2010 Kia Soul 4u
2010 Kia Soul 4u. Click image to enlarge

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First Drive: 2010 Kia Soul

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2010 Kia Soul

Ottawa, Ontario – Huey Lewis said it in the 80s, and it’s still true today, apparently: it’s hip to be square.

It’s the easiest way to explain the recent surge in boxy compacts. There’s the Honda Element, hardly a newbie, having arrived in 2003. Toyota will bring its quirky Scion brand, with its own box-on-wheels xD, here soon (though the name has been well-known south of the border for years), and Nissan’s boldly asymmetrical Cube could be the weirdest of them all.

Slotting somewhere in the middle of the oddball scale is the Kia Soul. Kia is still rebuilding its image, trying to shake the perception of poor quality that has dogged it for years. Not that the reputation is an undeserved one, but the company has been working very hard to establish itself as a maker of quality cars the equal of key competitors from both Asia and North America.

2010 Kia Soul 4u
2010 Kia Soul 4u. Click image to enlarge

A car like the Soul is a bold addition for a company that could be excused for wanting to play it safe by sticking to the shallow, mainstream waters of the new car market. It’s a “halo” car for Kia, the one that will attract people to showrooms. The Soul also has something that many of Kia’s competitors don’t have: affordability combined with attitude.

At least, that’s true of the outside. Many people have been asking me for my thoughts on the Soul, and I’ve been telling them that it’s important to remember that this is an economy car, no matter how cool it looks from the exterior.

Not that this is a bad thing: while the interior is nowhere as adventurous as the outside, it works perfectly fine. If you’ve been inside the company’s other brand-new 2010 model, the Forte, you’ll see a resemblance, but Kia has, thankfully, avoided doing a direct copy and paste, giving the Soul just a little more flair: check out the rounded-off centre stack, and the red liners in the glove box and dash-top cubby. The latter is a detail that will either make you smile or cringe (but check out the size of the glovebox – it’s huge!).

2010 Kia Soul 4u
2010 Kia Soul 4u
2010 Kia Soul 4u. Click image to enlarge

So might the “mood lamp” speakers, a cheeky feature which can be set to glow and pulse along with the music on the stereo. It’s a standard feature on 4u models, and comes as part of a great 315-watt stereo, complete with subwoofer and centre channel speaker. Thankfully, though, the mood lamps can be turned off, as the throbbing red lights get distracting at night.

The materials are exactly as plasticky as you’d expect them to be, with little in the way of soft-touch surfaces, but I doubt that many shopping in this price range will care that much. At least all of the various pieces and panels fit together nicely.

All controls fall easily enough to hand, though the knobs and buttons on the passenger side of the stack can be a bit of a reach for the driver.

Front seat comfort is good, as my wife and I discovered on a weekend jaunt to Montreal. Space is good too, thanks in particular to the tall roof. If there was one thing I’d ask for as a driver, it’d be for better cushioning on the armrest that swings down from the side of the seat. If there was one thing my wife would ask for as a front-seat passenger, I’m sure it would be for an armrest, period, for the shotgun seat. The padding on the door armrests is a little thin, too.

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