Kia Redesigns the Soul, Its Versatile Box on Wheels

CHATHAM, Mass. – Whether you call it a subcompact, as Kia does in its material for journalists, or a crossover/SUV, as the Korean company lists the Soul on its consumer Website, the redesigned 2020 GT-Line 1.6 Turbo delivers a comfortable, efficient, fun-to-drive vehicle with loads of room in a small package.

The Inferno Red five-door (a very large – but easy to open/close – wide hatch provides access to the multi-configurable rear storage area) is comprehensively and fully equipped – you only have a short list of accessories available (like the carpeted floor mats and cargo tray our test unit had); no major options.

Soul GT-Line

Drive Wise, part of the standard features included in the Turbo model, is comprised of a full suite of driver-assist systems:

  • Forward Collision Avoidance (FCA) with pedestrian detection
  • Lane Keep Assist (LKA)
  • Lane Change Assist (LCA)
  • Driver Attention Warning (DAW)
  • Blind-Spot Collision Warning (BCW)
  • Rear Cross-Traffic Collision Avoidance Assist (RCCA)
  • Smart Cruise Control (SCC)
  • Head Up Display (HUD)

The Soul will not drive itself, Drive Wise is not an autonomous-driving function, but it will help you drive more safely and securely. The warnings, when you put a wheel wrong or are about to enter an already-occupied highway lane, are logical, intuitive and obvious enough without being obnoxious.

Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) is part of the system, actuating various degrees of braking when a collision – front or rear – is imminent, measuring driver braking input before taking over and – if necessary – bringing he Soul to a complete stop.

Adding to the stopping ability are four-wheel disc brakes (12–inch vented rotors up front, 11.2-inch solid ones in the rear) and anti-lock (ABS). Also helping to keep the Soul on the road, even in less than ideal conditions, are traction control, electronic stability control and vehicle stability management.

The one obvious missing piece of foul-weather gear is all-wheel drive, making this Kia one of the few crossovers on the market without this option. Rumors are this variant will be introduced later as the Soul is based on the same platform as the Hyundai Kona which offers it (but not nearly the interior room of the Soul). Kia offers a number of other SUVs with all-wheel drive available (like the Sportage, Sorento and Telluride).

Soul GT-Line

What is included in the GT-Line 1.6 Turbo is the model’s namesake – a 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline direct injected (GDI) engine putting out 201 horsepower and 195 pounds-feet of torque. Getting this power to the front wheels is a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission designed for quicker, performance-oriented shifting (a concept originally pioneered by Porsche).

The wheels on the Turbo model are 18-inch alloy wrapped in P235/45R18 low-profile tires.

These pieces, along with a stiffer body (the 2020 Soul’s stronger structure benefits from an increased use of Advanced High Strength Steel, hot stamped components, and structural adhesive) and quick – 2.5-turns lock-to-lock – steering, provide spirited, fun driving not generally associated with boxy subcompact cars or crossovers.

The one negative in the equation is “torque steer:” an affliction some front-wheel drive vehicles (especially older designs) suffer. Hit the throttle while turning and the sport steering wheel – flat on the bottom like those found in formula race cars – pulls harder in the direction of the turn. The electronic power steering means it’s easy to regain the proper course, but you must be ready for it or you could find yourself in the wrong lane or off the road.

Drive Wise will help keep things on an even keel allowing driver and passengers to enjoy the spacious cabin and extensive features. A 10.25-inch vibrant touch screen dominates the center of the Soul’s dash and controls its infotainment system. AM/FM/Sirius/HD/XM Satellite Radio/navigation/smartphone Bluetooth integration can all be operated via voice command, through controls on the steering wheel and even some “old-fashioned” buttons – including dials to tune the radio and adjust the volume.

Soul GT-Line

The screen can display up to three separate functions, so keeping track of the route on the navigation map can be shared with a visual reference to the XM channel as well as with a view of the dual climate-control settings or any combination you want.

Oh, and hooking up via a USB cable allows for the standard Apple Car Play or Android Audio to take over the screen and replicate the familiar apps from your smartphone.

There are a lot of features to the Soul’s infotainment system, but the controls are easy to operate and do not require a lot of education.

Comfort and convenience with all the newest tech and amenities are a bit surprising in an entry-level model like the Soul, but so much of what Kia is doing lately falls under the surprising category. Each new version of its model line takes major forward steps in equipment level, performance, features and dynamics, but they remain efficient and solid value.

The LX trim anchors the Soul range with a $17,400 base price which includes air conditioning, seven-inch color touch screen to operate the infotainment system, ABS and vehicle-stability control. Stepping through the six trim levels, each step bringing even more standard features, will lead to the GT-Line 1.6 Turbo top of the group both in base price, $27,715 and equipment.

Regardless of version, fuel economy is excellent. The federal Environmental Protection Agency rates the Soul GT-Line 1.6 Turbo at 27/29/32 miles per gallon in city/combined/highway driving. Our week with the sprightly box generally was even better, averaging between 32 and 34 mpg.

Not every crossover/SUV needs to resemble a railroad car on the road to provide excellent room for people and stuff. The Soul fits in any garage, hauls lots of gear and a tall Texan can comfortably drive with his cowboy hat firmly on his head. Kia makes larger ones – Sportage, Nero, Sorento and new three-row large (but not gargantuan) Telluride, but the Soul is the top seller. After a week, I understand why it is so popular.

Mike Geylin
Mike Geylin

Mike Geylin is the Editor-in-Chief at Hagman Media. Geylin has been in automotive communications for five decades working in all aspects of the industry from OEM to supplier to motorsports as well as reporting for both newspapers and magazines on the industry.