WASHINGTON - This week my ride is known as the "hamster car." At least that's what my 5-year-old daughter calls it.
If you haven't seen it, the Kia Soul's TV commercials star buff hamsters. My daughter also likes its yellow color and cartoonish looks. Based on comments from family and friends, it seems you either like the look or you don't.
I have to admit, before I tested the car I thought I would be in the "don't" category. Especially when it showed up and in solar yellow -- a bright hue that makes the 2014 Soul stand out even more than I thought it would. You'll never have a problem finding this Soul in a parking lot -- unless you're parked among school buses.
Jokes aside, once I got in and started to drive, the cartoonish color and looks went away and I discovered a very fine compact car.
The Soul is one of Kia's bestselling models. The redesigned 2014 looks a little more aggressive on the outside and grew just a little without changing it too much. The real payoff comes with a nicer interior and a more refined ride. The base Kia Soul starts around $15,000 and comes with a 6-speed manual or automatic transmission but is saddled with a smaller 1.6 liter 4-cylinder engine putting out 130hp. The midlevel "Soul +" and top of the line "Soul !" (pronounced exclaim) come with a larger 2.0 liter 4-cylinder engine with over 160 hp.
The "Kia Soul !" model is the top-of-the-line model starting around $21,000, comes nicely equipped with rear view camera and automatic climate control. The tester I drove came loaded to the hilt with every option for around $26,000. There is so much equipment stuffed into this Soul like leather heated and ventilated front seats. Even the rear seats are heated for those sitting next to a window. That is just part of the option package called the "Whole Shabang" which also included keyless entry, those cool xenon headlights and push button start.
The other option package is the Sun & Sound. It comes with a huge panoramic sunroof and loud HD radio with navigation. This is one feature-packed compact that has plenty of headroom and a decent amount of storage space. I found the new Soul an excellent urban runabout. It's quiet, comfortable to sit in and is easy to park. The ride is very good even with the 18-inch wheels it soaked up most bumps.
The Kia Soul also returns decent gas mileage. I averaged right around 26 mpg of regular fuel in mostly stop-and-go traffic during my 200+ miles of driving.
If you are looking for a slightly funky and fun compact with a good amount of room, a lot of features and want to stand out, the redesigned 2014 Kia Soul does the trick. I went in thinking this was going to be joke of a car. I discovered it's a really good and comfortable urban runabout.
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