2020 Kia Soul X-Line: Soul Gone Missing?

Having driven all the previous generations of the Kia Soul over the years they have been one of my favorite affordable vehicles. Nicely sized, good interior room with the only issue being the lack of cargo room with the back seat up. So when the opportunity to drive this latest generation became available I was excited.

One other factor that interested me with the new Soul was its falling sales figures. In a world where everything is a crossover, the Soul had the covered. Smaller “B” segment crossovers have been the latest push by manufactures, Soul has already been there. So, to quote Jerry Seinfeld, “what’s the deal with that?” After spending a week with this X-Line version of the Soul, I think I have the answer.

This X-Line trim of the Soul is a mid-level trim package with visual cues to make it look more rugged. It comes with a 2.0-liter naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine, with what Kia calls an “intelligently variable transmission”. I have another name for it. Included as standard was a blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert and lane change assist. 18″ alloy wheels come with the package along with a leather-covered steering wheel and shift knob. The only option was carpeted floor mats at $130. All totaled the sticker price with a delivery charge of $995 was $22,615.

In this day and age (pre-COVID-19) just under twenty-three grand is a good price. The problem I’d come to find out is that that affordable price comes at, well, a price.

The first thing that I noticed was the tires. Standard tires are Hankook Ventus S1 Noble2’s. Perhaps because we were driving this in early February in Michigan, and the tires are classified as “Ultra High-Performance All-Season tires was the crux for the issue. In any kind of snowy or icy conditions, you found out just how aggressive the ABS was in the Soul because the brakes would almost immediately lock up with anything more than the lightest touch of the pedal. On more than on occasion, I had to grab the e-brake to make a corner at under five miles an hour because the front end just plowed straight on. This kids is why an e-brake with a real handle is SO much better than current electronic versions. Looking at reviews of this tire on tirerack.com I found similar experiences from those living in the snow belt.

Trying to accelerate was no better. A combination of the tires and a very aggressive traction control unit made pulling out into traffic very interesting on more than one occasion. Feather the throttle with the TC light blinking and you still weren’t going anywhere.

Next, the “intelligently variable transmission”. To say that this embodied everything that everyone hates about CV transmissions would be an understatement. There was nothing intelligent about it. Once or twice a day at a minimum you would catch it “out of gear”. Then, it would take what felt like several moments for it to deduce what ratio it needed. If you are driving along at a “normal” pace, but then need to jump on the gas to pass someone, it can be pretty dicey. You need careful planning if you are doing this on a two-lane road with oncoming traffic.

One area of the Kia Soul that has always been a problem for me, though it may not be for you, is the load floor of the cargo area. There has always been and remains a large lip from the bottom of the floor to the opening of the hatch. Add to this that the rear seats, when folded do not fold flat. Not even close. There is a five or six-inch step from the floor to the back of the rear seat when folded down. Why this is an issue for me has been my dogs. Previously with our Mastiffs and now with our Irish Wolfhound, it would be difficult to load them from the rear of the vehicle and with the layout of cargo area, not enough flat space for them to lay down.

The interior materials of the Soul felt, OK. By OK, I mean there was nothing objectionable about them at the price, but the look and feel of it wasn’t any improvement over the previous generation. The instrument panel looks the same as every Kia for the last four or five years. The infotainment screen and it’s graphics look straight out of 2015. Again, they are fine, and at the price, I’m not expecting Genesis levels of refinement. However in the past where I felt you were getting good value for your money with the Soul, now it just feels very average, almost like they mailed it in.

There were other small items. Of all the windows, only the driver’s window has auto-down, but no auto up. That is just like my personal vehicle, a 2005 Honda Element. There were no heated seats, whereas ten years ago you could find those in a mid-level trim Forte. The sound from the stereo was average at best. For a vehicle that is marketed towards a younger demographic, who will want to bump some tunes, well, you can have tunes, you just won’t be bumping them. Also, no SiriusXM in the system. Now, I don’t care about that, but just about everything new comes with it.

The fuel economy for the Soul was good. It is EPA rated at 27 city, 33 highway, and 30 combined. I got just about book on it, which is unusual on Winter gas. I typically see a one to three mpg drop for combined and highway during the winter months because of the fuel, here I did not.

After a week with the vehicle and putting about 300 miles in it, I didn’t care about it. It was just there. It was just an appliance. When they came to pick it up, I couldn’t hand the keys over fast enough, and that is sad and unfortunate.

In a world where everything needs to be a crossover these days, sure this was already a crossover, but it was funky and fun enough that you didn’t care. It was more “tall cube”. The exterior styling on it remains good for me. It still retains a quirkiness to it. The interior, again for me, not different enough or updated enough from the last generation. Driving it was just not fun. The tires, the transmission, the lack of power (147 horsepower), that combination made it, maybe not a chore to drive, but certainly, nothing to look forward to.

If this is your first new vehicle, and you are dropping $22-$23 grand on it, you might feel a little disappointed.

I think that the operative word for Kia Soul, at least in X-Line trim is disappointing. That thought comes from the fact that I had looked forward to this coming in for review and it was a large letdown. What we need more of are fun, funky, quirky vehicles. Of late everything is looking the same and driving the same. Everything seems to be bland, milquetoast, forgettable crossovers. The Soul was something that used to have some, the name was appropriate. But now, it seems to have gone missing. Kia, time to go back to work.

You did such a great job with the Telluride, can’t you sprinkle a little of that magic on the Soul?

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21 responses to “2020 Kia Soul X-Line: Soul Gone Missing?”

  1. Sjalabais Avatar
    Sjalabais

    Very interesting review – if you had started with low expectations instead of adjusted excitement, would the conclusion be any different? I mean there are two no-brainers here: Why it’s even allowed to drive anything but proper winter tires in areas with winter is beyond my comprehension. Also, I hope there is some other transmission option. So far, no CVT ever has added anything appreciable to any car I have tried. I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, but more often than not I am rather surprised people are spending good money on cars which transmission completely destroys the driving experience.

    My neighbour’s had an EV Soul for five years or so. They’re very happy, except with some issues with the small 12V battery. It is necessary for the control of everything, so when that one fails, the car won’t start or move. Even with a fully charged and, later, an all new battery, this has happened a few times. Otherwise, all Soul owners I know are really quite satisfied, and they appreciate the whole package – especially the cubist design.

  2. Brad Ysseldyke Avatar

    At $23k, you’re dipping into Seltos territory. At the very least you’re getting a more compliant suspension design and AWD at the same price. Heated seats and a few other extras are going to start bumping up the price quite a bit, but it entirely seems worth it. Each new release from Hyundai/Kia builds on the one before it, its amazing how much of a difference a year makes between the Soul and Seltos.

    1. Zentropy Avatar
      Zentropy

      The Soul does get up into Seltos territory, but at comparable trim levels, the Seltos is going to be $2k-$3k more. AWD isn’t standard on all trims, either.

      I realize that damn near everything these days is regarded as a crossover SUV, but regardless of its technical classification, I don’t think of the Soul as one. It sits relatively low, is shaped like a station wagon, and AWD isn’t an option. The Seltos is clearly cut from the same generic crossover cookie cutter as countless other vehicles out there. I wouldn’t even consider cross-shopping the two.

  3. Sjalabais Avatar
    Sjalabais

    Very interesting review – if you had started with low expectations instead of adjusted excitement, would the conclusion be any different? I mean there are two no-brainers here: Why it’s even allowed to drive anything but proper winter tires in areas with winter is beyond my comprehension. Also, I hope there is some other transmission option. So far, no CVT ever has added anything appreciable to any car I have tried. I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, but more often than not I am rather surprised people are spending good money on cars which transmission completely destroys the driving experience.

    My neighbour’s had an EV Soul for five years or so. They’re very happy, except with some issues with the small 12V battery. It is necessary for the control of everything, so when that one fails, the car won’t start or move. Even with a fully charged and, later, an all new battery, this has happened a few times. Otherwise, all Soul owners I know are really quite satisfied, and they appreciate the whole package – especially the cubist design.

    1. Fuhrman16 Avatar
      Fuhrman16

      No state in the U.S. mandates winter tires as far asI know, despite the obvious benefits to them. People would rather shell out more money for AWD it seems. And I do believe that the base model Soul is available with a manual transmission (or it was last I looked).

    2. Zentropy Avatar
      Zentropy

      You can get a 6-speed manual in base trim spec, or a 7-speed DCT in the top trim level (with the turbo engine). Otherwise, it’s the dreaded CVT. Personally, I don’t think the Soul is worthy of a $28k price tag, so I would only consider the entry-level stick.

    3. Wayne Moyer Avatar
      Wayne Moyer

      I’m happy with the CVT in my wife’s Outlander because it doesn’t pretend to be a normal automatic. This is what a CVT should do. It makes the most out of the lightweight four cylinder in it.
      I have a ’15 Soul that I bought used a couple years ago. I’ve been able to stuff quite a bit behind those rear seats but the writer is correct about how they don’t fold flat. I never really thought much of it. Just writing it off to an econobox thing. This is the smallest car I’ve owned since my very first car which was an ’86 Sentra. I really enjoy the heck out of this thing. Mine has the very base 1.6 with the automatic. It could use the stick and more torque but otherwise there isn’t much that I would change.

    4. mdharrell Avatar

      Counterpoint: For my CVT-equipped vehicles it’s not the transmission that completely destroys the driving experience.

      1. Vairship Avatar
        Vairship

        Instead, it is the vehicle that destroys the CVT transmission!

      2. Sjalabais Avatar
        Sjalabais

        Strangely, I was expecting this exact same comment.

  4. outback_ute Avatar
    outback_ute

    I wonder if there are any actual human beings who find that front end attractive? Probably not even the styling team (it happens, objections get ignored by management).

    1. crank_case Avatar
      crank_case

      I think it looks good, but it’s also well thought functionally which I appreciate having run low slung sports cars as dailys for years and dealing with the headlights of SUVs. Rather than putting the big headlights high up because that’s what people believe looks “right”, they’ve created a more useful low wide beam that will likely dazzle me less than the average small SUV/Crossover/high riding hatchback. They seem to adopt a similar design on some of their other SUVs, it’s a similar logic to the placement of lights on modern HGVs https://www.commercialmotor.com/sites/default/files/styles/540px_wide/public/buyers-guide-images/2017/02/mba_034.jpg?itok=rSmn1hGF&timestamp=1562207102

      1. outback_ute Avatar
        outback_ute

        Agreed on the light placement but also agree with Zentropy’s sleepy description

    2. Zentropy Avatar
      Zentropy

      Personally, I prefer the styling of the 2019. The 2020 headlights give it an irritated/sleepy look, and I don’t care for the tail lights at all.

      I thought the Trackster and (especially) the Trailster were cool, but Kia unfortunately took a different direction.

      https://www.kia.com/us/en/concept-vehicles/trackster/_jcr_content/root/shortheromediatext.coreimg.100.1440.jpeg/1560800656749.jpeg
      https://blogmedia.dealerfire.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/361/2019/07/front-of-kia-trailster-concept_o.jpg

      1. Fuhrman16 Avatar
        Fuhrman16

        I agree. The second gen Soul was a nice looking little box.

  5. Maymar Avatar
    Maymar

    If I’m not mistaken, this generation Soul has one of the dual-level cargo floors (it certainly looks like it from the bracing running along the side). So, you could have a flat floor with the seats down (and at least no lip with them up), or max cargo space with the floor in the lower position. Which, that makes a ton more sense than the last generation which only had the higher floor and a six inch thick piece of foam over the spare tire (plus, a relatively small trunk).

    Other than that, I’ve respected the Soul for how pragmatic it is (while still being at least a little desirable), so at least that hasn’t changed much. It’s just a shame that neither automatic transmission gives me much long term confidence.

    1. Vairship Avatar
      Vairship

      That would be similar to our 2016 Soul EV: raised floorlet with leashes and poo-bag rolls under it, and 350 lbs worth of dogs on top. Those back seats fold fairly flat once you put some weight on them…

    2. Sjalabais Avatar
      Sjalabais

      This whole foam-thing is a pet peeve of mine. If this is optional for a flat floor, fine, but many new cars have this for no obvious reason. This comes in addition to the very thick, built up, plasticky side walls that eat into the boot, and also the mentioned high sills and threshholds most compacts have. A usable, efficient, easily accessible boot seems to come quite low on development lists these days.

      1. Maymar Avatar
        Maymar

        I would bet on NVH reduction, both by absorbing road noise and reducing squeaks as the primary reason for excess foam.

  6. 340Moparman Avatar
    340Moparman

    Speaking of “cost”, the cost of wanting a manual transmission limits you to entry level LX trim, and three basic single colors. Any deviation or addition of desired options catapults you into a “higher spec” trim level, with the corresponding loss of the manual. Kia has refined “choice” down to pick the level of trim that you want, and it’s pre-packaged for you!

  7. Manxman Avatar

    I have a 2017 Soul mid spec with a real automatic that has been the best basic appliance type car I’ve ever owned. Bought new for $15K before trade in in spring of 2017. Wife wanted a color that stood out so we got the lime green. I’m disappointed the new ones have a cvt. I hate cvts.

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