2020 Kia Soul vs. 2020 Mazda 3: Compare Cars

December 3, 2019
2020 Kia Soul First Drive

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 small crossovers that came after them. The redesigned 2020 Kia Soul is less quirky than when the hamsterbox 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 TCC Rating, 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

Not long ao 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 among small crossovers, 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

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

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 ($24,520). 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, which costs an extra $1,400. The Mazda 3 excels in corners, despite its budget-based rear 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 (CVT), which costs an extra $1,500, and 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

2020 Kia Soul

2020 Kia Soul First Drive

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 eight 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. 

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

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

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

2019 Mazda 3, 2018 LA Auto Show

Both the Mazda 3 and Soul earn Top Safety Picks from the insurance-industry funded IIHS. 

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 its 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. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto software is available on all but the base versions of the Mazda 3 and 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.

Summary

6.3
Expert Rating
The 2020 Kia Soul compact hatchback is proof of life among small, inexpensive cars.
6.7
Expert Rating
The Mazda 3 punches above its weight class with an upmarket interior, good handling, and optional all-wheel drive.

Styling

8.0
Expert Rating
The price of the 2020 Kia Soul isn’t the only thing that looks good.
Read More
7.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Mazda 3 is divine as a sedan, but a little awkward as a hatchback.
Read More

Performance

5.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Soul nails its performance mission: affordable and agreeable, without feeling cheap.
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7.0
Expert Rating
Sporty handling, balanced ride, peppy enough powertrains earn the 2020 Mazda 3 a 7 out of 10.
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Comfort & Quality

5.0
Expert Rating
Forget the number; the 2020 Kia Soul is spacious and comfortable—a relative rarity.
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7.0
Expert Rating
Premium appointments, a sports car-grade seating position, and comfortable seats set the 2020 Mazda 3 apart from the compact car norm.
Read More

Safety

6.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Kia Soul earned top safety crash test ratings but the base model could come better equipped.
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7.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Mazda 3 has done well in crash tests and this year all versions come loaded up with collision-avoidance tech.
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Features

8.0
Expert Rating
Base models skip the good stuff, but the 2020 Soul can be well-equipped without spending a fortune.
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7.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Mazda 3 offers good features, as it should for a price that is a tick or two above the compact-car norm.
Read More

Fuel Economy

6.0
Expert Rating
Good news, thrifty commuters: The 2020 Kia Soul is fuel-efficient in every configuration.
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5.0
Expert Rating
The 2020 Mazda 3 delivers just so-so fuel economy.
Read More

MSRP

from $17,490
from N/A

Invoice

from $17,053
from N/A

Fuel Economy - Combined City and Highway

27

Engine

Regular Unleaded I-4, 2.0 L

Drivetrain

Front Wheel Drive Read Full Specs
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