As for the Soul, well, perhaps kids these days do know a thing or two: They're in lock step with our seasoned pros. "Its plain to see Kia's putting considerable thought and effort into styling the Soul in and out. It's got a wealth of creased and angled sheetmetal that works well together. The interior is really something else: What incredible detail here, particularly the way the sound system controls are integrated," comments Voehringer.
"Styling is a modern hodgepodge of bits and pieces from every corner of the automotive world. Looks great and is definitely hip," says Martinez though he's not as impressed with the interior. "It's a bit much on the eyes-too much two-toning on the doors. The central speaker on top of dash adds chunkiness to the otherwise clean setup."
On the road, our evaluators reshuffle the deck, giving the Kia high marks for handling, but little else. "Though responsive, steering is too light. Combined with the loose, tricky manual trans, the drivetrain is just a small four-banger capable enough to move the Soul there and back," notes Martinez. "Not peppy and anxious like the Cube with CVT and not a surprise stoplight-jumper like the Scion and its regular automatic."
The Cube catches everyone off guard. "The Nissan is surprising, perhaps because I didn't expect much. It had no problem passing traffic and superseding the freeway speed limit," says Voehringer. "Drives impressively. Engine is responsive with the slightest throttle tap, and it happily revs to produce all of its 122 horses-a fun ride full of spunk," judges Martinez.
First-gen xB made 108 hp from a 1.5L engine. A 158-hp, 2.4 powers the much larger second
Still, the overall win on the road has to go to the Scion. Martinez lauds the xB for its bigger driving character over the other two. "Road feel and steering sensitivity are most fun compared with the lighter, more electronics-involved steering of the Kia and Nissan. And it has ample power for freeway passes at speed," he adds. "By far the most well sorted," says Voehringer of the xB. "The most power, the most stable, the most solid feeling-essential attributes for a vehicle responsible for getting my kids around town."
Which leads us to the final component of our box car breakdown, the unseen force that must be considered when choosing any of these vehicles. What do the old folks think, especially when they're likely to be footing at least some of the bill?