What is “cool”? Whether it’s how you dress, what you listen to, or an indefinable quality certain people possess, it’s not something that’s easy to explain. Kia’s answer is in the form of the third-generation 2020 Soul, whose, erm, sole function is to be so hip it hurts.
For the most part, it’s “mission accomplished.” How do I know this? Well, because yours truly is pretty much as “with it” as one could possibly be, and to demonstrate that, I’ll be happy to sprinkle some references throughout this review. Because nothing says “cool” like having to prove it through shoehorned references, right?
Impressions as a Daily Driver
There’s simply no missing my recent test vehicle. This is a top-of-the-line GT-Line Limited Soul done up in a bright red paint job that stands out wherever it goes, regardless if you’re returning to it in a packed parking lot or cruising down a busy highway. Laying eyes on it when I picked it up was akin to the first time I saw the inimitable Zooey Deschanel in a button-up cardigan – va-va-voom!
The boxy body style is unmistakably Soul, but updates for the latest generation – from the wraparound taillights to the larger grille to the “airplane-like” C-pillars – make this vehicle about as far from cookie-cutter as you can get.
It possesses much of what I like in a daily driver. It’s easy to zip in and out of traffic on busy city streets, it’s a cinch to park in just about any situation, and despite the numerous tech add-ons in my tester, setting things up through the various menus is never overwhelming.
Visibility, meanwhile, is excellent, and although I was worried about wind noise due to the Soul’s blocky body style, it barely crept in.
A Two Hour Tour
I had my Soul for Thanksgiving weekend, and boy oh boy was I excited! And not just to go out on a road trip (one of my favourite things to do), but because of that holiday dinner waiting for me at my destination. Forget the turkey and gravy – bring on the squash and brussels sprouts!
With this being a long weekend, a trip that would normally take me about 90 minutes ended up being about three hours. Here’s the thing, though: I really didn’t mind, and it was all thanks to the Soul.
The weather was all but perfect, so I didn’t have to worry about trekking through any challenging inclement conditions, but I appreciated how predictable the driving dynamics were. This is no sports car, but steering is direct, and while the suspension leaves something to be desired on broken urban streets, it really smooths while driving on freshly paved highways at high speeds.
That said, there were plenty of slow-downs due to traffic (the call of carved turkey was beckoning many on this day), but I loved being able to view the updated traffic using my test vehicle’s navigation system. It didn’t help me get to my destination any faster, but at least I knew when things would clear up.
When it’s time to really “get down” and snap your fingers to a little REO Speedwagon or whatever is playing on your favourite AM radio station, this Soul brings the proverbial noise.
Both Limited trims come with a Harman Kardon sound system, which is something of a rarity in a non-premium vehicle. Pardon my language, but I’m thoroughly enamoured with the 10-speaker system on offer here. I love the thump-thump-thump of a rumbling bassline and kick drum, but I don’t want it to drown out everything else.
Not a worry here, because even with the bass turned up to 11, all the sounds come through loud and – most importantly – clear. Whether you’re cruising down the street or just enjoying some tunes parked outside the local movie theatre (we still all do that, right?), the Soul won’t disappoint in the audio department.
This is a fun vehicle, but not because of its performance. It’s more about the youthful exuberance the Soul exudes while you’re behind the wheel.
From the funky design, to the sound-reactive speaker lights, to the flat-bottom sport steering wheel, the Soul gets plenty of points as a cool place to park your rear end.
If you’re looking for something with which to burn rubber and leave competitors in your dust, you’ll need to search elsewhere though. This is every bit the docile front-wheel drive people mover it sounds like on paper. The 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine makes a conservative 147-horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque, so you won’t be making any Kessel runs in less than 12 parsecs, believe you me.
If you’re willing to sacrifice blistering lap times for all the other stuff I mentioned, the Soul should be high on your wish list. It’s almost – almost – more fun than a night of Parcheesi.
Where’s the Beef? Qualms and Quibbles
The 2020 Soul is a neat vehicle, but there are qualms and quibbles to be had. The engine and transmission – the things that help make this car go – almost seem like afterthoughts. The engine is, quite simply, very loud and buzzy when urging this car forward.
The Intelligent Variable Transmission (IVT) is a neat idea drummed up recently by Kia, and does its best to set itself apart from other continuously variable transmissions on the market. But while I go in with an open mind, at the end of the day this is still a gearless transmission, which does little to create a feeling of excitement. Worst of all is the fact that a manual transmission isn’t offered this year (same as last year, although at least in 2019 it was a conventional 6-speed automatic).
Head-up displays are one of the unsung safety features in cars these days, allowing drivers to keep their eyes where they should be – on the road. My Soul tester comes with a HUD, but instead of being projected directly onto the windshield, it uses a pop-up screen that appears behind the steering wheel.
The problem is that no matter how much I adjusted the display, I could never see everything being projected. If I was an inch or two shorter it would have been fine, but once again, the tall drivers of the world are persecuted!
Kia has compromised somewhat when it comes to performance, but that’s to the benefit of efficiency. The little engine and eco-minded transmission make for a relatively frugal vehicle.
I finish with an average fuel economy of 8.6 L/100 km, which is bang on what the estimated city economy is using Canada’s five-cycle testing system, and definitely above the 7.9 L/100 km estimated average.
I’m not focused on driving economically though, so I’m quite happy with the number I end up with. At the end of the day, you really won’t be spending all that much money on fuel compared to a larger vehicle, which will allow you to spend all the cash you saved on that Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever DVD you’ve had your eye on or towel set you’ve been saving up for.
Cost & Availability
The 2020 Soul starts at just over $21,000 and can reach to just a hair under $30,000 in Canada for this GT-Line Limited I’m driving. You get a lot of vehicle for that money though, and try as I might, I really can’t think of anything else I’d truly want, besides some custom-made action figure holders for my favourite Star Wars characters (Jar Jar Binks and pre-teen Anakin, obviously).
You’ve probably seen a lot of Souls on the road, and not just because they’re eye-catching, but because they offer an affordable and well-rounded package to many different age ranges. It may be aimed at the young, but I’ve seen plenty of young-at-heart drivers behind the wheel of one of these boxy things.
The Kia Soul may be a new beast for the 2020 model year, but its objective remains unchanged: reel in buyers when they’re still fledgling car owners, in the hopes that as they grow up, they graduate to the Sorentos and Stingers and Tellurides.
It’s no longer enough for automakers to create products that are simply “good enough.” Vehicles need to offer a whole lot of stuff, and it helps to have a hook. With so many atypical urban runabouts such as the Honda Element, Nissan Cube, and Smart Fortwo being put out to pasture in Canada, I give huge kudos to Kia for sticking with something that continues to break the mold.
It has its quirks, but that’s a huge part of the Soul’s appeal. If you embrace the idea of standing out in a crowd, make sure to put this Kia high on your list of potential purchases.
[Photo Credit: Daniel Barron]