I recently had the chance to check out the all-new 2020 Kia Soul, which is a fun hatchback that Kia calls a crossover. I call it a hatchback because it’s only offered with front-wheel drive and it has less ground clearance than a Mazda3, but I don’t think it really matters what you call it. What matters is, I love it.
I’ve always loved the Kia Soul. It first came out back in 2010, a decade ago, and it launched simultaneously with the Kia Forte, which everyone thought would sell way better — since, after all, compact sedans (Honda Civic, Toyota Corolla) were vastly outselling weird tall hatchbacks (Nissan Cube, Scion xB). Well, that isn’t what happened: the Soul was a huge hit from day one, and now Kia is coming out with the third-generation model.
So let’s discuss this third-generation Soul. It’s got an updated design, both inside and out, and it still looks as funky and quirky as ever — though it keeps the same basic profile and charm as the original two versions. Two engines are offered: a base 4-cylinder has about 150 horsepower, but the more powerful model uses a 201-hp turbo 4-cylinder that makes the Soul positively quick. It takes a little spooling up to get real power around town, but it’s surprisingly fast for highway passing power — and it makes the Soul feel like a bit of a hot hatchback.
And I like that, because then the Soul sort of has it all: it’s funky and more distinctive than most compact cars, which can be pretty boring. It’s sporty and surprisingly quick, though I’d say the steering isn’t exactly very precise — and handling is only average, especially considering its tall shape. But that tall shape also benefits the Soul, because it offers impressive head room and its biggest asset: practicality.
Practicality is the key to understanding and appreciating the Soul. Yes, the Honda Civic is a fantastic compact car — and the latest Honda Civic looks really cool, so buying one doesn’t even mean buying a boring, dull small sedan. But the Civic lacks what the Soul offers in droves: cargo space. If you want a car that can carry all your camping gear, a bunch of boxes, a couch, a TV or whatever you may need, but you still want compact car drivability and fuel economy, the Soul is that — and it comes with the added bonus of cool, distinctive styling.
Interestingly, the "coolness" is also a bit of a gripe I have with the Soul. The exterior is very distinctive and funky, with a taillight circle around the rear window, a front light bar, a floating roof, and the odd general profile. But the interior doesn’t have the coolness to match. The new Soul has interior ambient lighting that pulses to the beat of music, and there’s a cool head-up display that rises out of the gauge cluster. But otherwise, it’s all a relatively normal compact car interior. The Nissan Cube was widely ridiculed for having a random piece of shag carpeting on the dashboard, but I always liked it — and the ripple-effect headliner. The Soul would do well to add more funk to the inside.
Generally speaking, though, I think the Soul is an excellent compact car with excellent compact car traits — from its distinctive look to its practical interior to its excellent technology and fantastic touchscreen. If I was in the market for a compact car, I wouldn’t consider anything but a Soul — and I’d smile every time I walked up to it.