Less than a week after TheCarConnection.com’s first drive of the new 2009 Nissan Cube, I had “the other new boxy hatch,” the Kia Soul, in my driveway. Naturally, at almost all moments, I couldn’t resist weighing it against the Cube.
Design-wise, there’s a lot to process in these two vehicles. In his Bottom Line on the 2010 Soul, Marty Padgett declares, “The 2010 Soul wins on styling, hands-down.” I tend to agree, but the Cube sure is interesting to look at. I like to think the Cube comes from some special place where thrift-store mod mavens and new-wave fashionistas converge—perhaps the spa, as evidenced by all the Jacuzzi inspiration for the Cube’s design, along with the assymetrical design, warped instrument panel design, rounded corners, and ripple cues. Meanwhile, the Soul looks chiseled and toned and straight from the gym. It’s neat and fashionable with plenty of sporty, assertive cues but isn’t over the top; the color of our test car—Alien Green—added just the right dose of adventurousness (although we felt that its pairing with a cream-colored instrument panel and gray upper interior did not).
Just as in the Cube, the seating position is nice and upright—although the front seats lacked thigh support and rearward visibility was iffy thanks to the swooshing back pillar. Most will find forward and side visibility to be really good—better than the Scion xD, which is a closer rival in size and shape than the Cube. The Cube’s front seats just felt better proportioned (at least for this lanky tester). But in back, the 2010 Kia Soul is clearly the winner, with back seats that fit tall adults and fold forward almost flat. Those in the Cube fold forward but don’t yield a flat surface; they don’t tumble forward either.
All Souls except the bargain-priced $13,990 base model come with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine making 142 horsepower. Ours had the four-speed automatic, and we found that the engine was plenty strong to move the Soul’s 2,800 pounds confidently; it feels much more sprightly off the line (even considering the twitchy throttle calibration) than the Cube with its CVT. The 2.0-liter worked well with the automatic as it isn’t much of a revver; it feels more comfortable in the 2,000 to 4,000 rpm range, and revving past 5,000 is met more with noise than any extra burst of speed. Fuel economy was decent, if not stellar for such a small vehicle; we managed to match the Soul’s EPA city estimate of 24 mpg in a half-tank of mostly city driving.
It’s obvious that Kia has tuned the exhaust here for a more robust note than they would otherwise give, say, a sedan, and we have to commend them on managing to make it sound good at low speeds without becoming overly boomy on the highway. There’s not a lot of road noise either, but we noticed wind noise pick right up above 70 mph. Overall, the Soul holds the road well at higher speeds and doesn’t feel nearly as darty and tossed about by crosswinds as the Cube.
The 2010 Kia Soul handles really well for a tall hatch, with very crisp response and a general feeling that there’s not any of slop. But many of the beefs we had by the end of the week remained linked to the steering and suspension tuning. Some of the same attributes that make the Soul feel so responsive ended up wearing on us when puttering along in urban congestion on potholed roads—or parking. At lower speeds we found that the Soul’s steering was unnecessarily tight and heavy-feeling—completely opposite the Cube’s overassisted, detached feel no matter what the speed. But why not have full power steering boost when parking? And while we didn’t notice any of the fore-and-aft pitching motions we’d noted in the more softly sprung Cube the week before, the side-to-side motions of the Soul on rough pavement and potholes—exaggerated by the narrow body—became equally annoying. We should note that this wasn’t even the sport-tuned suspension that the Soul Sport gets. The stiff low-profile, 225-width tires seem like complete overkill for this little hatch, and they might have more to do with it than the suspension tuning itself.
These niggles are admittedly conflicting with our general praise of the Soul’s ride and handling in the Bottom Line, so we’ll update you on our impressions as we get more drive time in other Soul models.
So is the Soul, the Cube, the Scion xD, or even the grown-up xB the better choice of the boxes? Judging by the mixed impressions even within TheCarConnection.com, you’ll need to take a look and answer that for yourself. Perhaps with the Alien Green.
2009 Nissan CubeEnlarge Photo