Kia has an affordable vehicle that can be many things to many people. The 2013 Soul is a compact wagon/hatchback runabout that looks at ease both downtown in in the 'burbs, and offers style, space and a high level of features. The Soul was introduced in the summer of 2009, and immediately proved popular with Canadian consumers; you likely won't get through a day on the road without crossing paths with one.

It rivals hatchbacks such as the Mazda3 Sport, the Toyota Matrix and the Volkswagen Golf among others. Yet it's different at the same time, mostly due to its distinctive, boxy shape.

Instead of fitting a more conventional, horizontally laid-out dashboard in the 2013 Kia Soul, the Korean brand's design team squeezed all the buttons and display into a neat pod that overlaps the rest of the dash.

You'd think all that switchgear crammed together would be hard to use while driving, but it's not the case; everything is intuitively located, and even the navigation touchscreen is fairly easy to poke.

And there are many buttons because the Soul has many features. While the base model isn't equipped with A/C, alloy wheels and keyless entry, it does include heated front seats, power windows, Bluetooth connectivity, a sound system USB port, a full suite of airbags and stability control. All for under $17K.

Our loaded 4u Luxury model priced at $25,595, on the other hand, cost substantially more but piles on the features, such as leatherette upholstery, climate control, power sunroof, backup camera, LED daytime running lights, 18-inch alloys and intelligent key system. It also gets "mood" speakers mounted in the front doors that glow according to the beat of the music playing through the stereo, with a choice of colours, too. They look cool for about 10 minutes; definitely not a must-have.

The 2013 Kia Soul is surprisingly spacious for such a small vehicle. The tall roof allows occupants to sit straight on high seat cushions, which contributes to the airy feel. You get a good view of the road ahead and surrounding traffic, too.

On the other hand, the driver seat's right armrest feels more like it's wrapped in vinyl than simulated leather, and on a hot day, it didn't take too long for my arm to stick to it, which was rather unpleasant. In back, three people across will fight for shoulder room, even kids.

Lift up the square hatch, and you benefit from 546 litres of space for your belongings. Our kiddie stroller even fit sideways, which isn't always the case in compact vehicles. Flip down the rear seatbacks, and you get 1,511 litres of cargo room, which is more than in the 3 Sport, the Matrix and the Golf.

Although the base-trim 2013 Kia Soul is equipped with a sufficiently powerful, 138-hp 1.6L engine, the rest of the line-up gets a 2.0L four with 164 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. That's more than enough muscle to give the Soul a little soul (pardon), even with the optional six-speed automatic.

On the other hand, the Soul could benefit from better steering feel; its electric assist feels like it's on coffee break all the time, and the wheel will tug in your hands while extra effort is required in tight turning situations. I'm expecting this to be fixed in the newly redesigned 2014 Kia Soul which arrives later this year.

The 4u and 4u Luxury trims also get the bigger wheels and what Kia calls a sport-tuned suspension. Again, here's an area that could use a little more work. The ride is harsh due to the combination of the stiff shock absorbers, the low-profile tires and the short wheelbase. More information about the program is available on the web site at

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