First Drive: 2020 Kia Soul Stands Alone as Last Boxy Crossover

March 15, 2019 by Rick Stella, @RickStella

When Kia Motors introduced its Soul subcompact crossover in 2009, the market for rectangular vehicles was crowded. Honda sold the Element, Nissan had the Cube, and Scion offered the highly customizable xB.

Fast forward a decade, and the third-generation 2020 Soul is the last of its kind. In the 10 years since its debut, the automaker has sold nearly 1.1 million. Since 2011, they’ve sold at an average clip of 100,000 per year.

Now, the Soul directly competes with more conventional crossovers like the Honda HR-V, Hyundai Kona and Nissan Kicks. Though those vehicles all feature a similar hatchback style, Kia’s kept the toaster body for its third-generation Soul, giving it an unmistakable aesthetic.


The Soul has traditionally been marketed as an urban vehicle for a younger buyer. For example, its advertising campaign featuring dancing hamsters is illustrative of how the brand views the Soul: funky, fun and functional.

But despite a desire to appeal to a trendy crowd, the new Soul seems more well-suited to an older demographic. Its low ride height of 63 inches makes it easy to get in and out of, and it offers a smooth drive with responsive steering. Even its infotainment system and safety features are intuitive enough for anyone to use.

However, the 2020 Kia Soul still maintains its flair. The GT-Line – its top trim – features Harmon Kardon premium audio and an available mood-lighting system.

All trims also include roof rack mounting points, a nod to weekend adventurers who want access to light trailblazing like camping and hiking.

  • 20 soul1


At a recent test drive in San Diego, the brand highlighted two of the 2020 Soul’s six trim levels: the pricier turbocharged GT-Line and the midgrade X-Line. The other trims include LX, S, EX and a GT-Line with a 2.0-liter engine.

The GT-Line is powered by a 1.6-liter turbocharged GDI engine that delivers 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

The X-Line – along with the rest of the trim options – has a 2.0-liter engine with 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed variable transmission. A six-speed manual transmission is also an option for the base-level LX.

The GT-Line’s turbocharged engine provides a noticeable uptick in power compared with the 2.0-liter engine, but it doesn’t dramatically alter the drive experience. The Soul’s Sport mode holds onto gears longer, and paddle shifters on the wheel allow for quick up- or down-shifting.

Driving the X-Line was a nearly similar experience, albeit with less power. Kia views this trim as the Soul’s off-road variant. However, its lack of all-wheel-drive limits it from venturing too far off-road. It does feature a more rugged exterior, but it has the same 6.7-inch ground clearance and 62.1 cubic feet of cargo space as every other trim.

Both trim levels offered a comfortable drive experience on the highway and in the mountains. The Soul’s responsive steering easily navigated the winding hills around Borrego Springs, and the smooth-shifting transmission was welcome while driving on Southern California’s crowded highways.

  • 20 soul int1


The biggest difference between the GT-Line and X-Line trims is the interior styling.

The GT-Line has an all-black combination of cloth and leather seats, shifter, dashboard and infotainment center. The mood lighting works well against this blacked-out interior. Contrast red stitching is also featured throughout. It has a sporty, D-shaped heated steering wheel, 10.25-inch touch screen display and a 10-way power driver’s seat.

The X-Line is more scaled down, but it doesn’t feel cheap. It has standard gray interior, full cloth seats and a smaller, 7-inch infotainment system. There are no heated seats or dual climate function.


Kia takes a notably complicated approach to available safety features across the Soul lineup. The X-Line has blind-spot collision warning, rear-cross collision alert and lane-change assist, but no lane-keeping assist or forward-collision avoidance, both of which are found on the cheaper S trim.

Found only on the turbocharged GT-Line are adaptive cruise control, pedestrian detection and a heads-up display. The top trim GT-Line also features a driver attention warning, as do the EX and S trims.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard across every trim level, a plus since all trims but the EX and turbocharged GT-Line lack a built-in navigation system. Each trim level supports Bluetooth technology. The EX and turbo GT also offer voice-recognition compatibility.


Pricing spans a wide range. The lineup starts at $17,490 for the base LX with the manual transmission, then jumps to $18,990 for the standard LX. The S and the 2.0-liter GT-Line cost $20,290. The X-Line is $21,490, the EX is $22,690 and the turbocharged GT-Line tops out at $27,490. None of these prices includes the $995 destination fee.

Kia didn’t say when the new Soul would reach dealerships but noted that it would begin sales of the 2020 models once the 2019 allotment was fulfilled.

Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, attended an event at which Kia hosted travel and lodging.

Rick Stella November 30, 2018 editors pick the most interesting selection of SUVs and crossovers debuting at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show.

One Response

  1. Brad

    Jeep Reneagde is also a boxy cross over so not sure how this stands alone as boxy crossover. 🤔


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