Cars.comparison: The Box-Cars

Click above to watch our comparison video.

Click above to watch our comparison video.

With the introduction of the 2010 Kia Soul and 2009 Nissan Cube, the Scion xB has some boxy competition. All three pack plenty of cargo space, value and safety — not to mention youth appeal. Which of these cars fits best into America's cityscape?

 = Category winner
The Contenders
2009 Scion xB2009 Nissan Cube 1.8 S2010 Kia Soul Sport
Zoom Zoom Zoom
Base MSRP
$15,750$13,990$13,300
Price as tested
$17,297$16,310$18,345
Hot or not
Lukewarm. The xB's well proportioned rear looks youthful without being overblown; its front, as many times as we've seen it, is still bizarre. Remarked one editor: "Ten years from now, this is the one car that will still look fresh."Icy Cube. The styling looked fresh when it was introduced at an auto show last fall, but in an actual city, it's just plain goofy. Nissan says styling was inspired by a "bulldog in sunglasses." Let's just say you'll want to keep some shades in the car so people won't know it's you. Hot. The Soul is one of the most distinctive designs on the market, and the 18-inch alloy wheels added a racy touch. Even among onlookers who thought all three cars were a joke, the Soul was deemed the least outlandish.
Seating comfort
Don't let the xB's basic-looking seats fool you: These are well-cushioned yet supportive, with ample room to stretch out. The backseat offers the best legroom in the group, but the seat doesn't slide forward and back.The front seats don't offer much support on curvy roads or comfort on road trips. The rear seats slide forward and backward, and they recline to a suitably sleepy position.The front seats are more supportive than the Cube's, though that isn't saying much. The cloth's texture, however, feels pretty low-rent. The rear seats offer the least room, and they don't slide or recline.
Box size
Dishwasher: A large liftgate reveals 21.7 cubic feet of cargo room behind the rear seats and 69.9 cubic feet with them folded — figures that are way out in front of the competition. Up front there are plenty of usable dash cubbies; the center storage console is small, but it's better than not having one. Microwave: Cargo volume behind the second row is just 11.4 cubic feet, but maximum volume with the seats down is 58.1 cubic feet. The swing-gate rear door needs a lot of clearance to open, though, and the deep cargo well might cause strain when you're lifting heavy items out. Up front is a deep glove compartment but no center storage console.Toaster oven: Cargo volume with the seats up is 19.3 cubic feet; with the seats down, maximum volume is just 53.4 cubic feet. The Soul's cargo floor is flat, but the hatch's opening is the smallest in the group. Kudos to Kia for the large center storage console.
Gadget goodness
The xB comes standard with steering-wheel audio controls and a USB jack for your iPod, but its stereo operates like a discount aftermarket unit. The xB is the only car here with a factory navigation system option.The Cube has a standard auxiliary jack; steering-wheel controls and a USB/iPod hookup require an upgrade. The Soul has a standard USB/iPod jack, and most trim levels have steering-wheel controls. Get the uplevel stereo, and the door speakers have backlighting that glows or pulsates in sync with your tunes.
Blind spots and parking
There is a large rear roof pillar that can be an issue both on the highway and when backing up, and the backseat head restraints are a bit high. Its side mirrors are the smallest. Tall windows and narrow pillars give the Cube the sightlines of a gondola. Our only beef is that the backseat head restraints block the rear view. Hefty rear pillars and useless rear quarter windows create a blind spot, but large side mirrors help mitigate it. The rear head restraints nest into the backrest, providing the clearest sightlines.
Driving fun
With gobs of power and competent steering and handling, the xB is the most balanced in overall performance, but we wouldn't call it fun.The Cube is the weakest of the boxes, and its tall feeling doesn't inspire handling confidence. The stick shift is in an awkward location. Not fun. The Soul's vague steering disappoints, but with its short wheelbase, quick clutch pickup and optional sport suspension, this one was the most fun — in a raw, brutish way.
Gas mileage (city/highway)
The xB pays a price for its powerful engine with a not-so-great 22/28 mpg rating.The automatic Cube gets a respectable 28/30 mpg; stick-shift versions like our tester get 24/29 mpg. Our 2.0-liter Soul is rated at 24/30 mpg regardless of transmission. The 1.6-liter base engine rates an even better 26/31 mpg.
Road-trip worthiness
Zoom
Excellent room for you, your friends and your stuff. Given its so-so mileage, make sure you bring the friends who always help out by paying for gas. You have some of those, right?
Zoom
The good mileage, comfortable ride and quiet cabin may be overshadowed by the Cube's uncomfortable seats. It feels most susceptible to crosswinds.
Zoom
The steering has as much wanderlust as you do, which means you have to devote a little extra attention. What makes the Sport fun to drive also makes its ride firm.
Safety features and crash tests
With scores of Good in front, side and rear-impact tests, the xB is a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Antilock brakes and an electronic stability system are standard. The Cube's standard safety features are similar to those of the xB and Soul, but it has yet to be crash-tested by the IIHS. Like the xB, the Soul is an IIHS Top Safety Pick thanks to its exemplary crash-test scores. Antilock brakes and an electronic stability system are also standard.
Overall value
The xB comes well-equipped for $15,750, but that's the highest starting price. Standard features include steering-wheel audio controls and cruise control, but if you skip those, you could save thousands with a Cube or Soul.The Cube's sub-$14,000 base price is nice, but a lot of features — including that all-important USB/iPod jack — are tied to more expensive trim levels. The base Soul lacks keyless entry and power mirrors — things the xB and Cube have standard — but it includes power windows and locks, air conditioning and a USB/iPod input. All three models put the box in econobox, but the Soul delivers the econo.
 
Editors' choice
With the xB, mileage is the big drawback in what is otherwise a very capable, roomy and reasonably refined car. It won't turn heads, but it's hard to argue with its practicality. The Cube's high points include its gas mileage and an interesting and quiet interior. Unappealing aspects — from its top-heavy feel and uncomfortable seats to its rear swing-gate — loomed large. There's a lot to like about the Soul, including Kia's characteristically generous standard features list, but it needs some refinements.
© Cars.com 9/30/09
Next Step?