- Good: Interior packaging, elevated seating position (if you’re into that), unique styling.
- Bad: Transmission is not smooth, bumpy suspension, diminished fuel economy.
- DM Verdict: Skip the turbo.
For the excellently low price of $18,610, you can get a stylish front-wheel-drive vehicle that has excellent cargo and people room, modern safety and amenities, and gets over 30 mpg on the highway. For just a little bit more, you can get an automatic transmission, remote keyless entry, and even better fuel economy? Sounds pretty great, right? That’s the greatness of the 2020 Kia Soul. How can you mess this up, you ask? Pay $10,000 over base price for a turbocharged engine that the front tires can’t handle and a transmission that was programmed by the pilgrims.
The 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo is an exercise in why not without excellent execution. For the same reason why Dodge hasn’t put a Hellcat motor in a Grand Caravan (wait, why hasn’t Dodge put a Hellcat motor in a Grand Caravan?), the Soul’s purpose is diminished by adding a high-horsepower engine. With the turbo, you pay more to get worse fuel economy, a less-refined driving experience, and will likely have a less reliable engine down the road (this is based on nothing more than considering the added complexity of a turbo).
So what exactly are you gaining with these five letters? You get a 1.6-liter turbocharged inline-four engine making 201 horsepower with a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission (DCT). This engine is actually quite good; Kia and Hyundai use it in other applications, such as the Elantra Sport, and it’s playful and enjoyable. But plucky little cars like the Elantra lend themselves to extra power. A box on wheels like the Soul just feels awkward trying to hustle around like an athlete.
The DCT doesn’t help matters. Try to drive the Soul Turbo slowly (or heaven forbid, in stop-and-go traffic), and the car lurches from a stop, runs dramatically through first gear, and then starts shifting like a normal automatic. Go find a 15-year-old and try to teach him to drive an old manual car if you’d like to recreate the experience. Try to drive the Soul fast, and the transmission does a little better, but shifts are only as quick as a well-tuned conventional automatic. It doesn’t have to be this way: The Mini Cooper S Clubman has a 7-speed DCT, and it is butter smooth in all situations.
Okay, okay, so it sounds like we hate the Soul, right? Not at all, the Soul is actually a wonderful subcompact crossover given its price, efficiency, and packaging. It’s because we like it that we’re so frustrated by the Turbo’s powertrain. Aside from the driving experience, the Soul has a well designed interior with modern amenities including heated seats and steering wheel, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay support, wireless charging, adaptive cruise control with lane-keeping assist, and a good sound system. On top of that, it can comfortably seat four adults with room for cargo in the back.
If you want an affordable and well-rounded daily driver, the 2020 Kia Soul is seriously worth your consideration, new or used. But if you want a sporty car, you have many other better options. If you can stretch your budget, you could even get into a Kia Stinger for not much more than a fully-loaded Soul, and they’re likely easier to find wasting away on dealer lots. But if you want a Soul, save your money and skip the Turbo.