2020 Kia Soul vs. 2020 Mazda Mazda 3: Compare Cars

2020 Kia Soul vs. 2020 Mazda Mazda 3: Compare Cars


2020 Kia Soul First Drive

If the compact hatchback was the precursor to the small crossover, then the Kia Soul and Mazda 3 took completely different approaches in influencing the crossover craze. The redesigned 2020 Kia Soul is less quirky than when the hamster box first launched for 2010, yet it still retains the tall boxy proportions that provide roomy passenger and cargo space. Redesigned for 2019, the Mazda 3 sedan and hatchback trade some of their fun-to-drive focus for more upscale conveniences and style than the outgoing model. 

Both vehicles pack more tech and emphasize safety, but the 2020 Mazda 3 boasts just a bit more sophistication to come out with a 6.7 out of 10 ranking from our editors, compared to a 6.3 for the 2020 Kia Soul. The numbers don’t necessarily indicate what is most important to you, however, so here’s a look at the similarities, differences, and essence of each. 

Style and performance

Once upon a time, there were many toaster-like hatchbacks, including the Honda Element, Nissan Cube, Scion xB, and Kia Soul. The Soul abides. Inspired by a sketch of a boar with a backpack, the best of the boxy bunch has worn its design well over the past decade into the third-generation model. Available in five versions, the square hatchback framed by tall boomerang taillights has been softened up front with narrower headlights and a more-streamlined lower mesh grille. The X-Line trim wears more body cladding on the wheel arches and bumpers, which is all the rage in the small crossover space, while the GT Line adds larger 18-inch alloy wheels, a bolder mesh pattern grille, and some black accents. 

2020 Kia Soul First Drive

2020 Kia Soul First Drive

2019 Mazda 3 – first drive – Los Angeles, January 2019

2019 Mazda 3 – first drive – Los Angeles, January 2019

The 2020 Mazda 3 takes a nod from small crossovers as well by offering all-wheel drive, which is not available for the front-drive Soul. With its rounded curves and soft, flowing lines, the Mazda 3 is much more European in style than both the Soul and the outgoing 3. The mouse-like curve to the rear of the hatch appears squeezed from the sides to accommodate the liftgate, so this is the rare case where we might prefer the style of the sedan ($22,420) over the hatchback ($24,620). Both have a long, sporty nose, and the long roofline that leads to the weird tail in the hatch looks sharp enough on the sedan to make it seem like a mid-size sedan more than a compact.

The Kia Soul has more personality inside and out. 

In its heart, the Mazda 3 handles and behaves like a European compact. The 186-horsepower 2.5-liter inline-4 is sluggish from a stop but much more spirited above 2,000 rpm. The delightful 6-speed manual only comes with the hatchback in Premium trim and front-wheel drive ($28,420), otherwise it’s a 6-speed automatic in front- or all-wheel drive (an extra $1,400). The Mazda 3 excels in corners, even with the torsion-beam rear axle instead of the sportier independent suspension. This makes it quieter and softer on the highway, as well as adding a bit more interior space in the rear seats and cargo area. It’s still fun to drive, and more practical.

The 2020 Kia Soul has more roll than a bakery, attributable to its crossover-like ride height. The benefit is much better outward vision, especially compared to the Mazda 3 hatchback. If you don’t care about pushing it, and prefer size and space but don’t want a cookie-cutter small crossover, the Soul is the way to go. The base LX ($18,535) is powered by a 147-hp 2.0-liter inline-4 with a 6-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission (an extra $1,500) in front-wheel drive only.  

For more power, there is the top GT-Line Turbo ($28,535) powered by a 201-hp 1.6-liter turbo-4 with a 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. We’re not convinced it’s worth $10,000 more than the base model. 

The Mazda 3 has the edge in performance and in fuel economy but just barely. Front-drive versions of the Mazda 3 sedan get 27 mpg city, 36 highway, 30 combined (hatchbacks lose 1 mpg on city and highway tests); the Soul with the CVT gets 27/33/30 mpg. 

Comfort, safety, and features

The 2020 Kia Soul is all-around roomier and better budgeted when comparing similar features. It’s a better buy, but the Mazda 3 has more urban sophistication. 

The Soul can easily fit four 6-foot adults, which no other compact sedan or hatch can do. Three kids can easily fit in the back as well. It has more than 24 cubic feet of cargo volume with the seats up, though most of it is vertical. Still, for an over-the-river-through-the-woods holiday jaunt, the Soul can double as Santa’s sleigh. 

2020 Kia Soul

2020 Kia Soul

2020 Kia Soul First Drive

The roomiest Mazda 3, the hatchback, has 20.1 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats, while the sedan trims that to just 13 cubic feet. It’s gift cards or bust in the sedan. The hatch is nearly 8 inches shorter than the sedan, so rear seat space can be tight. The Mazda 3 has much comfier base seats than the Soul’s more unforgiving pads. 

For 2020, the Mazda 3 includes more standard safety features than the Soul, which offsets the upcharge. Automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, active lane control, blind-spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alerts, and adaptive cruise control come standard except with the manual transmission. 

2019 Mazda 3 – first drive – Los Angeles, January 2019

2019 Mazda 3 – first drive – Los Angeles, January 2019

2019 Mazda 3, 2018 LA Auto Show

Both the Mazda 3 and Soul earn Top Safety Picks from the IIHS, which is the more rigorous of the U.S.’s two crash testing bodies and is funded by the insurance industry. 

The Soul gets extra safety recognition when equipped with LED projector lights, but the base model Soul LX does not come with standard active safety features, which is a misstep when compared to base compacts from the competitors. 

In the center of the cabin of the Mazda 3 is a 8.8-inch display screen operated by a control dial in the center console. Despite not coming with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, the controller is safer though more layered to use than the 7.0-inch touchscreen standard on the Soul; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on the Soul.

When it comes to the Mazda 3, we’d opt for the better-equipped hatchback with all-wheel drive ($26,020), which has keyless entry, synthetic leather seats and door trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, a rear roof spoiler, and 18-inch wheels; overall, it looks more refined inside. 

The best buy for the Soul is the EX model, which has 17-inch alloy wheels, 10-way power adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, remote start, dual USB ports, the larger 10.3-inch touchscreen, satellite radio, more active safety features, and upgraded cloth upholstery for $23,835.

The 2020 Kia Soul is a roomier value that acts like the ubiquitous small crossover but with much more personality. The 2020 Mazda 3 is smaller, sportier, and more refined. We prefer the 3 for those reasons, but many car shoppers would find better value in the charms of the Soul.




Comfort & Quality



Fuel Economy



Fuel Economy – Combined City and Highway



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