It may be the least-expensive entrant on this year’s Ward’s 10 Best Interiors list, but the Kia Soul by no means has the least-impressive interior. Quite the opposite. The Soul may have the best for-the-money interior we’ve seen yet.

At $24,010 our ’14 Soul, the + grade with a $3,000 Primo package, is thousands less than the next-least-expensive winner, the Mazda3, but comes jam-packed with the type of features – such as heated leather front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, navigation and a panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade – normally reserved for vehicles north of $35,000.

Reacting to claims the first-generation Soul was too plastic-y, Kia designers outfitted the second-generation model with plenty of soft-touch material, such as slush-molded urethane on the instrument panel and upper door inners.

What’s more, the affordable compact box steps out of the color mainstream with its lime-green contrast stitching.

Yes, we really enjoy the funkier elements of the ’14 Soul, including the infamous door-mounted speakers ringed in light that change colors and pulse to the music.

The vertical speakers capping air vents on the IP also are a cool touch.

And Editor Jim Irwin rocks out to the Soul’s “first-rate audio system.”

“Welcome to ‘Club Kia,’” adds Editor James Amend. “I half expected bottle service in the second row.”

But don’t be fooled. The Soul is equally adept at the serious stuff: conveying information to the driver and passengers in a direct, simple way, while being ultra-ergonomic and comfortable.

“They did a nice job of putting most of the controls on the steering wheel and in a reachable location on the center stack,” Irwin says. He also calls out the 4-way adjustable steering column.

Many editors laud the Soul’s new-for-’14 8-in. (20-cm) touchscreen. Its virtual buttons are as big as the physical buttons on the steering wheel and center stack, and the richness and sharpness of its LCD screen is unparalleled in the C-segment.

The Soul also scores highly in comfort and safety, with some editors noting the voluminous legroom in the second row and adjustable rear head restraints.

The Soul’s shiny piano-black trim raises questions, but the “yeas” outnumber the “nays,” leading to another Ward’s 10 Best Interiors win for the Hyundai/Kia group, an automaker that quickly has established itself as a leader by combining fun with functionality, in a relatively affordable package.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com