Words by Jennifer Jensen
Photos by Jessica Voruda
So what’s in a box? In the case of the updated and mildly redesigned for 2020 Kia Soul GT, I would say quite a bit. The quintessential hamster mobile, thanks to Kia’s viral marketing campaign, is simply a box with wheels. But it works. It works pretty darn well.
For the 2020 model year there are evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, changes to the Soul. The air intakes and headlights are stretched more taut creating a cleaner and more expensive looking front end. The GT-Line package that we had adds a “Y” shaped mesh to the front grill and blacks out several details.
On the rear, the designers have now wrapped the brake lights almost all the way around the back hatch. The rear bumper is a separate piece stylistically creating a two-piece sectional on the back. The center-mounted exhaust tips provide a little more sport-like feel to the overall appearance as well.
The interior, like the exterior, is not a huge change from the outgoing model. It is still massively roomy for a vehicle the size of the Soul with the redesign adding additional inches of interior space. The GT-Line equipped with a 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder adds some pretty nice features such as: forward pedestrian collision avoidance, blind-spot warning, rear cross-traffic warning, smart cruise, a 10.25” display, heated front seats and steering wheel, a Harmon-Kardon premium sound system with color changing lights (that will change with the beat of the music), inductive charging, and LED lights all around the outside. Mind you, this is in a vehicle that topped out at $28,710.
There are some idiosyncrasies though. For example, the only auto up and down window switch is for the driver’s door. How much more does it cost to make all four windows have this feature? Seriously.
However, that turbocharged four-banger is the weakest link in the Soul. It is a carryover engine but what also carried over was the engine’s thrashiness and laggy nature. Paired with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission, this 1.6-liter puts out a decent 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, which should really make the Soul feel quick. It is, after all, a lightweight. The power gets to the ground only through the front wheels…all wheel drive is not available on any trim level…but there is never any concern about wearing out the tread from doing burnouts. Once up to speed the engine does a fine job keeping things moving and its noise transfers to the background where it becomes unobtrusive.
We held out hope that by pushing the “sport” mode button things would get livelier. Spoiler alert…they don’t. Kia should eliminate the button, as it is just a tease of what could be. Think Hyundai Veloster N!
The rest of the mechanicals are so-so with nothing groundbreaking. The steering is a little lazy but with such a light platform to maneuver it doesn’t leave you really yearning for something better. The ride is actually quite nice. Noise, vibration and harshness have all been addressed in the updated Soul and they have all been improved. It is not vault-like quiet at speed, but the Soul is quieter inside than many other vehicles at this price point and above, and lets in less road noise. That is quite impressive for a box.
But where the Soul really shines is in its packaging. The slightly elevated ride height makes everything easy to see. Everything falls readily to your hand when behind-the-wheel. The upgraded Harmon-Kardon sound system sounds excellent and somehow doesn’t make you feel like you’re listening to music in an echo chamber. The interior space is just a nice place to be. There are other vehicles out there in this price range (a VW Golf for example) that provide a more “upscale” environment, but I can certainly envision college students making weekend runs home to do laundry or young families making a road trip to the grandparents for the holidays. Then again, it seems the Kia Soul has been a popular model with the “retired” crowd and I can understand their draw. The elevated ride height makes ingress and egress very simple and the spacious back area leaves plentiful room for grandkids to clamor about.
The 2020 Kia Soul is a nice improvement over the outgoing model. It really is a fun little runabout and all of its features help give this Kia a little soul.