Time for our professionals, who first must come to grips with the specs and test numbers. Though the Scion is initially more expensive because of its larger size and engine, the vehicles can be comparably and comfortably equipped for under $18,000. None of these boxes is a track star, but the Kia does take the fight directly to the Scion. Its 8.7-second 0-to-60 time is only two tenths off the xB's pace, while its 16.7-second quarter mile is but three tenths behind. The smaller-engined, CVT-churning Cube brings up the rear, with 9.3- and 17.2-second runs, respectively.

The Kia stops the shortest, needing seven fewer feet than the Scion xB does, which partly can be attributed to the Soul's 18-inch wheels and tires. Surprisingly, despite tiny 15-inch wheels and rear drum brakes, the Cube beats out the xB by a foot. Must be the additional 270 pounds in xB curb weight. On the skidpad, the Kia shines again, posting the lowest figure-eight time and highest lateral g. More surprising is that the Cube manages to eke out a slightly better g number than the xB.

Small victories? Yes, because when it's time for subjective evaluations, the gaps grow much wider. "There is no denying the xB's once-controversial styling is now the most conservative of the trio. That's a good thing. The sleeker, angrier look of the Gen2 xB is tame and disciplined compared with those of the Cube and Soul," says Voehringer. Young Martinez agrees, "The Godfather still is a strong contender. Styling looks outdated versus the other two, but that's not to say it's unattractive. Interior is where the Scion blows the rest away. It's attractive and simple, with everything within reach.

The Cube evokes the strongest reactions: "The most offensive characteristic of the Cube is its bulldog-ugly styling. The asymmetrical design is awkward and confused, the profile unredeemable," Voehringer opines.

Martinez is a bit more charitable: "The bulldog front design is indeed cute and likeable. The rest of the exterior styling, like its wraparound rear window, adds uniqueness, not attractiveness." The Cube splits votes for the interior layout and amenities. "It feels more spacious inside than seems possible from outside. The seats are firm yet comfortable and the glovebox is huge," says Voehringer. "Other than the rippling headliner, the Cube's interior is a tsunami of uninteresting waves," he continues. Martinez finds a lot to like in the Cube's many details-from grocery-bag hooks to the deep well behind the reclining rear seats (the only one of our group with this feature).