I'm digging these funky boxes. They have scads of room inside for all sizes of humans, with great flexibility for cargo. Most can be had for a fairly low price, and they have an anti-style sort of style that was once enjoyed by pickup trucks forty years ago. The Soul, though, is more traditional inside than the Nissan Cube, which is all about the party in the cab.
Our; Soul is crammed with enough extra features to ring in at $4000 above the base price of $13,950, so it is hardly a penalty box: electric windows and side mirrors, steering wheel-mounted cruise control and radio buttons, Bluetooth, voice-activation, auxiliary iPod and USB port, rear defrost, rear wiper, and so on. There's a nesty niche for your pda under the row of plug-in ports. Big rotary temp control knobs are easy to read and use, and large rectangular (sort of) radio buttons zigzag down either side of the screen and are also easy to use without having to stare at them.
Red and black trimmed doors are cheerful and front seats pretty comfy, but rear seat bottoms are flat and uninviting. The rear cargo floor lifts up to reveal a bento box-like six-pocket grid to neatly stow your trunk stuff, leaving a clean, open cargo area which becomes pretty big when you flop the rear seats down.
Driving isn't thrilling. Clutch take-up is high--I stalled it three times pulling away from the parking structure (Fool me once, shame on you. fool me three times, I'm clearly not paying attention.) The 2.0-liter engine creeps up to speed, but once there, it will cruise happily at 80 mph. It's not the happiest on our crappy Michigan roads (what is??).
I showed the Soul to a mid-Forties, budget-conscious friend who was really surprised and delighted by the space (loved that tall roof), the overall compact size, and its funky look. I'm giving this whole category a big thumbs up. They are the right size and price, and can be trimmed in a variety of attitudes from serious people mover to funky playpen. It will be interesting how America and European car companies interpret this new category.
Jean Jennings President and Editor-in-Chief