Those hamsters are cute in the 2013 Kia Soul commercials, but the Soul is not a new concept. Thanks to the old VW Microbus, which started the "youth market" revolution of a compact box-shaped car, many manufacturers have conquered the genre or are just trying to make an impact in this growing market. The new generation of econo-boxes has really transformed from the "box on wheels" attitude to something that is more hip, cool and technology filled, and that pretty much describes the 2013 Soul.

Rounded corners, wild exterior color choices and stylish wheel options easily make the Soul a top contender against other compact box-shaped vehicles, including the Scion xB, Mini Cooper Clubman or Nissan Cube.

Inside, the Kia Soul's interior has enough headroom for four average-sized adults even though there are seat belts for five. The back seat is narrow and has three inches less legroom than the front, but it's fine for short trips.

On long drives, however, cargo space is lacking if the rear seat is occupied. With only around 19 cu ft of cargo space, one needs to be pretty sophisticated to pack the Soul efficiently. With the rear seats down though, the Kia Soul can carry over 53 cu ft of almost anything!

The 2013 Soul is available in three trim levels and has option packages like Premium and ECO that allow the Soul to be outfitted just about any way you want. One of the best options the Kia Soul offers is the Microsoft UVO system, which allows for voice activation and control of your Bluetooth-enabled phone, streaming of music and apps from a smartphone, and control of your iPod or Zune.

Just like the original VW Microbus, the Kia Soul doesn't have much power, but there are two inline-4 engines to choose from, including a 1.6-liter, 138-horsepower or a 2-liter, 164-hp. Two 6-speed transmissions are also available, but the standard manual transmission is rubbery and vague, so we recommend going for the automatic.

Fuel economy is just average by today's standard. To maximize your fuel dollars, your best bet is the Base model. Regardless which transmission you choose, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rates the 2013 Soul at 25 miles per gallon city and 30 mpg highway. To help mileage on more equipped versions of the Soul that include the larger 2.0-liter engine, Kia introduced the optional ECO package with the ISG system, or its own start-stop system that shuts the engine off at traffic lights or in stop-and-go traffic.

Despite the average fuel economy, there are three very good reasons to take a closer look at the Soul. First, the 2013 Soul has earned a Top Safety Pick ranking by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Second, the Soul's base sticker price of under $15,000 makes its competitors nervous. Finally, the Soul is covered by the best powertrain warranty around: 10 years, 100,000 miles.

All compact box-shaped vehicles on the market today offer their own personalities, such as the trendy Scion xB with a sweet body kit or the Nissan Cube with its rounded rear glass, but the 2013 Kia Soul is funky, loaded with hi-tech features, and goes way above and beyond than where the original Microbus left off.


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