KEY LARGO, Fla. -- Alien green is the shade of body paint we select among colorful tints like red-hot Molten, bright white Ghost and cream-coffee Java decorating a row of seriously cubistic crossover utility vehicles coming to the line of Kia, the inventive automaker out of South Korea.
Boxy square with a flat roof pitched over angled windows and roly-poly shoulders rolling over pint-size wheels, Kia's new five-door hatchback-styled wagon, sized for the subcompact class and riding on the platform of a car with front-wheel-drive (FWD) traction, apparently draws its design inspiration from the Nouveau Cute School of Chunky Car Design.
A chrome-plated badge on the flip-up tailgate identifies our vehicle as the Soul.
We steer the Alien green Soul on a route that meanders through southern reaches of Florida's peninsula until crossing Blackwater Sound on the Overseas Highway to land on Key Largo.
Throughout this drive -- on multi-lane freeways, two-lane highways like the A1A and suburban side streets -- we observe that everyone we meet on the road seems to notice Kia's new CUV.
Apparently, Soul is hard to miss.
Its bold body shape begin up front at a stubby prow featuring a narrow chrome grille and oversized headlamp clusters.
Below is a thick air dam with rectangular cutouts for the air intake port. It joins flanking thick strips of body-colored fascia which wrap around the front corners and arch over the front wheels as articulated muscular shoulders.
Yet the unique character of this car surely comes from the design of that flat roof.
It slopes down from a massive raked windshield and trims side windows into ever-narrowing proportions.
The tail of Soul drops away from the roof with interruptions only from trailing edges of bulging rear wheelwells and protruding fascia set below the tail door's bottom edge.
Built on a new platform, Kia's cubistic CUV lands in North America as a small-scale city car with surprising cabin space and affordable price points.
Out of the box as the entry edition, the 2010 Soul base edition with a thrifty four-cylinder engine and manual five-speed transmission shows a bottom-line MSRP of only $13,300.
Three other editions stock a larger four-cylinder engine and offer the option of an electronically controlled four-speed automatic shifter.
The Soul + (plus) edition ranges in price from $14,950 to $17,100.
The Soul ! (exclaim) version runs from $16,950 to $17,900.
And a sport-tuned Soul Sport lists from $16,950 to $18,600.
The base issue of Soul carries an in-line four-cylinder aluminum engine which displaces only 1.6 liters but has dual overhead cams with CVVT (continuously variable valve timing) for high-tech metering of the fuel burn.
The plant produces 122 hp at 6300 rpm plus 115 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm.
Soul + and ! and Sport models get a 2.0-liter four-in-line aluminum engine which also has twin-cams and CVVT valve controls.
Output rises to 122 hp at 6000 rpm with torque of 137 hp at 4600 rpm.
A four-speed electronically controlled automatic works with this engine, as well as a five-speed manual.
Soul defies the traditional body-on-frame organization of a SUV built on a truck chassis by instead using the unified structure of a car.
As a result, Soul doesn't drive like a SUV because all of the engine's power goes to the front wheels which also steer. Having the front wheels both turn and steer -- when combined with a stiff unitized structure and lively suspension -- makes Soul uncommonly agile, but that's the big idea here.
A generous wheelbase length of 100 inches and a broad wheel track of 61.8 inches (front) and 62 inches (rear) set up a long and wide foundation which fosters stability when turning or moving down the road.
And, unlike some wagons with a solid rear truck axle and crude leaf springs, Soul carries car-like suspension components -- independent MacPherson struts mounted on an isolated subframe up front and a transverse torsion beam axle in back also with isolating subframe -- to deliver the smooth ride quality of a car.
Soul Sport edition goes for a sporty ride quality with tight suspension tuning from firmer springs, re-tuned shocks and a larger front stabilizer bar.
Measures for passenger safety in the cabin extend from the sturdy safety-cage construction to front seatbelts with load-limited and pretensioning apparatus, backseat restraints with anchors to mount a child's seat, smart multi-stage frontal air bags and side air bags for the front seats along with curtain-style air bags tucked in the ceiling for outboard seats on two rows.
Soul also stocks active safety systems designed to avoid accidents, including the rack and pinion steering system and an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with brake assist system (BAS) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD), plus a traction control system (TCS) and an anti-skid device via the electronic stability control (ESC) system.
There's even a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) aboard.
Layout of the cabin consists of a pair of contoured buckets up front and followed by a bench broad enough for three but with indents for two. Seatbacks on the second row split in 60/40 sections and fold down flat.
Soul's cargo bay has 53.4 cubic feet of storage room with the rear seatbacks folded down.
Kia doesn't skimp on the slate of standard equipment even for the base edition of Soul.
The gear includes air conditioning, a tilting steering wheel, power controls for windows and door locks, rear window defroster, external temperature display and digital clock, a 12-volt power point and a four-speaker audio kit with AM/FM/CD/MP3 plus USB and auxiliary input jacks for full iPod/MP3 control.