2012 Kia Soul convenient, economical for families

2012 Kia Soul 2012 Kia Soul Photo Credit: Handout

advertisement | advertise on newsday

As a mom who is always on the lookout for an "anti-Mom" vehicle, the Kia Soul definitely piqued my interest. At first, I questioned its "age-appropriateness" for a lady like me with a baby in the backseat, but after 5 minutes behind the wheel, I really didn't care.

The 2012 Kia Soul isn't just young and cool; it's convenient, economical and fun for a family to ride around in.

To many people, the Soul is the "hamster car," but it's so much more than that. It's a fantastic family car disguised in a compact car's body. The new, more powerful four-cylinder engine in the 2012 model makes this little car quicker on the road, and it's definitely ready to merge right on to the highway. It's also a snap to parallel park and easy to maneuver through neighborhoods with twisty roads and in and out of parking lots all over town. Its fuel efficiency makes it a desirable commuter car, too.

About three days into my test drive with the Soul, I noticed I was listening to the radio a little louder and running errands a little more often.

The Kia Soul starts at $13,900 for a base model with a six-speed manual transmission, but my top trim level Soul!, with a six-speed automatic transmission and navigation, costs $22,850.

Exterior

At first look, the Soul looks like a miniature SUV. It's really more of a squared-off station wagon. Not only does its shape set it apart from a traditional station wagon, but it also adds a roominess and functionality that makes a big difference. Bonus points should be awarded for its fun styling, too. While the Alien Green paint color of my test car was definitely not my color of choice, imagining it in Shadow Black made me think that as far as these boxy wagons go, the Soul is definitely the most attractive.

From the outside, the Soul looks small. A family may wonder how they'll all fit into this little box on wheels. The great news is the Soul is taller than a wagon or sedan, but it's not high off the ground. This strikes the perfect balance between being easy for small children to enter and exit independently, as well as being high enough to load even smaller kids into their child-safety seats without any awkward bending. The combination of the low floor/high roofline and square door openings make it easier than expected for adult passengers to get into and out of it, as well.

There is a potential deal-breaker for families who like to pack it in: The cargo area is small. A double stroller definitely won't fit in it, and if you're one of those people that keeps things in the trunk for just-in-case moments, you'll definitely disregard the Soul. However, with the generous storage bins underneath the cargo area floor and being able to fit my stroller in the back by standing it up on its side, that issue was resolved for me. No stroller? Your groceries, sports equipment or suitcase will fit just fine. The 60/40-split folding rear seats allow you to fold a seat or two down to increase the cargo space.

The Soul comes with a standard 135-horsepower, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that gets an EPA-estimated 27/35 mpg city/highway. There's also a larger engine -- 160-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder -- that gets 26/34 mpg. It's standard in the Soul+ and Soul!. Coupled with a need for only regular unleaded gasoline, it's economical for a car that warrants such good times on the road.

SENSE AND STYLE

Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Good Times

Interior

The Soul's interior is quite surprising -- all the moms who laughed at me as I endorsed its family wagon capabilities soon stopped after getting inside it. That boxy shape on the outside sure affects how things function on the inside; what you end up with is a roomy cabin.

Although the Soul has the capability to seat five, four passengers are probably more ideal. For my family of three, everyone had plenty of room, and another passenger in the backseat would've had no complaints if they joined us. Legroom was good for my front-seat passengers with a rear-facing child-safety seat behind them. Cupholders are available for four passengers, and there is a fair amount of storage for a car of this size.

What's even better is the Soul's interior styling is just cool. My top-trim level Soul! had optional leather seats, but I wish it would've come with the houndstooth cloth seats. Yes, houndstooth! It's something to get excited about for anyone who values style and a little personality. And, the Soul! can be equipped with navigation, push-button start with smart key and an upgraded sound system.

From the outside, the car may look like it's geared toward a teenager, but with even more available luxuries like heated seats and an multimedia system with a backup camera, the Soul can satiate families who appreciate upgraded features. Remote keyless entry and Bluetooth connectivity come standard.

2012 Kia Soul Photo Credit: Handout
IT'S THE LITTLE THINGS THAT COUNT

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

Safety

The 2012 Soul has been named a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To receive this safety nod, a car must earn the top score of Good in frontal-offset, side-impact, rear and roof-strength crash tests. It received an overall rating of four stars of five in crash tests by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. It got four stars out of five in frontal and rollover crash tests and five stars in the side-impact crash test.

You might not expect it, but child-safety seats are easily accommodated by the Soul. Front-row legroom wasn't compromised too much when I had my rear-facing infant-safety seat installed in the back. There are two sets of lower Latch anchors in the outboard seats, but they're buried in the seat cushions, causing a struggle when trying to access them. The Soul's high ceiling offset this frustration because I never had to worry about bumping my head while moving around to get the car seat installed properly. See how the 2012 Soul performed in Cars.com's Car Seat Check at Cars.com.

The Soul's standard safety features are front-wheel drive, all-disc antilock brakes with brake assist, active front head restraints, an electronic stability system with traction control and six airbags, including side curtains for both rows. A backup camera is standard on the highest trim level, but available on the other trims.

You also may be interested in: