2010 Kia Soul ! A/T

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

Rented one from Hertz in Florida this summer. Surprised about how well it's built, no longer the sardine-can feel of cheap cars, interior is nice and even the hard plastic does not look cheap as in other cars. Engine noise above 65 is a weakness. Surprised of its handling being an econobox, in expressway exits felt like in rails...well at least at econobox speeds.Would be nice to see a smoother 200 HP DI engine with a sweet 6 speed, without going much over the current price. Would make a great second car or a car for young families. Still concerned about long-term reliability, though.When I was young no body cared when the Japanese came, I'm concerned that now the Koreans are showing up in our shores and Ford and Chevy are still selling the old Focus and the Cobalt.Missed to say this car won 5 star rating in the latest more difficult Insurance Institute tests, when other well know and more expensive cars were not able to reach the top rating.

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