On sale barely a month, the kia soul starts strong out of the gate, taking the “Grooviest Interior” honor in the 2009 Ward's Interior of the Year competition.

Ward's staffers are smitten with the thoughtful, colorful and, well, groovy interior of the subcompact, boxy Soul.

The Soul model tested in late March is the top-line Soul sport, stickering at $18,345, including handling charges.

The grade comes standard with a red and black scheme covering the seats, dash and door panels, making the Soul reminiscent of classic cars such as the '57 Chevy Bel Air and '61 Ford Galaxie.

“I think it's all about the color in that car,” says WAW Executive Editor Tom Murphy. “The red is such a blazing styling cue. It sets the Soul apart from every other vehicle we drove.”

Judges also commend Kia for executing well the abundant hard-plastic surfaces in the Soul's interior, noting textures and gloss levels are consistent and attractive.

Editors are impressed by Kia's attention to detail, notably the high-grade headliner, spacious center console and admirable fit-and-finish.

The crimson theme carries over in the interior lighting, which includes door-mounted speakers with red light-emitting diodes that flash to the beat of the music. A switch on the dash allows the brightness of the pulsating lights to be dialed up or down. “The flashing speaker lights could turn Mozart fans into Moby fans,” notes Ward's Senior Editor Eric Mayne.

Not to be outdone by visual treats, this car at its, er, soul is as ergonomically friendly as can be. Low ground clearance makes exit and entry a cinch.

And Kia deserves props for the spacious load floor in back and the easy-to-collapse rear seat backs featuring a pull reminiscent of old pin-style manual door locks. The pull is not only eye-catching and unique but useful, allowing for the gentle fold-down of the seatback.

We hope the Soul represents the individuality and style of vehicle interiors to come.