The 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line 1.6 Turbo Is the Box Done Best

It’s composed, feature-rich, and thoughtfully executed.

Arthur St. Antoinewriter, photographerThe Manufacturerphotographer

In the past, I've "sold" two Kia Souls to friends of mine via recommendations. Why? Because Kia's subcompact crossover is a compelling blend of quality; efficiency; and smart, modern packaging, making it a great choice for shoppers in the segment, especially, as one of my friends said, if you "aren't interested in another Civic."

For the 2020 model year, Kia's hugely successful Soul is all-new. The wheelbase has grown more than an inch, overall length is up by 2.2 inches, and the exterior design is sportier than ever even while retaining the iconic, boxy profile. Even more noteworthy is the arrival of a new GT-Line trim, which adds styling upgrades such as fog lights and a unique front fascia, plus an array of standard safety and convenience features almost too comprehensive to list. Among the included niceties: forward collision avoidance, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, 18-inch wheels, a power sunroof, a 10.3-inch multimedia display with navigation, heated front seats, wireless phone charging, a head-up display, and a 640-watt Harman/Kardon premium audio system. With only a couple of options (including $345 Snow White Pearl paint), my lavishly outfitted test car checked in at $29,055.

The GT-Line is the sharpest Soul to date, combining its familiar shape with new low-profile headlamps, winglet-like C-pillars, and what Kia calls "boomerang" taillights. Yet it's the new cockpit that really stands out. The space is as snazzy as it is functional, blending attractively sculptured instrument pods, intuitive controls, excellent seats, and gobs of headroom. My test model was also dressed up with attractive red accents. There's plenty of plastic on display, but it's nicely executed and doesn't look cheap. Also on board is a new mood-lighting system that allows the driver to configure the cabin to any one of several different ambiances—among them, "Party Time," "Midnight City," and "Café." If you opt for the "Romance" setting, do us all a favor and park at the far side of the lot.

Carried over—and included on my Soul—is a turbocharged, twin-cam 1.6-liter four coupled with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. At 201 horses, it's considerably more potent than the new, 147-hp Atkinson-cycle 2.0-liter four that's standard. Even with the turbo, though, the GT-Line feels more like a spirited touring machine than a sporty plaything. The blown engine is peaky, with boost coming on with a sudden slam rather than a smooth surge, and despite being a dual-clutch unit, the transmission is disappointingly slow in response even when using the manual paddles behind the wheel. That said, performance is just fine for the vast majority of driving situations; the powertrain is refined and generally well mannered, and fuel efficiency is a respectable 27 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway.

Added along with the turbocharged engine are a chrome-tipped center exhaust, larger disc brakes, and a more aggressively tuned suspension. There's a lot of power assist built into the steering, which detracts from road feel, but for the most part the GT-Line 1.6 Turbo is a very competent handler. It nips smartly through turns, rides compliantly, and is impressively stout and well isolated over road shocks. Also worth noting: ground clearance has increased from 5.9 inches on last year's model to 6.7 inches—providing some additional prowess over snow or rugged terrain, despite the continued lack of an all-wheel-drive option.

It's in the driving interface where the new Soul really shines. This is a delightful cockpit to spend time in. Despite the increase in wheelbase and length, interior space remains about the same—but that's not a bad thing. My six-foot self felt completely comfortable up front, while getting in and out is even easier than before thanks to a wider door opening. The rear hatch opening is a bit bigger and lower, too. The rear seat is spacious and comfortable, and cargo-hauling options (including split-folding rear seats and a two-level cargo board) are abundant. Versatility is one of the Soul's standout traits.

The 10.3-inch touchscreen deserves special recognition, being one of the industry's best. Right now, Kia and its Hyundai affiliate are leading the infotainment wars with their intuitive layouts, snappy control responses, and clear displays. It's a genuine pleasure using this interface. The head-up display, which appears on a small glass panel that glides up behind the primary instruments, is clear and useful, and a host of buttons on the wheel make it easy to operate many functions without removing hands from the rim. Also noteworthy: Unlike the collision-avoidance systems from some other makers, the Soul's system alerted me two or three times to potential hazards with an audio warning, but never once slammed on the brakes unnecessarily.

Kia's third-generation Soul is well-equipped to continue the model's market success, offering a compelling mix of amenities, active-safety features, packaging flexibility, sharp looks, and exceptional build quality. Combine all that with the industry's best warranty, and I'll be continuing to recommend this standout crossover to all who come asking in the future.

2020 Kia Soul GT-Line 1.6 Turbo Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $28,495/$29,055 (base/as-tested)
ENGINE 1.6L turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4; 201 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 195 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, FWD hatchback
EPA MILEAGE 27/32 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 165.2 x 70.9 x 63.0 in
WHEELBASE 102.4 in
WEIGHT 3,050 lb (est)
0-60 MPH
6.5 sec (est)
TOP SPEED
128 mph (gov)
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