Kia has made the Soul bigger but only on the inside. The just-updated vehicle is stronger under the hood, too. These improvements don't come at the cost of its affordable fun factor. At just over $17k to start, it's one of the least expensive ways you'll have a good time in a new car.
*What It Is
The Soul is one of the original box cars, a type of car popular for many years in Japan, where space (especially parking space) is scarce and gas is expensive. They began to be seen here about 10 years ago. Others of this kind include the Scion (RIP) xB and Nissan Cube.
Box cars have become popular here because they're different (for once) and inexpensive (for a change).
Prices begin at $17,490 for the base LX trim, which comes standard with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual transmission -- part of the fun. A continuously variable (CVT) automatic transmission is optional.
Also available is a turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine paired with a seven-speed automated manual transmission. This is the heart of the top-of-the-line Soul GT-Line Turbo, which costs $27,490.
The 2020 Soul is new from the tread up.
It's only slightly bigger on the outside than before but much bigger on the inside. Max cargo space has been opened up to 62.1 cubic feet with the back seats down (previously 49.5 cubic feet), and there are now 24.2 cubic feet behind the back seats (previously 18.8 cubic feet).
Front-seat legroom has also been increased by about an inch.
And there are 17 more standard horsepower under the hood, along with better gas mileage.
It's a practical car that's also a fun car.
It has much more room without much more size.
It's still available with a manual transmission.
*What's Not So Good
Manual transmission is only available with the base LX trim and the base 2.0-liter engine.
*Under the Hood
The old Soul's standard 1.6-liter engine without a turbo was easy on gas but didn't make it easy to pass. It has just 130 horsepower and only 118 foot-pounds of torque.
The new Soul comes standard with a larger 2.0-liter engine that has 147 horsepower and 132 foot-pounds of torque while being easier on gas.
With the optional CVT automatic, the 2020 Soul 2.0 can hit 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway. Last year's 1.6-liter-powered Soul got 26 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.
You can still get a six-speed manual if you prefer to row your own, and you'll still get 25 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. Last year's lower-powered Soul with manual transmission got 24 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.
For more power and nearly the same gas mileage, there's the optional 1.6-liter engine with a turbo. It has 201 horsepower and 195 foot-pounds of torque at just 1,500 rpm.
This engine only comes with Kia's seven-speed automated manual transmission. Despite the upticked power, the mileage isn't downticked much. It still gets 27 mpg city and 32 mpg highway, virtually the same mileage as the 2.0-liter-equipped Soul.
*On the Road
The old Soul was fun but slow, unless you opted for the optional turbocharged engine. The new Soul has enough power to be fun with the standard engine and more fun with its optional turbo engine.
It would be more so if Kia would let you buy it with the manual transmission you can select with the standard engine.
Either way, the Soul's abbreviated exterior dimensions -- it's only 165.2 inches long -- give it a tight turning circle and the ability to slot into a parking spot most other cars have to pass by.
*At the Curb
Though the new Soul is only about 2 inches longer overall, total cargo capacity has bee increased by about 25 percent to 62.1 cubic feet -- about four times the capacity of a typical midsize sedan.
The Soul also has more room for passengers than most midsize cars.
But most of all, it has a distinctively jaunty look -- and attitude. It's a car that isn't like other cars, regardless of price, which is a big part of its charm.
Like its box car rivals, the Soul isn't available with all-wheel drive. But it does come standard with 6.7 inches of ground clearance -- more than last year's, which had 5.9 inches. And that will help when it snows.
*The Bottom Line
Cars are supposed to be fun, as well as be transportation. The Soul is both -- and more!
Eric Peters' weekly column, "Peters' Garage," can be found at creators.com.