Entry Price: $14,700

Price as Tested: $26,195

This week, we're testing Kia's 2014 Soul ! (Exclaim), a new generation model that Kia stresses is totally transformed, more fun to drive and offers more advanced technology. After a week of driving, the improvements are indeed noteworthy.

Starting at just $14,700 for the base Soul, pricing moves up the ladder to the Plus (+) at $18,200 and then the top line Exclaim (!) at $20,300. Our Exclaim tester is an amenity rich version which came with a $2,600 Sun & Sound Package and a $2,500 "The Whole Shabang" option. When you add the $795 delivery, the final price of $26,195 pushes Soul right out of the "Price Ballgame," especially if return on investment is on the potential buyer's list.

Specifically, for $26,195 there are better deals around for a fun vehicle. However, Souls priced at $15,495 and $18,995 delivered are certainly good buys and more than roadworthy. Additionally, Soul competes in a class that has been decimated, as Nissan Cube still struggles for acceptance, Honda Element is no longer available and Scion XB may be on its last legs in the "box car" brand segment.

Bottom line? Kia Soul survives and now thrives, with expected sales of 120,000 units for the new generation. This is a great number compared to some of the other box cars or small subcompacts, like Chevy Spark/Sonic, Smart Car or Fiat 500.

The new Soul's exterior is similar to '13, although upgrades include new rear taillights, larger fenders are some sculpture upgrades to the fascia and side areas. Overall, Soul's exterior stays pretty much the same.

Inside and underneath, however, designers went to work on the new Soul. The cabin is upgraded in a major way, and offers a new instrument panel, more high tech steering wheel controls, enhanced seating, more amenities and a longer overall length thanks to a wheelbase stretch of 0.8 inches. The latter allows Soul to utilize the same platform as Kia Rio 5-door, another popular compact from Kia.

The top line Exclaim comes with 18-inch tires on beautiful alloys, improving ride, handling and comfort. Engineers also added some much needed sound insulation, although all Souls are still prone to road and engine noise. The ride is firm, but acceptable and handling is good for a small car.

Power comes from a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder on Plus and Exclaim versions, producing 164 horses and 151 lb. of torque. The entry level model still relies on the 1.6-liter powerplant that puts out just 130 horses and 118 lb. of torque. A 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic are available on the base Soul, while Plus and Exclaim come only with the fine shifting 6-speed automatic.

Suspension upgrades are most notable thanks to a stiffer layout featuring MacPherson struts up front and a rear torsion beam setup out back. All safety equipment is standard, as are things like four wheel disc ABS, traction and stability control and much more. (Your Kia dealer will explain). The 164 horse engine delivers acceptable albeit non-inspiring acceleration, while 2.0 powered Souls deliver 23 city and 31 highway which is good but not exceptional.

The aforementioned Sun & Sound feature adds automatic climate control, panoramic sunroof, Navigation and Sirius XM Traffic displayed on an 8-inch screen. Personally, I'd pocket the $2,600.

"The Whole Shabang," meanwhile, adds heated and ventilated front seats, nice leather seating, heated rear outboard seats, heated steering wheel, supervision meter with 4.3 inch color LCD, HID headlamps, and push button start. (This one is OK). A rear camera safety display is standard on Exclaim, and optional on the Plus.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 101.2 inches, 5.9 inch ground clearance, 2,879 pound curb weight, from 24.2 to 49.5 cu. ft. of cargo space, 14.2 gallon fuel tank, and a 34.8 ft. turning circle.

The new Soul is indeed an improved fun car. However, by keeping your choice in the lower priced versions, you'll eliminate any depreciation issues that a $27K model might bring with it.

Likes: New design, interior, 10 year/100,000 mile warranty.

Dislikes: Rear camera not available on base model, noisy ride, no 4x4 available.

Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist.