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Overall Rating
Looks Rating
Ugh. This one won’t win any awards for looks.
Interior Rating
Lots of elbow-room, but nada storage with the back seat up.
Ride Rating
For such a small car, it’s surprisingly smooth and compliant.
Safety Rating
A full complement of airbags, with ABS, a vehicle stability control system and a traction control system.
Green Rating
Very good fuel economy, plus “Eco” performance setting.

Despite the fact that they are aimed at younger buyers, as an aging baby boomer, I'm a fan of utilitarian square-box wagons, such as the Scion xB, Nissan Cube, Ford Flex, Honda Element (even though it's out of production) and, to a lesser extent, the Kia Soul.

That said, despite its practicality and functionality, I merely tolerate the Soul. Here's why:

  • This has to be one of the ugliest cars ever to put rubber to the road. There is almost no design inspiration here; it’s just a two-boxer with a weakly raked roofline and some body cladding. I’m not expecting state-of-the-art styling in this corner of the market, but this is just too hard on the eyes.
  • It’s far too precious. If I want cute, I’ll buy a stuffed Ewok or a Fiat 500. The Soul is supposed to be all about functionality; anything else is just smoke and mirrors. In my experience, any car that stresses cuteness is over-compensating for a fundamentally inferior product.
  • It’s not cheap. My tester, a fully loaded Luxury model, had a price tag of more than $27,000. Nothing cute about that. Yes, there is a base model that starts at around $17,000, but you’re getting the smaller engine and a manual transmission for that price.
  • Minimal driving fun factor. It has next to nothing in terms of handling abilities, unexceptional acceleration and decent but not outstanding fuel economy. Again, I’m not expecting a Porsche, but driving the Soul is like being in a telephone booth with wheels.
  • Storage. In a word, there isn’t any. At least the Scion xB and Nissan Cube have a modicum of cargo room. With the back seat up and a few people in the car, the Soul has enough room for a bag or two of groceries, but that’s about it.

With that out of the way, a few particulars.

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There are two models to choose from. The base version has a 1.6-litre four-cylinder, while the 2u and 4u have a 2.0-litre engine. You can choose from a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission with a Steptronic manual shift mode. My tester had the latter. Power outputs are 138 hp for the smaller engine and 164 hp for the two-litre. The automatic transmission models are a smidgeon thirstier, but not enough to make a difference. Plan on spending another $2,400 for the autobox.

As is the case with most Kia products, standard equipment level for the Soul is relatively high. Even the base version has four-wheel disc brakes, tilt/telescoping steering, power door locks, hill start assist, steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and heated front seats. Getting the most for your money has never been an issue with Kia, and, despite my misgivings about the Soul, I should point out that Toyota's Scion xB only has a four-speed automatic and the Cube is cursed with a CVT. The Soul, on the other hand, has a six-speed. My tester also came with extras such as leather upholstery, a navi system, rear-view camera, and a climate control system. That bumps the price up $8,800.

As an urban runabout, the Soul does the job. While not the liveliest econobox out there, it's more than peppy enough for most typical buyers, easy to park, with good entry and exit, and understandable controls and switchgear. As well, those models equipped with the automatic have an "Eco" feature that, at the press of a switch, electronically recalibrates the automatic transmission and increases fuel economy (while decreasing performance). Don't much care about the illuminated "mood lamp" speakers, but they're harmless enough.

Kia is claiming 7.9 litres/100 km in the city for the automatic transmission version, and that's decent enough. By way of comparison, Nissan's Cube is a titch thriftier in town, but thirstier on the highway, while the Scion xB is a veritable gas hog in comparison.

But I don't care. Were I in the market for a vehicle like this – and I have actually briefly considered buying an xB – the Soul's outward appearance would stop me cold. I actually felt self-conscious nipping around in my test car. The fact that it had a loud "molten red" paint job didn't help much.

Consumer Reports gives the 2012 Soul an overall score of 66 out of 100. This is based on a 50-point evaluation program and the highest score it has recorded in this category is 85, while the lowest is 49. Interestingly, the majority of people who have responded to the magazine's questionnaire for the Soul are in the 40- to 60-year-old range. Whatever, the Soul garners a "recommended" rating from this organization.

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Tech specs

2013 Kia Soul 4U Luxury

Base Price: $25,595; as tested: $27,150

Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder

Horsepower/torque: 164 hp/148 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with Steptronic

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Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 8.8 city/7.1 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Scion xB, Nissan Cube, Toyota Matrix, Volkswagen Golf Wagon, Hyundai Elantra Touring, Kia Rondo

Please note: The fuel economy numbers in this review have been changed to reflect new data released Nov. 2, 2012, by Hyundai and Kia. Please click here for more details.

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