The Kia Soul has long stood out for its unconventional looks and spacious interior, but typically, it has underperformed in the areas of ride quality and refinement. When we drove the redesigned 2020 model paired with the 1.6-liter turbocharged engine, we were impressed how much the subcompact car has evolved. Not only did it exhibit a smooth ride and precise handling, it proved to be just about the quickest car in the subcompact class. Now we’re testing the much less expensive naturally aspirated model to see if it lives up to the high standards set by the turbo Soul.
The 2020 Kia Soul comes standard with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque. As we mentioned, Kia also offers a 1.6-liter twin-scroll turbocharged four-cylinder with 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque, but this engine is only available on the top trim level, which will cost you at least $28,485. In contrast, you can get a naturally aspirated Soul for as little as $18,485. And we’re happy to report you’re not sacrificing that much when you opt for the less powerful mill.
In the 0-60 mph test, our naturally aspirated Soul clocked 8.3 seconds. On paper, that’s a considerable drop from the 6.5 seconds it took the turbocharged model. But the little box car doesn’t feel underpowered when cruising around town or entering the freeway. Whereas the turbo model comes with a seven-speed dual-clutch, the naturally aspirated Soul has a CVT that doesn’t feel like a compromise.
The naturally aspirated Soul matches the Hyundai Kona’s 0-60 time when equipped with the same engine that makes the same output. It’s quicker than most traditional subcompact SUVs we’ve tested, including the Honda HR-V, Toyota C-HR, Subaru Crosstrek, and Nissan Kicks. The Mazda CX-3 comes in just a hair quicker at 8.2 seconds. To compare it with some of our favorite subcompact hatches, it’s slightly quicker than the Honda Fit (8.4 seconds) and Kia Rio (8.7 seconds).
In our real-world fuel economy tests, the naturally aspirated Soul returned 28.6/32.7 mpg city/highway. In the city and highway, it bests its EPA rating of 27/33 mpg. However, when we tested the turbo Soul, it managed 28.3/35.3 mpg, well ahead of its EPA rating of 27/32 mpg.
The 2.0-liter Soul rounded the figure eight in 27.1 seconds at an average 0.62 g. That’s ever so slightly behind the turbo Soul’s 26.8 seconds at 0.66 g. It tackles corners with poise, belying its shape. Testing director Kim Reynolds noted strong understeer, “but turn-in is crisper than you’d expect.” Although it’s not particularly athletic, the steering is precise enough to satisfy. But the most surprising part of the Soul is its ride quality. Little noise seeps into the cabin even while traveling at 65 mph, and the Soul remains composed over uneven surfaces. The ride exceeded my expectations for a subcompact car, and most certainly, it represents a vast improvement over the second-gen model that debuted for 2014.
Our Soul also passed the braking test. It took a solid 115 feet to come to a stop from 60 mph. Road test editor Chris Walton noted the Soul had effective and consistent brakes, while also noting a firm pedal feel and medium dive. But oddly, the steering wheel jiggled in this test.
As you’d expect, the Soul doesn’t have a fancy interior. But sometimes, the simplest interiors are actually the most enjoyable to sit in. Our tester benefits from an intuitive 7.0-inch touchscreen and just the right number of physical buttons. The clean layout continues with a storage space for your phone in the center console, and right below that, a simple shifter that’s easy to toggle. The cloth seats are comfortable and soft to the touch.
Too many times when I hop into a new car, it’s a pain trying to connect my phone, but the Soul makes it easy. Within seconds, Android Auto is up and running, and if you want to switch over to another device, the change is easy. Although the backup camera doesn’t always provide the clearest view at night, the touchscreen works immediately upon startup, so you don’t have to waste time waiting for it to boot up. The Soul offers a good amount of passenger space for its class, including gobs of headroom and satisfying legroom in the back. And the cargo bay is sufficient to hold an extra-large suitcase.
So which version of the Soul did we drive, exactly? Our tester was an off-road-inspired X-Line model. But don’t get too excited; the upgrades are cosmetic and don’t include any extra ground clearance or capability off the beaten path. Personally, I’m not a fan of the aggressive body cladding and overfenders, but the unusual look seems fit for the off-beat Soul. Priced from $22,485, the X-Line also receives unique 18-inch alloy wheels, foglights, special roof trim, and silver accents on the exterior.
The Soul hasn’t changed its personality, but now its performance is a cut above for its class. Whether you opt for the naturally aspirated or the turbocharged model, you’re getting a vehicle with a confident ride, plenty of power, and a functional, comfortable interior. Now we can’t wait to see how the new Soul EV performs.
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