Time flies when you’re having fun, at least when you find it to be fun to drive a Kia Soul. Count me among those who have enjoyed jumping aboard the Soul train ever since it first arrived back in 2009. And now comes the new-for-2020 third-generation of Kia’s compact hatchback, and we find the fun continues to roll along.
This all may seem strange since I don’t appear to be the target audience for Kia’s “urban runabout.” Remember how the car was introduced back when with those entertaining television commercials showing the car being driven by a pack of hipster hamsters?
This was a car designed and marketed to prospective buyers from the Centennial and Millennial generations, not to balding boomers. Nonetheless, with its wheels pushed to the corners, and thus offering enhanced dynamic capabilities, with its compact footprint and even an available manual transmission, the Soul touched the soul of those of us who like to drive.
Why, some of us geezers even found entertainment in those big audio speakers that flashed a variety of colors along with the beat of the music.
Now into its third generation, the Soul has remained a fun-to-drive compact hatchback with room for people and cargo that is available for an entry-level price. Though the styling has been properly updated, Soul remains true to its roots rather than becoming yet another of the cookie-cutter compact crossovers that clog our roadways.
I’ve just spent a week in the 2020 Kia Soul X-Line, can report that not only did I enjoy the experience, but so did the grandchildren, though the teenager asked why it didn’t have leather seats.
X-Line is one of two new trim levels available for the 2020 model year. X-Line includes flared fenders and other cladding for a “chunkier” look, and comes with 18-inch alloy wheels, fog lamps and the option of two-tone paint.
The other new version is the GT-Line, which gets front fascia and side sills with red accents, a leather-wrapped and D-shaped steering wheel, enlarged disc brakes, center exhaust tip, P235/45R18 tires and an available 201-horsepower turbocharged engine.
That one sounds like a lot of fun, but likely is more expensive, though not that much unless you opt for the turbo. The basic Soul LX has an MSRP of $17,490 with a 6-speed manual. The X-Line, which has a continuously variable transmission, is $21,490. The GT-Line actually costs less, $20,290, unless you want the turbocharged drivetrain, which includes a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox and has a $27,490 price tag.
Though produced in South Korea, the Soul has been designed in Kia’s design studio in California and I’d argue that the studio has done a great job creating a vehicle that appeals to an American audience. I see lots of them on the road. The cars are the right size for many of us, offering an affordable combination of practicality and style on streets where it seems everyone is driving a more-routine crossover.
For its third generation and the 2020 model year, the Soul rides on a new platform and comes with a new 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine. And, yes, the mood-lighting sound system remains available.
In addition to the features previously listed for the X-Line, it comes with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration, power windows, air conditioning, tilt and telescoping steering column, automatic on/off headlamps, and in addition to the typical safety features, the price includes blind-spot warning, lane-change warning and assist, and a terrific rear cross-traffic collision warning and wide-angle camera, which are very useful when you’re trying to reverse a compact hatchback out of a parking spot with larger crossovers on either side of you.
The car also has some features not usually found on entry-level vehicles, such as the metal-finished sculptural interior trim around the door handles and air vents and speakers.
The only options on our test version were the Snow White Pearl Paint ($345) and the carpeted floor mats ($130).
While the manual gearbox is available only in the entry-level version, the X-Line’s CVT does have a Sport mode so you can push the gear selector lever back and forth through 7 steps to extract the full output of the 2-liter’s available 147 horsepower.
One-47 doesn’t sound like much, but it feels sufficient in a nimble and compact package.
2020 Kia Soul X-Line
Vehicle type: x-passenger “urban runabout,” front-wheel drive
Base price: $21,490 Price as tested: $22,960
Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, 147 horsepower @ 6,200 rpm, 132 pound-feet of torque @ 4,500 rpm Transmission: continuously variable automatic
Wheelbase: 102.4 inches Overall length/width: 165.2 inches / 70.9 inches
Curb weight: 2,802 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 27 city / 33 highway / 30 combined
Assembled in: Gwangju, South Korea