Sales of subcompact crossover SUVs have surged by 60% over the past few years, according to Edmunds' transaction data. Two of the more popular models powering this trend are the Kia Soul and the Jeep Renegade. The Soul and the Renegade have different strengths and weaknesses, though both offer a kind of charisma that's hard to find at this price point. Edmunds compares them to find out which small SUV is the better purchase.
With a carlike ride height and no available all-wheel-drive powertrain, the redesigned 2020 Kia Soul barely qualifies as an SUV. But beneath its bulldog face, the Soul offers better utility than most rivals. Its rear seat is roomy, and the cargo area is expansive. We're also impressed by its high-quality cabin materials. In short, there's little the Soul can't do except send power to all four wheels.
The 2020 Jeep Renegade also employs a boxy shape, but the similarities primarily stop there. That's because the Renegade is much more capable in low-traction situations. It offers optional all-wheel drive that comes with a raised ride height for better off-road clearance. The special Trailhawk version comes standard with all-wheel drive plus other enhancements to make it even more capable on trails. Other Renegade selling points include an easy-to-use infotainment system and a nicely trimmed interior.
ON AND OFF THE ROAD
As with many subcompacts, the Kia Soul's base engine isn't overly powerful. It's a 147-horsepower four-cylinder paired to a continuously variable transmission. Its 0-60 mph time of 8.8 seconds is respectable by class standards, however. The Soul's GT-Line Turbo trim might also tempt you with its greater performance, which comes courtesy of a turbocharged four-cylinder that produces more than 200 horsepower.
The Jeep Renegade also offers two engine choices. The standard 180-horsepower four-cylinder provides adequate acceleration (0-60 mph in 9.4 seconds), but its nine-speed automatic transmission can make ill-timed shifts in a variety of situations. An optional turbocharged 177-horsepower 1.3-liter engine enables quicker acceleration off the line and is more fuel-efficient.
Of the two SUVs, the Soul is more fun to drive on the street. It handles well and is comfortable thanks to a controlled yet supple ride. Most versions of the Jeep Renegade are similarly plush-riding, but the Trailhawk version, because of its knobby off-road tires, is a little bumpier. In terms of overall capability, however, the Jeep excels. The Trailhawk can tackle dirt roads and obstacles that will cripple other small crossovers.
Despite its small footprint, the Kia Soul is impressively roomy inside. Tall passengers will have no problem sitting behind long-legged drivers, and there's plenty of headroom all around. In the back is a similarly spacious cargo area. In comparison, the Renegade comes up a little short. The back seat is a little tight, though there's still plenty of headroom, and there's less cargo storage behind the rear seats.
While cabin design differs between these two tiny SUVs, materials and build quality for both are solid, with fewer hard plastic panels than you might think. The Kia and the Jeep also come with some of the best infotainment systems around thanks to large screens, crisp graphics and easy-to-use controls.
PRICING AND VALUE
While the Soul and the Renegade both offer a variety of technology and safety features, you'll ultimately pay more if you want them on the Jeep. Including the destination fee, the Kia Soul starts at $18,535 (with a manual transmission). For that you get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration and a variety of basic amenities. The next-level S ($21,335) adds the continuously variable transmission plus safety aids that include forward collision warning and a blind-spot monitor.
The Renegade is more expensive, with a starting price of $23,770. The base trim is also lightly equipped, though it's worth noting that smartphone integration and advanced safety equipment are optional. Even so, it costs $25,840 to get a Renegade equipped similarly to the Soul S. While it's fairly expensive for a small SUV, the Renegade has a greater breadth of feature content than most others, and the off-road prowess of the Trailhawk is unique.
Are you planning on keeping your SUV for a long time? Kia offers bumper-to-bumper coverage for five years or 60,000 miles and powertrain coverage for 10 years/100,000 miles. Jeep has basic coverage for three years/36,000 miles, while the powertrain warranty covers five years/60,000 miles.
EDMUNDS SAYS: Both the Kia Soul and the Jeep Renegade are excellent choices if you're in the market for a small and budget-friendly SUV. While the Renegade offers unmatched off-road performance, most shoppers will be able to more consistently enjoy the Kia Soul's superior on-road manners and roomier interior.
This story was provided to The Associated Press by the automotive website Edmunds. Cameron Rogers is a reviews editor at Edmunds. Twitter: @—crogers.
— Edmunds Review: 2020 Kia Soul https://edmu.in/35axLp1
— Edmunds Review: 2020 Jeep Renegade https://edmu.in/2AKlauY
— Edmunds: Best Small SUVs https://edmu.in/2ox4VL8