If you really want to get funky out on the road, but you want to do it on a budget (and who doesn't, these days?) check out the all new Kia Soul.
This hip, wagon-type thang gets down with its bad self, and delivers some new energy to the Kia mix.
If you dig the Scion xB, the Honda Element, or the new Nissan Cube, see what the Soul is trying to lay on you: a roomy interior with some far-out designs, a groovy exterior style, and outta sight gas mileage.
The Soul's boxy little body has just enough flair to keep it sexy, and the front holds onto Kia's latest grille styling.
You can almost picture the headlights serving as a set of cool shades.
So there's roundness, but also sharp sloping lines, you dig?
On the interior, you get some off-beat options, such as the houndstooth-check pattern on the seats and the bright colors for the dash and paneling.
For engines, the base Soul has a 1.6-liter four-cylinder making 122 horsepower and 115 pounds-feet of torque. That one is linked to a five-speed manual transmission.
Its fuel economy is a hearty 26 mpg city, 31 highway; great numbers for a vehicle with this size and versatility.
The other engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 142 horsepower and 137 pounds-feet.
It comes with the manual or a four-speed automatic, and brings in a still very strong 24 and 30 mpg.
The Soul comes in trim levels that are known as Soul+, Soul!, and Soul Sport, and they come with the latter engine/transmission configuration.
Base and mid-line Souls have 15- or 16-inch wheels, while the Soul Sport, which we most recently test drove and is the model's best performance version, has 18-inch wheels.
It's also tuned a bit more aggressively.
When it comes to on-road performance, though, each model is more than up to the task, displaying great acceleration, steady handling, firm braking and an overall very comfortable ride.
Plus, even at highway speeds, road noise is much less than what you might expect.
The Soul seats five adults, and the backseat is relatively comfortable, especially if you aren't going too far.
For the driver, the controls are easily accessible and there is plenty of comfort in the driving experience - headroom, legroom and visibility.
The second-row seats fold down, which will then provide you with about 53 cubic feet of cargo space. But if that's not enough in the practicality department, notice the fact that the cargo floor lifts to expose more storage area.
There is also an optional cargo organizer that goes in there.
For other little neat things that give the Soul extremely high practicality marks, check out the two-tier glove box, which Kia says is large enough to hold a laptop; a handy center console; a bin on the center stack that can hold an iPod or Blackberry, and a ton of cupholders.
The Soul looks smallish from afar, but it has more size than it might first appear to. It is 161.6 inches long, 70.3 inches wide, 63.4 inches high, and has a 100.4-inch wheelbase.
Kia added plenty of safety features, too, like the standard six airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction and stability control, and tire pressure monitoring system.
Other standard stuff on the base model (which starts at $13,300) includes tilt steering, air conditioning, Sirius Satellite Radio (the first three months of service are free), USB and auxiliary inputs for music players, and power windows. The Soul+ starts at $14,950 and you get cruise control, steering-wheel audio switches, Bluetooth connectivity, and dual 12V outlets. The $16,950 Soul! gets a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a tan-and-houndstooth interior trim package, and a 315-watt audio system with speaker lighting, which lights up according to music beat or "mood." The $16,950 Soul Sport comes with the same features as the Soul! but adds 18-inch wheels, sport suspension, metal pedals, and a red-on-black interior scheme.
Other options for the Soul are the sunroof, the 315-watt audio system, and more than 60 accessories, from styling add-ons to interior trim. Kia really touts how buyers can personalize their Soul.
And of course, you get Kia's 10-year/100,000-mile limited powertrain warranty.
The Soul: it's got funk, it's got spunk, and you can put some junk in its trunk. Plus, it won't cost you much grip if you want to get one and be hip.