Car Reviews

First Drive: 2020 Kia Soul

Soul Renewal

By Rob Beintema Wheels.ca

Jun 3, 2019 4 min. read

Article was updated 4 years ago

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TORONTO, ON - Every story has a beginning.

The Kia Soul story started when designer Mike Torpey doodled a cartoon of “a boar with a backpack”, an offbeat concept that the company’s California design studios refined into the iconically identifiable Soul shape.

This “funky urban ute” with its squared-off design lines may suit passenger and payload practicalities, but boxiness is no guarantee of styling success.

Just think of the now extinct Nissan Cube, Scion xB and Honda Element.

The Soul, however, successfully mined a dedicated fan base for a decade, showing surprising longevity in a capricious and ever changing marketplace.

That’s thanks to constant evolutions and upgrades, including revisions revealed to Canadian automotive journalists in late May during the Toronto launch program of the new third generation 2020 Kia Soul.

The new Soul builds on a firmer foundation - a torsionally more rigid, unique platform that is 35 per cent stronger.

2020 Kia Soul First Drive

The 2020 Soul is also longer (+55 mm), with its bodywork riding on a slightly stretched wheelbase (+30 mm). Width and height measurements remain the same and interior dimensions are roughly unchanged, although newly sculpted door panels allow improved access and a little more knee-wiggle room. And the Soul still benefits from its original boxy design dimensions with plenty of head room, shoulder room and elbow room, considering its subcompact quarters.

Some added space shows up in back with a longer (+31 mm) and wider (+14 mm) cargo area featuring wider opening access (+25 mm) and more luggage room - 663 litres (+131 litres), maxing out to 1,758 litres (+356 litres) with the 60/40 second row folded forward.

An adjustable dual level cargo board offers two-tier loading or underfloor storage and the liftgate tugs down easier with a larger inside grip handle.

A 2.0-litre four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle engine making 147 hp and 132 lb/ft of torque is mated to a new Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT) that runs through eight simulated gear shift points for a more “natural” driving feel. Or drivers can shift through an eight-speed manual mode with the shifter in “Sportmatic” position.

This new powertrain combo, in front-wheel-drive form only and also found in the Kia Forte, felt competent on the road and through an autocross course, but the Soul is geared more towards fuel economy than raw get-up-and-go.

Auto journos will inevitably whine for more horses and a turbo option but, frankly, there’s never been enough customer interest to justify turbo or manual tranny options here in Canada. And the new drivetrain will save more than pennies at the pump. A 9.2 percent fuel efficiency increase works out to a respectable 8.6/7.1L/ 100km (city/hwy) rating.

2020 Kia Soul First Drive

2020 Kia Soul First Drive

The 2020 Kia Soul comes in five trim levels - LX ($21,195), EX ($22,895), EX+ ($24,895), EX Premium ($26,995) and EX Limited ($28,995).

The top two trims - EX Premium and EX Limited can be bolstered further with a GT-Line package ($600) that pumps up the jam with sport cues - a sport grille, sport bumpers, side sill accents, roof rails and a D-cut steering wheel.

The Soul slate starts with the LX trim’s healthy list of equipment following Kia’s trademark dollar-value mantra - standard heated seats, A/C seven-inch display audio with rearview camera, Android  Auto and Apple CarPlay, keyless entry, Bluetooth connectivity and six-speaker audio.

That’s pretty inclusive for a base model but most Canadian customers will tend to default one step up with an EX trim that hits the sweet spot with added Forward Collision Avoidance Assist, Lane Keeping Assist, Blind-Spot Collision Warning, Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Avoidance Assist, Halogen projection headlights, LED DRLs, projection fog lights and a wireless cellphone charger.

Moving further up the trim level ladder increases content with extras that include bigger wheels, LED lighting, a sunroof, a wide 10.25-inch screened Multimedia Interface with nav, leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, 10-speaker 640W Harmon/Kardon7 Premium Sound, a UVO Smart Tech Intelligence system, head-up display and more.

And that’s not to mention Sound Mood Light displays that shift ambient cabin light colours and 3D patterns to the beat of your music.

2020 Kia Soul First Drive

That’s where the funkiness ends though. Our EX Limited tester interiors were remarkably monochromatic and a little more conservative than expected with nary a hint of body colour trim or accent colouring. But with a very comfy cabin nonetheless.

All the goodies listed earlier are wrapped in a revised exterior featuring a mild makeover. Put simply, with every succeeding generation the headlight assemblies have gotten narrower while the grille has grown larger.

The latest cues include a two-tone grille treatment, slim headlights, daytime running lamps and turn signals, three-dimensional wraparound “boomerang” taillights behind C-pillars that have been redesigned to resemble airplane wings garnished with new blacked-out “Soul” graphics to complement a “floating roof” design.

It’s a handsome package - familiar enough to carry the loyalist fan base while fresh enough to encourage even more converts with its winsome, quirky stylings and dare-to-be-different design.

The 2020 Kia Soul is on Canadian dealer lots already, available in all trim levels, with the GT-Line package slated to follow later in June.




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