2016 Kia Soul

Proving once and for all that it's hip to be square, the Kia Soul stands out from other compacts with a unique look that manages to be both boxy and extremely funky. The affordably priced, hamster-endorsed hatchback also delivers a roomy cabin, ample standard features and numerous optional extras, making it an appealing blend of style and substance.

Recent Changes
The Soul's packages were shuffled around a bit for the most recent model year. A new Premium package includes some advanced safety and convenience features, and a new Designer Collection adds some aesthetic options for those who want their cars a little more personalized.

Like the distinctive original model, the second-generation Soul is distinguished by a tapered roofline and rising beltline that creates a gentle wedge shape. Fresh touches include reshaped headlights, cleaner flanks and a novel "floating" segment of bodywork inset in black trim below the rear window.

The focus on style continues inside, where a circle-themed design is executed in unusually high-quality materials for the segment. Despite a low starting price, A/C, power windows and locks, and Bluetooth connectivity come standard, and there's a long list of options like a panoramic sunroof, an eight-inch touchscreen and Kia's UVO eServices infotainment system.

UVO provides Bluetooth-based smartphone integration, streaming audio and voice command functionality for everything from placing calls to changing radio stations. It also includes integrated Pandora radio, vehicle diagnostics info and maintenance reminders, and lets users send Point of Interest info from Google Maps searches on their smartphone to the navigation system (when equipped).

Due to the Soul's boxy body and tall roof, interior space is ample for four adults, and the cargo area is sufficient for 24.2 cubic feet of gear - nearly as much as larger, more expensive crossover models.

What's Under the Hood?
The Soul powers its front wheels with the buyer's choice of two different direct-injected four-cylinder engines.

The standard 1.6-liter mill produces 130 horsepower and 118 lb-ft of torque, while those in need of a bit more pickup can spec a 2.0-liter with 160 horsepower and 151 lb-ft of torque.

The smaller engine comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission and offers an optional six-speed automatic. Only the latter gearbox is offered with the 2.0-liter. Fuel economy figures have not yet been released.

A new FlexSteer system that allows the driver to pick between Comfort, Normal and Sport modes is available as an option.

Trim Level Breakdown
Three different trim levels are available for the Soul.

The entry-level Base Soul is equipped with the 1.6-liter four and six-speed manual in addition to Bluetooth connectivity, A/C, power windows and locks, and six-speaker stereo with SiriusXM satellite radio, AUX and USB inputs, and 16-inch steel wheels with hubcaps. Options include 16-inch alloy wheels, cruise control with steering-wheel-mounted controls, center console armrest and storage, rear center armrest with cup holders and remote keyless entry.

The Base Soul can be upgraded with a UVO eServices Package that adds UVO, a rear-view camera, automatic headlights and fog lights.

The Soul Plus brings the Base's optional features plus the 2.0-liter four and six-speed automatic, 17-inch alloy wheels, UVO eServices, gloss black with chrome bezel front upper grille and outside mirrors with turn signal indicators.

The Plus can be enhanced with numerous option packages. The UVO eServices Package includes a rearview camera and auto on/off headlights. The Audio Package offers navigation with an eight-inch display, HD Radio, Infinity Audio system and automatic climate control. The Primo Package adds a panoramic sunroof with power shades, leather trimmed seats, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, push-button start with Smart Key and front fog lights. The ECO Package includes Idle Stop and Go System, low rolling resistance tires and 16-inch alloy wheels.

A new Designer package adds exclusive color combinations (exterior and interior), 18" alloy wheels with gloss black inserts and a leather-wrapped steering wheel alongside its aesthetic inclusions.

The Soul Exclaim comes standard with 18-inch alloy wheels, UVO, a rearview camera, keyless ignition, xenon headlights, LED running lights and a chilled glovebox. A Premium package is also available on the Exclaim. It adds projector beam headlamps, LED rear combination lamps, a panoramic sunroof, illuminated speaker surrounds, Infinity premium audio, voice-command navigation, an in-cluster TFT information display, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, push-button start, automatic climate control, heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats and a heated steering wheel.

The Soul Exclaim can be ordered with an Umber Color Package that bundles Nappa leather seating surfaces, Nappa accents on the armrest and gloss black wheel inserts. The Umber Color Package is only available on cars ordered in Shadow Black, Titanium Gray, Fathom Blue or Cloud White.

Occupant Safety
All Soul models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to traction and stability control systems and electronic brakeforce distribution.

Key Competitors
Those looking for an spacious yet affordable compact with unconventional styling can consider alternatives to the Soul such as the sporty Nissan Juke and the href="http://www.leftlanenews.com/new-car-buying/scion/xb/">Scion xB.

Additionally, more traditional hatchbacks like the Ford Focus and Mazda Mazda3 also warrant consideration.