I know a lot of people (usually folks fifty and over) who hate the "bread-box" look of cars like the Kia Soul, the Scion xB, the Honda Element, and the Nissan Cube. Personally, though, I like these vehicles quite a bit simply because their squarish shapes naturally pack a lot of space into their small footprint. I can attest that twenty-somethings with little kids need all the space they can get for not much money.
This particular Soul is more or less fully loaded but still costs not much money--$18,595. Strangely, Kia offers two top-end trim levels for the same exact price: the Soul ! and the Soul Sport both start at $17,890. The clumsily named "!" model gets a sunroof, while the Sport is instead fitted with a "sport suspension," spoilers, and body-kit stuff. I wouldn't mind test-driving the Sport, but I think the "+" trim level, for $2000 less, is an even more enticing choice. It doesn't have eighteen-inch wheels or the fancy sound system with backlit speakers and mood lighting, but I could do without those items.
I was disappointed to learn that this car had an automatic transmission, but once I got behind the wheel, I was impressed with how peppy the Soul still felt. The engine sounds pretty coarse at high revs, though. Ride and handling are perfectly acceptable, particularly for a vehicle that's based on a simple subcompact (the Rio). But as I mentioned in my review in March 2009, the Soul is less about how it drives and more about style. And this car has a lot. In this color scheme ("alien" exterior paint, which is actually a soft lime green, and cool houndstooth upholstery), it looks fairly mature but still funky, unlike the last Soul that I drove, which had overdone bright-red dash plastics and red--sorry, "molten"--paint.
The Soul might very well be the best box car to drive, from an enthusiast's standpoint. But in this class, looks matter a lot, and I think that the Nissan Cube remains the coolest-looking of the bunch.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor