Three generations and counting. The 2020 Kia Soul launches this vehicle’s third generation. Ever since its 2009 debut, it has captured the attention and hearts of first-time car buyers, who are attracted to its boxy layout, roomy interior, and affordable pricing.

The all-new Soul is slightly larger than the most recent model, a compact hatchback with good style that’s grown on us. Elements from the company’s corporate grille are present, but they’re not as apparent as you’d see on the Optima sedan or the Sorento crossover.

The exterior design is well executed as is the interior. In GT guise, the Soul has oversized boomerang taillights that reach toward the top. That it not only has survived, but thrived in the segment is a testament to Kia.

Comfortable, but to a point. If you want a roomy interior, the Kia Soul delivers. Few models of its size can hold five people. The Soul does so, although we think four is ideal.

We like the numerous cubbies and shelves available as well as the comfortable seats. What’s missing or not widely available are such features as power-adjustable front seats. Its fit and finish is decent, while the materials present match what you’d expect for this model.

2020 Kia Soul

Two engine choices. The Kia Soul has never been a road maven except, perhaps, under the loving care of the tuner set. Most models come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 147 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque. Kia pairs the base model with a six-speed manual gearbox, while most other models have a continuously variable transmission (CVT). That CVT is especially suited around town as it's simply more comfortable.

A turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine with 201 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque is also available. It shines best on the highway, but it seems unusually pokey around town. One issue is the available seven-speed dual-clutch transmission isn’t as refined as we like. It sometimes hesitates and that’s never a good feeling. So, stick with the base engine and you’ll probably be happiest with the Soul.

Improved fuel economy. Fuel economy is up this year following the redesign. With the 2.0-liter engine and CVT, the Soul earn an EPA-estimated 27 miles per gallon city, 33 mpg highway, and 30 combined, compared to the outgoing model's 27/33/30 mpg (city/highway/combined). The same can be said for the 1.6-liter engine and automatic transmission, which achieves 27/32/29 mpg this year compared to the 26/31/28 mpg of the outgoing model.

It's also in line with what many compact cars achieve. This is laudable, as the Soul delivers the utility of the first group and the efficiency of the second group. It also isn’t weighted down by optional all-wheel drive, making the Soul an ideal alternative to the Nissan Kicks or Toyota C-HR.

Final thoughts. The 2020 Kia Soul includes such driver-assist features as forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, and a driver attention warning beginning on the second-in-line S trim. This is where we suggest you begin your search.

The X-Line may be the most intriguing trim as it offers pizzazz in the form of available two-tone paint, an exclusive wheel design, and black exterior body trim. As equipped, this model costs less than $23,000.

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