2020 Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo. Metro News Service photo

Kia Soul matures with all-new third generation looks, performance

Hamster not included

A hamster is a great pet when you’re young. They’re cute and low maintenance. But the appeal of a hamster doesn’t live much past your youth – or does it? Where am I going with this? Well, you see, my testers this week used to have hamsters as spokesmodels. C’mon, you remember when the Kia Soul first launched in 2008. They had parting hamsters to introduce this brand-new subcompact vehicle. It was a brilliant and effective marketing campaign.

It still resonates today with the Soul, though now, in the 2020 model year, Kia’s subcompact crossover has grown up and enters into its third generation, leaving the hamsters behind.

This week I drove two different trims of the Soul, X-Line and GT-Line, both with updated looks. For this new generation of the Soul it’s hard to call it a more mature car. It still has a youthful, distinctive appearance. It is less cutesy than the original version with the hamsters, but it still has plenty of design personality, and that’s a very good thing.

The squinty LED headlights give the front end a completely new look. On profile it still holds true to the boxy design the Soul is known for. This is because Kia is not trying to run from the notion that this is more of a crossover than a car, since small crossovers are all the rage anyway.

The rear taillights are the most stunning change for the Soul. The long, L-shaped taillights start near the roofline, span more than halfway down and cross over the hatch door. Talk about distinctive styling. There’s nothing else on the road that looks the Kia Soul.

To be clear, the Soul has never been a sporty vehicle. It’s meant to be a great starter vehicle for someone and even with a new powertrain, that holds true. The standard engine is a pedestrian 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with a mere 147 horsepower. The X-Line I drove had this engine; mated with a continuously variable transmission, it is adequate at best. It lacks personality in all regards. However, the GT-Line trim had a spunky, fun, 1.6-liter turbocharged engine which bumped the horsepower to 201. This certainly is the Soul to consider if you enjoy small, squatty vehicles with a little bit of punch and decent handling.

A dual-clutch automatic 7-speed transmission is far superior to the CVT in the X-Line. In general, were it not for the CVT transmission, the new Soul would be outstanding. While the transmission may be good for fuel economy, it negatively affects the overall performance.

The Soul, like its competitor the Honda Fit, has a surprisingly spacious interior. That boxy styling works to benefit passengers as there is ample headroom and legroom, as well as cargo room.

A large touchscreen is part of a redesigned center stack and more modern-feeling cockpit. I already liked Kia’s UVO infotainment system, but now on the large 10.25-inch touchscreen it feels impressive and will certainly resonate with the tech-driven youthful driver.

The GT-Line trim had leather seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel to give it a quality interior. Even the more basic X-Line trim with cloth seats felt high quality.

There’s little difference in fuel economy between the spunky turbocharged GT-Line and the poky X-line as there is only a one MPG difference between the two. The GT-Line has an EPA rating of 27 mpg/city and 32 mpg/highway while the X-Line has 27 mpg/city and 33 mpg/highway.

Being faster and more enjoyable does come at a cost, as you would imagine. The GT-Line has a much bigger price tag with an MSRP of $29,055. The more basic X-Line trim has an MSRP of $22,615. The basic trim LX starts below $18,000, making the Soul still very affordable, as it should be.

You could probably poll the average consumer and ask about car commercials and marketing campaigns and the Kia Hamsters will probably be in the top 10. I would argue that because of those hamsters it helped properly launch the always-quality Kia Soul and put it on the map.

Now in its third generation, it’s time for the Soul to stand on its own merit. Certainly, this all-new third generation goes a long way to doing that; no hamsters are needed.

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