Of all the compact “box of a car” examples to hit market, the Kia Soul is a true survivor. Introduced for the 2010 model year in the United States, this cute front-engine, front-wheel-drive econobox was a minimalist vehicle from its initial entry, yet has matured as it received recognition from its intended purchasing public: young buyers living in an urban, or mostly urban environment.
I have had the good fortune to be behind the wheel for most every iteration of Soul, including the 2020 version that’s already hit the marketplace. Between 2010 and 2020 there have been many iterations and special editions of Kia Soul but only three generations and this newest, brand new model is the third.
As it has from the start, the 2020 Kia Soul has an upright body that allows plenty of interior space for people and cargo. While it hasn’t changed a great deal in terms of, well, facial recognition, the Soul’s looks have matured and become more modern and mainstream simultaneously. Yeah, it’s got squinty eyes at the front and vertical tail lamps like all Soul models that came before it, but the 2020 V3 Soul looks – and feels – more cohesive than any that have come before.
There are three 2020 Kia Soul options available to the buyer: a base LX model, an X-Line and a GT-Line that is the more costly version. The initial two Soul models arrive with a 2-liter, four-cylinder engine that’s available with either six-speed manual or CVT automatic transmission (continuously variable transmission). The GT-Line has a turbocharged engine a seven-speed automatic. transmission
Driven from Long Beach, Calif. to Sonoma for the NHRA’s second stop of its Western Swing in late July, the 2020 Kia Soul X-Line arrived with a gravity grey exterior and black perforated cloth-like interior. Intended to be the off-road-looking version of Soul, the X-Line has body cladding at its base. It runs with the 2-liter engine that has 147 adequate horsepower at 6,200 rpm, with 132 lb-ft of torque at 4,500. Redline occurs at 6,800 rpm. The CVT transmission doesn’t feel like it’s searching as some do and this combination definitely feels zippy around town and over the road. It handles hills extremely well.
To aid its sporting intentions, Kia fits independent MacPherson struts with gas dampers at the front end of the 2020 Soul X-Line and a coupled torsion beam with gas dampers at the rear. The result is a comfortable ride without being wallowy. The Soul’s electric, motor-driven power steering is quite direct and all-wheel disc brakes work as expected. This Soul’s 235/45R Hankook tires keep the five-spoke polished and painted 18-in rims confident on the road. Weight is a doable 2,844 pounds.
The 2020 Kia Soul X-Line had just over 6,000 miles on pickup and was returned with nearly 7,200 miles on the clock. In between it hustled from the LBC through Santa Barbara and up Highway 101 to the Bay Area. All necessary gear fit behind the rear seats’ 24.2 cubic-foot cargo hold, which has privacy glass but no cover. Had the situation warranted, the rear seats’ 60/40 folds could have been activated to enhance cargo capabilities up to 62.1 cubic feet.
Intended to look and feel like a possible off-roader, the 2020 Kia Soul X-Line has ground clearance of 6.7-in. but ingress/egress aren’t sacrificed for this ideology. The Soul has a roof rack which remained unused throughout our trip and never increased the noise level. One very competitive advantage is the Soul’s engine compartment’s struts for hood opening; getting to the rear hatch closure was just as easy.
The little Kia Soul sips regular fuel at 27/33/30-mpg rate from its 14.3-gallon tank; this enthusiastic driver noted 30-31-mpg no matter where the Soul went. Or how quickly it traveled, as the return trip meant a haul down I-5, where the Anti-Destination League occupies only the left lane in sheeple fashion.
The 2020 Kia Soul doesn’t have all the latest and greatest amenities: all seat operate manually and it uses a switchblade key rather than pushbutton start/stop. These factors could bring Kia even more buyers as other cars get more complicated. This car’s interior is business-like and does boast soft-touch materials atop its functional dash. There are some strange matte accents on the doors but they’re easy to ignore if one wishes to do so. The driver’s window has the sole one-touch operation, on down only. The Soul has great forward and rear visibility.
Kia’s leather-wrapped steering wheel has great feel and boasts audio and phone operation on the left and cruise control/trip info to its right side. The trip info is eminently useful and not overwrought. There’s a small covered storage bin/armrest in the tunnel area while the base of the center stack has a grippy floor for phone storage, together with two 12-volt and a single USB plug. There are two drive modes: normal and sport (we stayed in normal most of the time).
Kia’s 7-inch color touch-screen display allowed operation of either Android Auto or Apple CarPlay. We used the latter, which allowed audio access as well as directions to our friends’ homes and our AirBnB in a nice area near Sonoma Raceway. Pairing the phone is easy. Kia’s Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Change Assist and Rear Cross-Traffic Collision warnings, along with lane change assist were turned off when we picked up the Soul; they remained that way with the exception of blind-spot monitoring. Changing from normal to sport drive modes on the fly was an easy option and helped shake the I-5 boredom as we barreled home from the races.
I can’t say enough about this Kia Soul’s seat comfort: a bout of sciatica decided to hit on the Sunday morning of race weekend so we left early, expecting to need many stops along the way. Stop often we did but those seats were a saving grace for this woman in pain; they definitely helped keep my brain focused on the road and not the hurting.
Speaking of pain, there’s very little sticker shock with the 2020 Kia Soul X-Line. The sole option was carpeted floor mats for a fee of $130, while the driver assistance “features” were included in the price, together with the exterior body cladding, front fog lights, the 18-inch rims (17-in are standard), the roof rack and the leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Total cost, including freight is $22,615. Today that’s quite rational for a well-constructed vehicle that has plenty of capabilities to move along the road and keep occupants entertained.
As expected, it was a great week with the 2020 Kia Soul X-Line. It never went off-road so all that cladding stayed clean, but with its boxy look the Soul definitely attracted every single bug on I-5 during the trip back home. The trim level on this car is just fine for me, and the sole option I might want to see is the wireless charging pad for my iPhone. There’s plenty of options available to customize this Kia Soul X-Line – or any other Soul model – but the little box is just fine the way it is.
Words and photos by Anne Proffit