2020 Kia Soul EX Yearlong Review: Our Verdict on This Small SUV

Lost in the hoopla of awarding the Chevrolet Corvette MotorTrend‘s 2020 Car of the Year was that one of the other podium finishers was the Kia Soul. Although the Soul’s status might come as a surprise to some, those who have been paying attention to the vehicle’s progress through each generation know Kia has been hard at work refining it into a best-in-class vehicle.

This studious effort by Kia became even more apparent after spending over a year with a Soul in our test fleet. It’s more apparent than ever that the Soul is a well-built, spacious, comfortable hatchback that cleverly walks the fence between car and SUV, all the while providing an engaging driving experience. In fact, the Soul sits at No. 2 on our vehicle ranking list of best subcompact SUVs, just below the Subaru Crosstrek. (The Soul straddles the dividing line between hatchback and SUV, and we’ve wavered on where to put it based on EPA classifications, Kia’s own labels, and common sense.)

Our long-term Kia Soul EX served the majority of its time with us during pandemic lockdowns, yet we still managed to clock more than 17,000 miles on its odometer. The Soul proved a trusty errand runner through the notoriously frustrating traffic and pock-marked streets of Los Angeles, and it served as a weekend family runabout to the beach and mountains. It even did some long-distance highway hauling in the hands of Top Gear America executive producer, Levi Rugg, as he visited filming sets in various far-off places. After his trips to remote filming locations in Arizona and Nevada, he said the Soul was perfectly suitable for 400-plus-mile drives and never hesitated to blow icy A/C even when Arizona’s temperatures exceeded 110 degrees Fahrenheit. He also enjoyed interacting with the 10.3-inch infotainment screen but wished he could dim it separately from the rest of the dash lighting.

Soul Full of Style

The Soul has always been known for its upright, boxy sheetmetal, but this latest version features more mature, refined styling that, when viewed from the side profile, is reminiscent of the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque. The thin, wraparound headlights and tapered all-black daylight opening seen in the profile have helped the Soul evolve into a more handsome vehicle—distancing itself from its nerdy, cute-ute origins. This current Soul is a far cry from the econobox first generation that made its debut in 2010.

Practicality is a Soul strong point, and one need not dig deep to discover the many cleverly designed parts that make the Soul so easy to operate. The key fob features a lock button that sits at a different angle than the other buttons, making it easy to lock the car by feel alone. The non-power-assisted liftgate is light and easy to open or shut with just one hand. The boosted steering makes parallel parking maneuvers and low-speed parking lot drills easy to execute, and at super-slow speeds, you can turn the steering wheel with just the palm of your hand. The manual parking brake lever, found between the front seats, is rare among new cars, and unlike electric parking brakes, you never have to wonder whether it’s set. Lastly, two struts keep the hood open, negating the need for a wiggly prop when you need to access the engine bay.

The Soul visited the dealership twice during its time in our fleet. Both visits were for manufacturer-recommended maintenance, which included the familiar oil and filter change, tire rotation, and multipoint inspection. During the second visit at 15,000 miles, the cabin air filter was also replaced for a charge of $60.

Soul Mate

Despite its quirky, utilitarian appearance, the Soul consistently proved fun to drive and handled better than expected. Capable steering complements a competent chassis and encourages precise lane changes, zippy on-ramp speeds, and the occasional detour to a local curvy road for kicks and giggles. Suffice to say the Soul doesn’t need to handle as well as it does, yet its overall composure and agility are a welcome addition that adds an endearing level of enjoyment to the driving experience.

2020 Soul EX models—like our long-term car—come standard with 17-inch wheels, but we opted instead for 18-inch wheels with low-ish-profile tires. The short sidewalls have an adverse effect on ride comfort and cabin noise and we often wondered whether the available smaller wheel/tire combination would make for a better, more livable choice in terms of ride quality. We even contemplated how much better the ride could be by swapping on a set of 16-inch wheels and tires from the lower-spec Soul S. L.A. ‘s freeways are smooth and flat, but many of its potholed residential roads appear carpet-bombed, and the low-profile tires showed no forgiveness on those. Of course, downsizing the wheels and tires would likely diminish the aforementioned handling, but it might be a trade worth taking. The good news is that those 16-inch wheels are also offered with attractively styled wheels.

Overall, the Soul’s 147 hp 2.0-liter I-4, a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) that rarely reminds you it’s a CVT, helpful sightlines for parking, and great ingress and egress all contribute to a vehicle that eases the tasks of everyday life. This third-generation Soul proved its appeal via practicality, personality, and surprising driving dynamics. Combine all that with unique sheetmetal, and the Soul is evidence one need not spend a fortune to drive something distinctive.

Read more about our long-term 2020 Kia Soul EX test vehicle:

  • Arrival
  • Update 1: Is the 2020 Kia Soul Designed to Look Like a Range Rover?
  • Update 2: 5 Simple Joys That Make the 2020 Kia Soul EX So Good
  • Update 3: The Kia Soul Handles Better Than You Think
  • Update 4: The Perfect Kia Soul? We Combine the Best Bits from Every Trim Level
  • Update 5: The Track Data Is In

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