2020 Kia Soul GT-Line: The Spunky SUV With An Identity Crisis

What is the Kia Soul? You’ll get different answers depending on who you ask and where you look. Kia calls it a subcompact SUV, the EPA classifies it as a wagon, and the majority of consumers probably look at the vehicle as an oversized hatchback. If you ask me, I think it’s a square hatchback. So, take that for what it’s worth.

Kia Soul GT-Line

What makes the task of classifying how the funky Soul fits into this crazy world is the GT-Line. It’s the sportiest trim in the lineup, featuring a bespoke powertrain that’s unique only to that trim. It also follows the tried-and-true recipe of having a more aggressive body kit and unique interior elements to display just how sporty it is. For Kia, who practically took the old Soul and improved it in every way possible with the all-new generation, the GT-Line is supposed to mend the largest issue with the box – being a bore to drive.

This was my second experience with the new Soul. The first time around, I sampled the quasi-rugged X-Line and I was not impressed. That trim felt confused, cheap, and unworthy of the hype surrounding the car. I was not a fan. But the Soul’s lineup is comprised of six total trims and writing the entire vehicle off because of one not-so-great trim would be extreme. So, when Kia showed up at the apartment with the keys to a loaded GT-Line with a price tag of $29,055, I was intrigued.

It wasn’t love at first sight, nor was it a love that evolved over time. But the GT-Line did help me see what the best trim in the Soul’s lineup is. Spoiler alert, it’s not the GT-Line nor is it the X-Line. Here are a few things that we enjoyed with the Soul GT-Line and a few that we didn’t.

Kia Soul GT-Line

What We Love

Fashionable Exterior Design

One would think that Kia would’ve hidden the Soul’s boxy design as much as possible to give the vehicle a sporty look, but that’s far from the case. Kia embraced the wonkiness of the blueprint with unique front and rear fascias, special fog lights, red side sills, a center exhaust outlet, and special 18-inch wheels. The trim also does away with the black body cladding that you’ll find on the majority of other trims for a more streamlined design.

Kia Soul GT-Line

I really love the design. I think the GT-Line is the sharpest looking Soul of the bunch. The changes certainly bring out the best qualities of the Soul while keeping true to its boxy design. Seeing the Soul act like it’s sporty instead featuring a fake rugged look is more agreeable. The center exhaust outlets are a nice touch, too, as they’re rarely seen in today’s vehicles. As a passerby noted, the GT-line looks sharp.

Tech For Days

The GT-Line is the most expensive offering trim in the Soul lineup. That means it’s the most well-equipped trim available. A massive 10.25-inch screen is standard and utilizes Kia’s excellent UVO infotainment system. The latest in safety features are also on hand, as are a wireless phone charger, a bumping Harman Kardon audio system, and a head-up display. The latter is surprising to see at the vehicle’s price point. While some riders thought it looked cheap, it’s a nice feature to have and it even folds away when you don’t need it. Tech was one of my major complaints with the X-Line, but it’s one of the best attributes of the GT-Line.

Kia Soul GT-Line

Still Lighthearted 

The hamsters are gone, but the new Soul still has a sense of playfulness. Our tester was equipped with speaker lights and ambiance themes that turn the cabin into a makeshift nightclub. The themes have funny names, too, like “Romance,” “Café,” “Midnight City,” and “Party Time.” Based on what kind of lighting you choose, trim pieces surrounding the speakers, the space-like trim pieces surrounding the door handles, and the footwell illuminate the cabin. It’s hilarious, fun, and kind of childish.

With the stay-at-home order active in quite a few states, the GT-Line’s cabin is a great way to blow off some steam if you get stir crazy at home.

The rest of the cabin is just as quirky. There are plenty of plastics everywhere, but they’re designed nicely, which takes your mind off of them. The red design elements are a nice touch and everyone knows that red is the sportiest of colors.

Kia Soul GT-Line

Spacious, Comfortable Cabin 

The main reason why Kia can call the Soul a subcompact SUV is because of how much space it offers passengers on the inside. Every passenger will find a generous amount of interior space in one of the Soul’s seats, especially in the back. Compared to last year, Kia actually cut space out of the rear seats, but you’ll be hard-pressed to notice, because it feels as spacious as ever.

Cargo space in the Soul is near compact SUV levels, as the vehicle can hold 24.2 cubic feet of cargo behind the rear seats and a total of 62 cubic feet of cargo in total. That’s more than enough for a run to Costco. And because of the Soul’s design, you don’t have to bend too far down to put goodies into the trunk or remove them.

What Needs Improvement

Herky-Jerky Powertrain

The turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission found in the Soul GT-Line are found in a few of Kia and Hyundai’s vehicles. The engine is a thrill-seeking squirrel looking for a nut. It’s torquey, has plenty of grunt, and feels like a little powerhouse of an engine. There is a noticeable amount of lag off the line, which is certainly odd, as lag has all but disappeared from modern cars, and the engine buzzes more than a bumblebee. But the motor has a characterful feel to it that’s enjoyable

Kia Soul GT-Line

The issue with the powertrain is the transmission. It’s slow to provide shifts, jerks the vehicle at low speeds, and struggles to provide a smooth ride. Shifts are followed by a surge in power, too. If there’s one good thing to say about the gearbox, it’s that it holds gears for a long time, even when not in manual mode. But that’s the only good thing about it. Kia needs to go back to the engineering table with the transmission.

Infuriating Ride Quality

To go along with the performance-oriented engine and design, the GT-Line comes with a firmer suspension. It’s strange, because the GT-Line has a rough ride that doesn’t really translate over to athletic handling around corners. The subcompact vehicle still heaves around corners. Sure, the GT-Line is more enjoyable to drive than other options in the subcompact SUV segment, but that’s not saying much. Having a firm ride in the sporty GT-Line would be worth the compromise, if it was better around corners. But it’s not, leaving you with the worst of both ends.

Kia Soul GT-Line

Aggressive Lane-Keep Assist

Modern safety features differ from automaker to automaker greatly. That’s why some cars have overly aggressive systems and others are just slightly annoying. The lane-keep assist system in the Soul GT-Line falls in the first category. The sucker will actually jerk the wheel out of your hands to keep you from drifting out of a lane. It’s far too aggressive and perhaps borderline unsafe.

Kia Soul GT-Line

Conclusion

The Soul GT-Line feels like it wants to be a hot hatchback, which is why I’m leaning toward calling the Soul a hatch and not an SUV. Unfortunately, the GT-Line’s powertrain and harsh ride are two major shortcomings that make it an easy pass. Instead, driving the GT-line is more of a way to confirm that you want one of the lower trims with the CVT and the base engine. You will, though, want the same tech as the GT-Line. That leaves you with one clear option, the EX trim.

For all of the GT-Line weaknesses, it reveals what the Soul does really well. It’s a roomy, tech-forward, and affordable alternative to boring transportation for those seeking something a little fun. It may seem odd, recommending another trim than the two I’ve reviewed for this outlet, but it’s kind of like finding what kind of beer you like. Rarely will you find that perfect type with your first swig – sometimes, like in the case with the Soul – it takes a few tries.  

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