It is almost hard to conceive that the Kia Soul appeared on the scene in 2008 as a MY 2009 vehicle, one that had been styled by Mike Torpey* at the Kia studio in Irvine, California. Realize that this was a point in time when Kia still had to prove itself in the market, and the notion of coming up with something like the seriously rectilinear Soul and having it gain non-trivial traction in the market was undoubtedly hoped for but honestly unexpected.
The MY 2014 Soul was the last of that first generation, to be replaced by one that still had its overall shipping container cred, but lines that were arced than angled; the second generation Soul was wider and longer than the first model, but it was still unmistakably a Soul.
Meanwhile, the whole phenomenon of crossovers and evident disinterest in things that didn’t have at least a bit of the classic SUV to it (oddly: although the Soul seemed predicated on lines and right angles, something that is quintessentially Jeep Wrangler, the original SUV, there is nothing—not design, not capability—Wrangler to it) made sedans of all configurations monuments in dealer lots; the two vehicles that were most Soul-like in design, the Scion xB and the Nissan Cube both went away (as did the entire Scion brand).
Yet now there is Soul, generation three. Consider this: in 2018, the last full year of the gen-two model, there were 104,709 Souls sold. While that was down from the 115,712 units of 2017, that 2018 number made the Soul second highest-selling vehicle in the entire Kia lineup, being bested only by the Sorento midsize SUV. The Soul even outsold the Sportage compact crossover, and things like that just don’t happen nowadays. (And while it seems like a boxy car, it is actually classified as a crossover.)
Contextualizing the whole thing Orth Hedrick, executive director of Car Planning and Telematics, said, “The Soul has been a massive success since its introduction to the U.S. market, blowing its—now defunct—rivals out of the water and establishing itself as an automotive icon with its fun-loving character and eccentric style.”
While “icon” might be a bit early for the Soul, it certainly has more character than is the case with most subcompacts that are said to be created for the “urban” environment, probably because there is a tendency for the designs of those vehicles to be modified so as to have a greater appeal to the suburban market, to be something for a greater number of people than those that might identify themselves as “urban.” But the Soul, even now, has stuck with its eccentric approach, and it is broadening its offerings primarily predicated on packages that make visual adjustments to the design of the vehicle.
The design, incidentally, like its two predecessors, came out of the Kia studio in Irvine, which is under the direction of Tom Kearns.
For example, consider two variants of the 2020 Soul, the GT-Line and the X-Line. As their names imply, the former is sportier and the latter rugged. For example, on the GT-Line there are chrome-tipped centered dual exhausts as a cue; the X-Line has over-fenders to make it look more dirt-capable. The front fascia has a lighting and grille setup on the GT-Line that appears more sleek than the arrangement on the X-Line, which is chunkier. The X-Line has large headlights low and the DRLs high; the GT-Line has sleeker lighting in the lower portion of its fascia. Yet both are unmistakably the same Soul in essence.
One design cue that seems almost ironic in description is the blacked-out C-pillar, which is said to be designed to resemble “airplane wings.” Arguably the only airplane that the Soul brings to mind is what the Ford Tri-Motor might look like were it updated for the 21st century yet maintaining its fundamentally boxy presence.
Speaking of structure, the new Soul has a greater use of advanced high-strength steels, including hot-stamped, and there is the use of 367 feet of structural adhesives used (realize that this is a vehicle that is 165.2 inches long, 70.9 inches wide and 63 inches high, so that’s a nontrivial amount of structural adhesive for a vehicle of this package). Overall, the vehicle has a 35 percent stiffer chassis than its predecessor.
The powertrain arrangements are two**. A 147-hp, 2.0-liter, all-aluminum four with multipoint injection coupled to what they’re calling an “intelligent variable transmission” (according to Paul Fisher, Long Range Strategy & Product Planning Manager, the transmission, engineered for fuel economy (it is an estimated 27/33/30 mpg, city/highway/combined), has “artificial, programmed shifts” so that it “feels” like a step-gear transmission) is being used for the X-Line and the GT-Line. . .as well as the LX, S, EX, and EX Design Collection trims.
Then there is the GT-Line 1.6T, which features a 1.6-liter, twin-scroll turbo that produces 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque; it is mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Performance notwithstanding, even this vehicle gets estimated fuel economy numbers of 27/32/29 mpg.
Across the board the front suspension for the Soul is MacPherson struts with a multi-functional body vale; the rear suspension is a coupled torsion beam axle.
As the GT-Line 1.6T has more performance than the others, which have 11.0/10.3-inch front/rear brake discs, it has 12.0/11.2-inch discs.
If we roll back to that original Soul, Mike Torpey’s theme was “a boar with a backpack.” Yes, that’s as in the tusked wild pig. (On the subject of wildlife, it should be noted that the 2020 Soul has Kia’s “tiger-nose grille,” although it is somewhat more subtle on this vehicle than some of the others.) The total interior volume of the Soul is 120.9 ft3 and with the rear seats folded, the maximum cargo volume is 62.1 ft3, which is certainly a sizable backpack.
*10 years ago we designated Torpey as one of the 10 hottest young designers in the industry: adandp.media/articles/the-10-hottest-designers-why-the-auto-industry-will-come-back-strong
**There is also a six-speed transmission available for the entry-level LX model, but odds are the take rate will be such that the “two” stands in at least in the context of what the vehicle build is likely to be.