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Car Reviews The all-new 2020 Kia Soul is a young-looking car for pragmatic older drivers

The Kia Soul looks sporty and stands out in the car market.

The Globe and Mail

The commercial for the all-new 2020 Kia Soul has millennials dancing into the wee hours, millennials doing graffiti, millennials lighting stuff on fire. You know, usual kid stuff.

In reality, pyromaniac art-punks are not the main demographic for the Kia Soul. As with all car commercials, this is fantasy. The people who buy this boxy hatchback are predominantly in their 50s and 60s. In fact, they’re slightly older on average than Kia’s usual demographic.

“It's psychology, right?” says Michael Kopke, director of marketing for Kia Canada. “How much do you like being reminded how old you are? [The commercial] is tapping into aspiration, how you want to see yourself.”

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For the Kia Soul, how you see it is the whole story.

The Soul flirted with being a sporty, engaging compact car. Kia tried selling it with a manual transmission, but hardly anyone bought it. Kia tried selling the Soul with a torque-rich 1.6-litre turbocharged engine and a snappy dual-clutch automatic gearbox, but not many people went for those options either.

For the all-new 2020 model, the third-generation of the Soul, any actual sportiness is gone, replaced with frugal pragmatism. The new 2.0-litre engine – the only engine on offer – is less powerful than the 2.0-litre mill it replaces, having a modest 147 horsepower and 132 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to an automatic continuously variable transmission (CVT). The combination is uninspiring but workable.

To its credit, Kia’s design department did an excellent job making the Soul look sporty. It stands out in an increasingly homogeneous car market. The slim headlights give the car a purposeful scowl, similar to Drake courtside at a Raptors game. The machined 18-inch wheels are pretty. The taillights that wrap around the rear trunk look expensive and the optional GT-Line bodykit exudes sportiness, even if the engine doesn’t.

Even the interior looks good, more upmarket than before. There are fun gimmicks like mood lighting that pulses with the beat of whatever’s playing on the stereo.

The only truly cringeworthy bit is the inane moods for the interior ambient lighting, such as Hey! Yo!, Party Time, Cafe and Romance.

Cue the “How do you do, fellow kids?” meme.

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Despite a modest price increase, the Soul is still competitively priced at $21,195. It lacks all-wheel drive, but it compensates by packing in more standard features – including heated front seats and keyless entry – than you’d find in many compact SUVs.

Most of the boxy cars from the 2000s are long-gone: the Nissan Cube, the Honda Element, and the entire Scion brand. Only the Soul is still here. In its neon-green colour, it’s as close as you get to Lil’ Bow Wow’s car from The Fast and The Furious: Tokyo Drift. (What, you don’t remember it?)

The reason the Soul has out lasted all of its boxy brethren is because Kia hit on a winning formula. It’s taller than a typical hatchback, more like an SUV, which makes it easy to get into and out of. The square shape maximizes interior space. Clever marketing – first with dancing hamsters, and now with dancing millennials – has kept it youthful. Kia knows its customers. They didn’t want a fun car; they wanted a fun-looking car, and the new Soul is exactly that.

Tech Specs

  • Base Price: $21,195
  • Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder
  • Transmissions: Continuously variable automatic
  • Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.6 city, 7.1 hwy
  • Drive: Front-wheel drive
  • Alternatives: Volkswagen Golf, Nissan Qashqai, Mazda CX-3, Hyundai Kona, Honda Civic Hatchback, Honda HR-V, Toyota Corolla hatchback, Toyota C-HR, Ford EcoSport, Chevrolet Trax, Jeep Compass or Renegade

Looks

No major changes here. It’s still instantly recognizably as Kia Soul, but more substantial, at least once you start ticking a few options. You will want to upgrade from the dinky 16-inch steel wheels.

Interior

As ever, the Soul is spacious for a compact car. The main screen is a seven-inch unit, with a new 10-inch screen as an option. The infotainment system isn’t especially intuitive.

Performance

Although the new 2.0-litre has less power than the older one, it’s more frugal. At highway speeds, there’s a little more wind and tire noise than you’d like.

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Technology

The EX model features automatic emergency braking.

Matt Bubbers/The Globe and Mail

New driver assistance tech is available – including rear cross traffic alert and collision avoidance, lane keeping assist and automatic emergency braking – but the base model is devoid of them. Kia makes you step up to the $22,895 EX model to get those safety features.

Cargo

The extra space makes for a wider and deeper cargo area.

The Soul is slightly longer than before, with most of the extra space going to making a wider, deeper cargo area. With 663-litres behind the second row, there’s more space than in a Nissan Qashqai or VW Golf.

The verdict: 6.5/10

Youthful aspiration meets real-world pragmatism, fun dies, leaves practical hatchback in its wake

You’ll like this car if …

You want to feel young, but you have a bad back.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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