As far as I’m concerned, it’s been the quirky car king since it hit the scene a decade ago and quickly found a broad customer base, spanning high school seniors to senior citizens. But now that the Beetle is out of production, its coronation is complete. The subcompact utility vehicle is very much in the spirit of the People’s Car, combining affordability and practicality with love it or hate it styling, and I've honestly never met an owner who didn't love their Soul.
Conveniently, there’s an all-new third-generation Soul for 2020 to help it compete with the onslaught of pretenders that have popped up in recent years, like the Jeep Renegade and Toyota C-HR, but it continues to stand out in the crowd. The boxy body is still there, now with slimmer headlights that add a hint of menace to the very cute ute by giving it the look of First Order stormtrooper from the Star Wars universe -- or at least the car one might drive to work in.
The Soul has grown a little on the outside, but the cabin is pretty much the same size as before, which is perfect. Four adults fit well, with a high seating position, rear-seat comfort above what anyone should expect in something this small and a healthy 24.2-cubic-foot cargo space thanks to its squareback shape.
The interior material quality is excellent for a vehicle with a starting price of $18,535 and measures up in the top of the line and fully loaded $28,535 GT-Line 1.6 Turbo that I tested at length. The design filled with plenty of panache throughout, like the way the inserts around the door-release latches blend into air vents with integrated tweeter speakers.
The Turbo is the driver’s choice of the lineup and gets an upgrade from the naturally-aspirated 147 hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine in the other models to a turbocharged 201 hp 1.6-liter with the same number of pistons. A 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is standard and the only gearbox available with the more powerful motor, which is rated at 29 mpg combined, or just 1 mpg less than most of the other models.
It also has wide, low-profile tires and a slightly stiffer suspension that’s too soft to turn it into a true sports car, but that’s not really what the Turbo is. Think of it as more of baby grand touring machine, blending power and comfort in a parking space-friendly package.
The transmission lazily engages when you slowly pull away from a stop, but there’s something endearing and almost human about it. Switching it to Sport mode makes it snappier, but it’s still not the sharpest tool in the box. Nevertheless, the Turbo is up for a spirited drive when the mood strikes you and has a full suite of driver aids that includes adaptive cruise control for when it doesn’t.
The Turbo features a 10.25-inch touchscreen display, wireless smartphone charging pad and multicolor ambient lighting system that can be set to pulse and change hues in a variety of patterns, along with the music coming out of an absolutely crystal-clear Harmon-Kardon audio system, because there aren’t enough driver distractions these days. A head-up display that pops up behind the steering wheel aims to help counteract them by projecting a speedometer and other information closer to the driver's line of sight.
If the Turbo seems like it's got a bit too much going on for an economy car, most of the Soul’s charms are available in the cheapest trim levels. However, you’ll have to spend at least $21,335 for one with an automatic transmission, collision avoidance system and lane-keeping assist. If you want the cheapest version, you’ll have to settle for a rental spec version with a six-speed manual transmission, air conditioning, electric windows and 7-inch screen for the Apple CarPlay and Android Auto-equipped infotainment system, which really isn’t settling at all.
2020 Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo
Base price: $28,535
Type: 5-passenger, 4-door, front-wheel-drive SUV
Engine: 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder
Power: 201 hp, 195 lb-ft
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
MPG: 27 city/32 hwy