Kia Soul eschews its cheeky but cheap looks, managing to look
costlier than it really is.
SAN DIEGO ó Weíre
told by automakers that Millennials would rather cycle, scooter, or
take the bus than own a car.
The reality is far
different: they canít afford a car ó new or used. Once they can,
Millennials opt for something fun, something that enhances their
life. It must have room for friends, family and lifestyle debris. It
must be able to travel to who knows where to do who knows what.
And not only must it
have an audio system loud enough to inflict hearing loss, it must
also be reliable, easy on gas, cheap to insure and visually
compelling. And it helps if it looks vaguely like a crossover SUV
thatís been left in the dryer too long. In essence, a cute ute.
Toyota bB, sold stateside as the 2003-2006 Scion xB, established
this class, joined shortly thereafter by the ugly and ungainly
2003-2011 Honda Element, the distinctly odd 2009-2014 Nissan Cube,
the over-caffeinated 2011-2017 Nissan Juke and ó of course ó the
ever-funky Kia Soul, introduced in 2010 in advertising featuring
human-sized hip-hop hamsters, a fairly disturbing thought once you
think about it.
unambiguous boxes of hipness, these reasonably priced vehicles
resembled mobile toasters designed with an unexpected impudence. But
as the sale rack at H&M proves, fast fashion possesses the
lifespan of a lightning bug in September. Of the boxes mentioned,
only the Kia Soul remains, now competing against a host of less
compelling and far more conventional entry-level adversaries,
including the Nissan Kicks, Honda HR-V, Ford Eco-Sport, Toyota CH-R,
Jeep Renegade, Mazda CX-3 and Chevrolet Trax among others.
But the Kia Soul
Itís the vehicle
that endowed Kia with a personality that its identical corporate
cousin lacks. Credit design honcho Peter Schreyer and his staff for
making Kia something more than brand for those with thin wallets.
Sure, you might flip burgers for a living, but you donít want to
be constantly reminded of the fact.
And the 2020 Soul is
the best of the mainstream cute ute breed.
While the second
generation Soul, introduced for 2014, didnít stray far from the
corporate Habitrail, the 2020 model plays the same melody in a
different key. Its looks are fresh, yet it retains the attitude of
previous models without slavishly mimicking them. Its overall stance
and shape remains the same, taking its inspiration from a boar with
a backpack, according to Kiaís PR minions. This means a rounded
box with slab sides and a snub nose accentuated by new renditions of
Kiaís trademark tiger nose grille. Squinty lighting now crowns the
Out back, the styling
still features the appearance of a colored panel floating in the
tailgate, except itís now framed by wider wraparound taillights.
The only sour note in its styling is the bit of black plastic on the
rear roof pillar that lends the illusion of a ďfloating roof.Ē
This odd idea has become a modern-day styling cliche, a generic bit
of laziness that adds nothing to this carís styling moxie. Yet
overall, the 2020 Soul finally eschews its cheeky but cheap looks,
managing to look costlier than it really is.
The new wardrobe
lends it a larger look. And while its wheelbase grows 1.2 inches,
and overall length expands 2.2 inches, width remains unchanged. This
allows for a spacious cabin, with a commanding seating position,
particularly in the rear seat. As before, headroom is impressive ó
so if you have a bouffant hairdo, this is your ride. Thereís also
a generous 24.2 cubic foot cargo hold that expands to 62.1 cubic
feet with the rear seats folded.
The inside story
The Soulís interior
ambience is about what youíd expect for the price. There are soft
touch points just where youíd want them. As before, interior
accent lighting can be set to pulse with the audio systemís music,
although now the lighting has been added to the door handles and
speaker grilles. Sweet.
infotainment touchscreen is standard and includes Bluetooth, Android
Auto and Apple CarPlay. Spendier EX and GT models have a 10.3-inch
display providing space for up to 10 apps. Tucked ahead of the
transmission shifter is a small space with 12-volt outlets and USB
ports. You can add Qi wireless charging to it, making it the perfect
place to recharge wireless devices. Kia also offers a head-up
display that projects crucial information, such as speed, onto a
pop-up panel that pops out on top of the instrument cluster.
That said, deciding
on a model has become more complicated now that Kia offers the Soul
in double the number of trim levels for 2020, including LX, S, GT-Line,
X-Line, EX and GT-Line Turbo.
Behind the wheel
Except for the GT-Line
Turbo, an Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 147
horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque is standard. Itís mated to
a continuously variable automatic transmission, although a six-speed
dual clutch transmission is available on base LX models. Top-shelf
GT-Line Turbos get a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder and
seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission that generates 201
horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. Front-wheel drive is
standard; all-wheel drive is not offered.
Most buyers will be
satisfied with the performance of the base 2.0-liter engine, which
furnishes enough power, only becoming a little winded on hills ó
although the transmission makes up for it. The transmission shifts
unobtrusively, and never allows the engine to rev too high, like
many continuously variable transmissions. It will also imitate a
conventional six-speed automatic, although this seems more gimmicky
than helpful. Enthusiasts should consider the GT-Line Turbo. Itís
extra horsepower and dual clutch gearbox delivers more fun, even if
it suffers from a bit of turbo lag. Nevertheless, it will sinfully
seduce your soul into flogging the Soul with unremitting passion.
Regardless of which
model you choose, youíll find that itís not ultimate power that
makes the Soul so impressive, itís the vehicleís nuance and
poise. Easy to drive smoothly, it remains poised without undue body
motions, thanks to excellent bump absorption and body lean thatís
held in check while cornering. The numb steering is nicely weighted
and precise, and brakes are light in feel but progressive in action.
Even with the base powertrain, thereís little to no road or tire
noise, let alone engine noise.
There are luxury
crossovers that donít behave this well. Itís a superlative
performance, one that was once unthinkable in a Kia. Credit R&D
chief Albert Biermann, who formerly ran BMWís M performance
division. Biermann, who oversaw this carís engineering, has
brought his touch to a number of Kia products, including the new
Stinger and K900.
Its performance is a
transformative trait, one that makes the Kia Soul more than
one-trick hamster. Itís a superb entry-level subcompact crossover,
one with the features and athleticism that belie its price. And as a
design statement, it smartly stands apart at a price that wonít
break the bank.
2020 Kia Soul
four-cylinder or 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
EPA fuel economy
Length: 165.2 inches
Ground clearance: 6.7
24.2-62.1 cubic feet