Behind the Wheel

2020 Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo Review: Redesign (mostly) hits with tech, misses with driveability

The Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo is the top model offering from Kia.

Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Riddle me this. When is a concrete block not a concrete block? The answer is simple. When you equip it with a fun and funky interior, an underpowered and unresponsive engine, and a price tag as high as a well-equipped SUV. Then, it's called a 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo.

The Kia Soul was redesigned for the 2020 model year. It's shapelier and more modern than it was before. Those are all positives. The Soul still retains much of its identity that customers have come to know and expect. It breaks with conformity in a world of increasingly similar design attributes, something that Kia has also done with the 2020 Telluride with much success.

2020 Kia Soul GT-Line TurboKia has kept the Soul's signature boxy look as part of this redesign.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Still, there's no escaping its powertrain and handling.

In its highest GT-Line Turbo grade, the front-wheel drive Kia Soul is powered by a standard turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that is paired with a seven-speed dual clutch transmission. It delivers 201 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque … eventually.

It is with excitement-quenching trepidation that the Soul waits on the line for its turbo to kick in and engine to start pumping once the accelerator has been sent toward the floor. Doing the Soul's version of peeling out is frustrating.

2020 Kia Soul GT-Line TurboThe Soul's turbo engine is hesitant beast.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The exercise in patience gets on one's nerves rather quickly. Once the turbo kicks in and the engine starts going, the Soul is great, until about 45 mph when it completely loses its will to try to excite.

Let's face it though, the turbo wasn't great when it was in the last-gen model either. It's a shame they carried it over into the new model.

The handling the 2020 Soul is only marginally better for the 2020 model year versus the last-generation model. Piloting the car brings to mind words like "numb" and "disconnected". The experience behind the wheel is rather soulless.

Now, if driving isn't your thing, you'll probably be perfectly satisfied with the Soul as an around-town grocery getting. The Soul's upright seating is like sitting in a chair at the dinner table – lots of visibility but a little hard after more than an hour.

2020 Kia Soul GT-Line TurboThe car features a D-shaped steering wheel and red accents throughout the cabin.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The car's cargo space is good for a vehicle its size and the shelf in the rear increases the space's functionality but can be a bit of a pain to maneuver when you're loading in the goods from your latest Costco run.

Kia has equipped the Soul with the modern technology consumers are craving these days from Apple CarPlay and Android Auto to Bluetooth and tweeter speakers. Wireless device charging, a 10.25-inch HD color touch screen, 8-inch head-up display, and 640-watt Harman Kardon audio system are available. The car's infotainment system is responsive and easy to navigate. The large 10.25-inch screen is a good size to display multiple functions at the same time without feeling crowded or too big.

2020 Kia Soul GT-Line TurboThe Soul GT-Line Turbo's interior features red stitching and premium accents.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

The Soul GT-Line Turbo comes with mood lighting. Selectable moods include Hey!Yo!, Party Time, Traveling, Romance, Midnight City, and Café. The moods pair with the music being played in the car, pulsing LED lights throughout the cabin in rhythm. No one will miss this feature if it is suddenly discontinued.

2020 Kia Soul GT-Line TurboSpecialized LED lighting flashes in time with the rhythm of the sound system.Photo courtesy of Kia Motors

Kia's safety and driver assistance technology continues to be one of the best in the business. It's effective without being intrusive. The Soul is available with a good list of the tech most buyers are seeking including lane keeping assist, rear cross traffic collision warning, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, and high beam assist.

Where the Soul GT-Line Turbo really loses the buyer is on $27,490 price tag. It's hard to climb into it and think that you're getting a lot of bang for your buck. The compact car and SUV market has reached such a fever pitch that there's just better options out there worth considering, even within the Kia family.

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The Hyundai Palisade got a mild refresh for 2023.

Hyundai

Earlier this year, Hyundai announced changes to the Palisade for 2023. The list includes a new front fascia, an updated grille with new headlights and daytime running lights, a 12-inch touchscreen with navigation, and more. A new XRT trim joined the lineup as well, bringing brawny off-road styling and dar exterior trim. Today, Hyundai announced pricing for the SUV, which starts at a little more than $32,000.

2023 Hyundai PalisadeA new XRT trim adds rugged styling. Hyundai

The Palisade's powertrain carries over from 2022, which includes a 3.8-liter V6 that makes 291 horsepower and 262 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either front- or all-wheel drive. Inside, the SUV got several new and updated technology features, including a more powerful wireless device charging pad, an updated digital key system, and a larger infotainment display.

As Hyundai's flagship SUV, the Palisade edges on luxury territory, with plush leather upholstery and a serene cabin that offers excellent noise cancellation and comfort. Captain's chairs and seven-passenger seating are available, but a second-row bench comes standard and brings eight-passenger capacity to the SUV.

Muscular SUVs are more popular than ever before, so Hyundai gave the posh Palisade an outdoorsy treatment with its XRT trim. The new Palisade XRT builds on the SEL trim with 20-inch wheels, a more rugged bumper and lower body cladding, a sunroof, and leatherette upholstery. To be clear, XRT is an appearance package that does not improve off-road capability to a large degree.

2023 Hyundai PalisadeTop trims border on the quality and design of some luxury brands. Hyundai

Standard safety equipment is generous, and includes forward collision warnings with avoidance, lane keep assist, lane following assist, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, driver attention warnings, high beam assist, and adaptive cruise control.

Pricing for the base Palisade SE starts at $36,245, which includes a $1,295 destination charge. The top Calligraphy AWD model starts at $52,095 after destination. All-wheel drive is available for all trims as an added-cost option.

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The N Line forms a midpoint between the standard Kona and the Kona N.

Hyundai

Hyundai has a lot going on, with new EVs hitting the market, but the brand has been on a surprising run with performance models lately. The Veloster N is an excellent, rowdy hot hatch, and the brand followed that act with the Kona N and Elantra N. Hyundai’s Kona N takes the hot hatch formula to the next level with an incredible powertrain and useful space, but it’s too much for many people. The mid-point is Hyundai’s N Line, which borrows styling cues from the hottest N variants but lacks the all-out grunt of those vehicles.

2022 Hyundai Kona N LineThe N Line gets aggressive styling cues from its sportier N counterpart. Hyundai

The styling works for the Kona N Line, as it does with the Kona N, but the powertrains couldn’t be more different. Where the Kona N gets a 286-horsepower four-cylinder, the N Line comes with a milder turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 195 horsepower and 195 pound-feet of torque. It’s paired with a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, which adds a layer of engagement not found in the continuously variable transmission that standard Kona models get.

That modest output lends the Kona N Line modest performance, with more noise generated than expected. In motion, the powertrain feels decently responsive, but it lacks the razor sharp nerves of steel that the Kona N brings. Shifting into sport mode changes the gauge cluster to a bright red and hastens the vehicle's responses, but again, it's important to temper expectations for a milder experience here.

2022 Hyundai Kona N LineThe digital gauge cluster responds to drive mode changes. Hyundai

Styling is more aggressive than the standard SUV, with 18-inch wheels and mean-looking exhaust tips. The Kona’s front-end design is still busy and will still be polarizing, but the dark trim and sporty aero bodywork help the situation. The N Line’s all-black interior gets red stitching and accents that help break up the otherwise monotonous color scheme. The seats are supportive and comfortable, but could be deeper for better body-holding during spirited driving sessions. There’s plenty of room up front and a surprising amount of space in back, aided by the Kona’s large-ish rear door openings. Parents will find an easy time loading kids, and older children can ride in relative luxury with plenty of legroom.

A 10.25-inch digital gauge cluster is standard, which offers configurable colors and legible information. It’s paired with a standard 8-inch touchscreen, but a 102.5-inch screen with navigation is available. Hyundai’s excellent infotainment software runs flawlessly on both units, and offers an intuitive and straightforward way to interact with the vehicle. A Harman Kardon eight-speaker stereo also comes standard.

2022 Hyundai Kona N LineRed accents liven what is otherwise a dark, monotone interior.Hyundai

The Kona N Line, while not as hot as the Kona N, offers a reasonable styling upgrade for people wanting a small SUV with sporty looks. Enthusiasts should look at the full-on N model for thrills, though, because the N Line should be viewed as more of an appearance package than a performance model.

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