When the Kia Soul was first introduced to the U.S. via dancing hamsters, it was a hit. Its combination of funky styling, eye-catching colors, and fun marketing made it Kia’s best-seller. Now the Soul is in its third generation, freshly revitalized with its most drastic change yet but still retaining its box-on-wheels figure. Nissan, Scion, and mothership Toyota have abandoned their boxy hatches, but Kia still has hopes for the Soul. We’ve added a 2020 Kia Soul EX to our long-term fleet to see if it still has enough, ahem, soul to stand out in a segment that’s saturated with solid options.
We opted for the EX trim, one step below the range-topping GT-Line Turbo, and sprung for the Platinum Gold exterior, a $345 option. The EX starts at $23,685. It comes with the standard 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine pumping out a meager 147 horsepower mated to a CVT, or Intelligent Variable Transmission(IVT), as Kia calls it. The EX comes with a substantial list of safety features like forward collision avoidance, blind-spot collision warning, rear cross-traffic collision-avoidance assist, lane keep, and driver attention warning. Convenience and luxury features include a large 10.25-inch touchscreen display, dual-zone climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats and outside mirrors, and wireless phone charger. Other notable features that also come standard in lower-trim Souls include hill-start assist control, tire pressure monitoring system, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, keyless entry, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, cruise control, 60/40 split rear seats, and auto-on/off headlights.
That’s a healthy list, but to give the Soul some extra pizzazz we also ticked the box for the $1,500 EX Designer Collection package, which adds 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, foglights, and taillights, and Sofino leatherette seat trim. We rounded out the package with carpeted floor mats for $130 and a cargo tray for $95. That totals $25,755.
I can’t give a reliable first impression just yet because I’m still in mourning after the departure of my beloved BMW X3 M40i, so I’ll save that my first update. To help ease the pain of being downgraded from a luxury compact SUV to an affordable subcompact, I’m hoping the Soul still retains enough the mojo that made its previous iterations so popular. I will say that I’m dreading going from 355 horsepower down to 147. One of my gripes with my old HR-V long-termer was its lack of power; it had a similar 141 ponies. To possibly make matters worse, the Soul uses a CVT, a transmission that isn’t exactly known for performance.
Another potential issue I noticed right away was the Soul’s lack of cargo space with the second row up. As a photographer I tend to carry lots of gear and sometimes people for assignments. The lack of room in the trunk could be a limiting factor, so I predict needing to swap into a larger vehicle for photo shoots.
It’s not all grim, though. The Kia Soul was a finalist in our 2020 Car of the Year competition. It was in the top three, as a matter of fact, right up there with a C8 Corvette (winner) and the Tesla Model 3. I have a feeling I shouldn’t have too much to worry about.
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