HIP TO BE SQUARE
As the SUV craze sputters to a halt, automotive designers are learning to provide space and flexibility in cool box-shaped vehicles, all without, um, cutting corners. Honda led the way with the Element (said to be fashioned after a Malibu Beach lifeguard station), and Toyota followed with the hugely successful Scion xB. Now the Ford Flex and the Kia Soul have created their own versions of the cool cube. Here’s a look at all four sides of the story.
Who knew that Ford could pull off something as fashion-forward as the Flex? The boxy vehicle seats seven, station wagon–style, with three rows of seats and a rear hatch area for cargo. Both the second and third rows of seats fold down to make for serious storage space. Ford currently offers a single engine choice for the Flex: a 3.5-liter 262 horsepower V6 in a front-wheel, or an all-wheel drive power train with plenty of muscle for hauling passengers. The ride quality of the Flex is a real plus, taking advantage of the square shape to maintain a low center of gravity that makes for excellent handling.
The coolest optional equipment, literally, is a second-row on-board refrigerator with room for a six-pack. Also check out the panoramic Vista roof, which rede? nes the sunroof by opening over the front seats and extending with ? xed-glass panels over the two rear seating rows. The Sync system allows you to use the stereo to control your iPod, and it can connect to your cell phone via Bluetooth so you can use voice commands to dial a call while grabbing another soda from the fridge.
Let Kanye say what he wants about Hyundai. It’s Kia, the cooler half of the South Korean Hyundai-Kia juggernaut, that we’re backing for creating one of the most innovative boxes on wheels. Dubbed the Soul, the new model is aimed at customizers and street-rodders who want to crank wrenches under the hood and have never heard the words “warranty void.” The Soul puts all the advantages of the boxy profile into a sleek, rounded design that has already won several awards. The interior seats have, in front buckets and a rear bench that splits and folds down for cargo.
Offered in 122 horsepower and 142 horsepower 4-cylinder engines, the Soul is a peppy performer due to its size and strong but lightweight materials. The available 5-speed manual transmission with overdrive adds a boost, but the Soul is also offered in a 4-speed auto version. Need more? Watch for the Air Propulsion and Retardation Installation Line accessory that captures the rush of oncoming air and converts it to more energy that provides for additional breaking power and helps you save on fuel.Starts at $28,550