are – usually – the larger/higher-powered engines, which – usually – use significantly more fuel to make their higher power. This drags down the “fleet average” MPG.

But the car companies also want to be able to advertise that these engines are at least still available – because it sexes up the general run.

So they keep them available – but make them more expensive, to limit the number of people who buy them, so as to limit the damage done to their CAFE “fleet average.”

It’s perverse – but necessary, given the regulatory rigmarole.

In this case, though, it’s not necessary – and arguably, perverse. Because the Soul’s higher-powered 1.6 engine doesn’t drag down Kia’s “fleet average” MPG number. So “fatwa compliance” shouldn’t be a problem – even if every Soul sold came equipped with the turbo engine.

On The Road

The old Soul was a fun little thing – but in no real hurry – even if you were.

At least, with its standard (no turbo) 1.6 liter engine.

The new Soul with the larger, now-standard 2.0 liter engine gets going with less pressure needed on the pedal to get it going; it pulls harder – and sooner. Which actually makes it feel more relaxed – which fits the car’s chill attitude.

It also works much better with the optional CVT automatic.

These transmissions get a bad rap for reasons largely not their fault. CVTs came into general use in the early 2000s chiefly for fatwa-compliance reasons. They offered an efficiency advantage worth about 2-3 MPG on average vs. both geared automatics with fixed forward speeds – and manuals with the same.

Each fixed forward gear in a traditional automatic or manual is a compromise – an “about right” ratio for a given road speed/load.

A CVT is an infinite speed transmission that uses an adjustable pulley/belt system to infinitely vary the effective drive ratio continuously for all road speeds/loads. The idea being to keep an engine at exactly the right RPM all the time for maximum efficiency.

Another CVT plus is the absence of of the “shock” – really more like the snap – that comes with each transition from gear to gear in a conventional automatic – especially during pedal-to-the floorboards acceleration runs.

But if the engine doesn’t make a lot of power, the CVT will also keep the engine running at high RPM – where the struggling engine makes what little power it does – whenever the driver asks for more than gentle forward progress.

Instead of acceleration, there’s a lot of racket-  which calls even more attention to the lack of power.

Which is the fault of the underpowered engine – but it’s the poor CVT that gets the blame.

When an engine makes enough power – as the new Soul’s does – it isn’t as necessary to floor it to get acceleration. Instead of lots of noise and apparent stress, you get smooth – and very linear – acceleration, almost like a jet airplane on its take-off roll.

Plus, you can drink your coffee during the “roll” without having to go home for a new shirt.

You’ll get noticeably better mileage and more smoothness with the CVT.

With the turbo 1.6 engine you’ll get more acceleration. More relaxed acceleration, too – because Peak Torque.

No need to hammer this one – though it’s fun to do that, too.

Either way, the new Soul feels more like a bigger car – which is no small thing given how little it is. It’s still only 165.2 inches long overall  – about two feet stubbier than a current mid-sized sedan – which lets it slot into curbside parking spots most other cars have to pass by.

And the turning circle’s tight (34.8 feet) which makes feasible one-turn U turns downtown.

So it’s still a great “city car.”

But the upticked power – and an increase in wheelbase (it’s 102.4 inches now vs. 101.1 previously) along with the new underlying chassis and suspension – have greatly improved how it feels outside the city, on the open road.

And in the country – where roads are often irregular and pothole-pocked. The Soul handles bad roads better.

With the extra inch of ground clearance, it should handle bad weather better, too.

iAt The Curb

Kia didn’t make the mistake of changing what people clearly liked about the old Soul.

The styling continues to be defined by the trademark cantilevered-looking roofline, swoosh side glass and abruptly vertical rear – which looks like it was sliced off before the rest of the car made it through.

It’s an iconic look – much like that of the original VW Beetle – and if you’re smart, you don’t mess with it.

Kia hasn’t.

The new Soul’s headlights are slittier and the grille is larger and the hockey stick taillights that bracket the liftgate glass are slimmer. But none of these changes change the Soul’s . . . soul.

It’s still instantly recognizable as a Soul – because nothing else looks like this.

The new Soul is about two inches longer overall than the old Soul – something you can’t tell by eye – but  total cargo capacity has been increased by an eye-opening 25 percent to 62.1 cubic feet.

This is about four times the capacity of a typical mid-sized sedan’s trunk.  It’s also space made more versatile by a clever stackable shelving system.

The Soul also has abundant room for passengers – including those riding in back, which most cars this size do not.

It has almost an inch more legroom, in fact, than a Toyota Camry – 38.8 inches vs. 38 inches – despite being more than two feet shorter than a Camry.

But most of all, the new Soul has the same distinctively jaunty look – and attitude. It’s a car that isn’t like other cars, regardless of price.

Which is a big part of its charm.

That hasn’t changed at all.

The Rest

In addition to the new GT Line, Kia has added an X-Line trim to the roster. It features “chunky” – Kia’s term for them – fender flares and body cladding, plus roof racks and an 18-inch wheel/tire package.

The X-Line (and GT-Line with the turbo engine) come standard with a much larger 10.25 inch LCD split-view touchscreen in the center stack; you can also opt for a Heads-Up Display (HUD).

But the feature that’s probably of most interest to Soul shoppers is the available Harman-Kardon 10-speaker audio system – the boom within the box. Tweeters built into the dashboard air vents point directly at you – and speakers are all around you.

You’ll be bathed in light as well as sound.

Kia was among the first to come up with the idea of mood lighting that jammed with the jams – and the new Soul does everything but drop a disco ball from the roof. There are six selectable mood lighting programs ranging from Hey! Yo! to Party Time to Midnight City, Cafe and several more (six total) in between.

This ambiance is enhanced by interior trim designed to look like the waffled/eggcrate sound-deadening material found in sound studios.

The Bottom Line

It’s all a lot fun – and for not much money.

Thats what people used to like about cars – and probably why people still like this one.

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12 COMMENTS

  1. Doug Herbert’s B.R.A.K.E.S. Teen driving school is sponsored by Kia. The cars are put through some really tough situations week after week and keep on keepin’ on. If I were in the market for a new car the Soul would be right up there, especially the base model with 6spd. Before getting involved with the school I wasn’t familiar with Kias but, have done so they seem to be making a great product that is affordable.

    Yes, the whole disco lighting thing is a bit kitschy but, it at least has some style and comes across as being designed by people who actually like cars, not counting beans.

  2. I’m guessing they made the turbo require the GT trim so they can increase profits. The base vehicle often is close to being a loss leader, with the lion’s share of the profits from the options.

    It’s Sales 101 – lure them into the dealership with the low advertised price, then upsell all but a handful of cheapskates to the money makers.

    • Gee it is ugly, can you cut the top off? Old cast iron bathtubs have more pleasant lines than this.
      Who cares about the boombox? Does it have a pushbutton AM radio?

  3. not sure who the target market is here. maybe young hispanics but overall millenials interest in cars is declining and I cant imagine anyone over 25 buying it despite its practicality. best of luck to kia. Great they still offer a manual.

    • Actually, this kind of box is popular with elderly people. My mom owns two Scion xBs. If you’re trying to live cheaply and are practical and don’t give a f*** about impressing anyone, a utilitarian car like this can appeal.

  4. Well, apologies to Kia Soul lovers, but this thing is to me the epitome of Far Eastern Godzilla-movie-grade ugly. Looks like a (BMW) Mini that mated with a packing crate. The (BMC/BL/Rover Group) Mini was cute, tiny, etc. This thing…sorry, it’s just plain mud fence ugly. I suspect I am, however, not the target demographic for this vehicle, so they’ll probably sell all they can make.

    That CVT, the Koreans usually make their own stuff (well, nowadays, since Hyundai stopped borrowing Mitsubishi mechanicals), I wonder who makes KIA/Hyundai’s CVT’s? I doubt it’s a JATCO like everyone else uses. Hmmm.

    • Apparently this is a very polarizing car. I’m not in their target demographic either. But if your lifestyle entails carting around medium long or bulky cargo, the Soul is perfect.

      For instance, you see a lot of them at dog shows. Easy to carry two medium large crated dogs…..or a whole lot more little yappers.

      The Soul can swallow surfboards of surprising length. Have a friend who packs an 8’10” in his.

      I’d say the Soul can accomplish about 75% of the jobs that Colorados or Tacomas are expected to do. Uses a lot less fuel, and space, more fun to drive, and a lot less expensive. Just keep it on-road.

      Don’t be offended by the cardboard container your Merrills came in. It’s just a box that does its job quite well.

      • I don’t usually drive the box things came in, so the last sentence appears to be a non-sequitur. Well, at least since I was a wee tyke, that is. Boxes TV’s came in were a great size to make a pretend Jeep.

        OK, now you stumped me…what is a Merrill? I have this image of a red and white flip-top box with little white cylinders in it…

  5. Well, since the CVT/ASS combo pack is “optional,”….no problem. The Crocs wearers will be thrilled.

    Make mine the 1.6 turbo with 7 speed, dual clutch automatic.

    With all this driveline variety, KIA is greatly expanding their potential buyer base.

    I like the whole package……compact utility and fun, packed into one affordable, elegant body style. Sort of what the Mini Cooper could have been if it hadn’t gone profoundly astray.

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