Fiat 500L, Kia Soul Make Fun Family Car Short List

It seems like yesterday that my husband and I leased a 2012 Volkswagen Jetta to accommodate our new family, but recently the lease came up and I was ready for a new car. Now that our daughter is entering preschool, our priorities have changed a bit, which made the new-car search more exciting this time around.

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Can the 2015 Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class Pull Family Duty?

2015 Mercedes Benz GLA-classI’ve been trying to get a Mercedes-Benz into my family’s fleet for some time, but the luxury brand’s offerings usually come in a little higher than our budget allows. I tested the 2014 CLA-Class with the hopes that this sub-$30,000 sedan could work for my family of three, but quickly determined the four-door “coupe” was not intended for families, even small ones. My scheming started again with the 2015 GLA-Class. I wondered if the three of us would fare better in the subcompact crossover, which starts at $32,225 including a destination charge, than in the CLA-Class.

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Soul vs. Soul-less.

Things seem to be awfully serious for me lately. My “return” to the working world after a three-year hiatus has me tethered to my office chair these days. In-between digging out of my inbox, managing deadlines and keeping up with some serious big-leaguers, my biggest boss (AKA My Three Year Old) also has me logging significant OT. As I trudge through the internet searching for the answers to surviving back-to-back tantrums each morning and discipline tactics not involving life-long damage, I yearn for times more carefree.

IMG_6141Enter the 2014 Kia Soul. The “Solar Yellow” toaster-on-wheels (whom I’d affectionately named “Bumblebee”) was delivered for my one-week test drive, and we were headed for Vegas just two days later. Things were anything but serious as soon as I depressed the push button start (because really, once you go push button you can never go back and be bothered to actually turn a key). With the panoramic sunroof rolled back and Random Access Memories soaring from the speakers, the mini-road trip commenced. My grin grew wider and my heart got lighter with each sad, lifeless rental car I passed on the 15 North.

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Cut to the chase — what did you actually think of the car?
I was pleased to discover new-found pep in the Soul’s step and I enjoyed the firmer steering once I activated Sport mode. Frankly, the drive experience all-around was leaps and bounds better than the previous generation (click here for that review on The luxuries available inside the car were more mature than its exterior looks would imply. I loved that in spite of the car’s compact dimensions, the glove box was large enough to swallow my huge purse and packing luggage for two in the back was a non-issue. Cooled seats kept us fresh throughout our trek across the desert and a heated steering wheel came to the rescue after my hands were chilled by big gulps filled with crushed ice and Diet Coke. Both my husband and I took turns streaming music seamlessly since both our smartphones were connected via Bluetooth. But most importantly, it stayed fun and competent when handling family duty, post-Vegas — to say it was kid-approved would be an understatement.

So what?
While I can concede that you shouldn’t base your car purchase on the feeling your car gives you (no matter what those slick advertisers may say), I will say that driving the Soul gave something back to me. After feeling completely Soul-less, a week with the Kia Soul seemed to have my chakras aligned again. Dramatic? Yes. But true nonetheless.

Personality matters … to me.
These days, when it’s tough to differentiate between fuel-efficient commuters and monotonous family SUVs (unless you’ve got a dead-on view of the badge on the front grille), I think the fact that the Soul says something out there on the road matters. It’s the same reason I applaud when others groan over the Nissan Juke or the BMW X6; some find them ugly, but I’m just glad that they tried to be different than all the other soul-less appliances out on the road.

Back in the day, when people drove those big boats with flashy colors — and even flashier tail fins — a car reflected a personality. Cars were fun, whimsical, aspirational and they said something about the driver. After a week, I was convinced: I could let the Soul start doing a little talking for me (once I shushed those concerns about its age-appropriateness). One thing I do know, it sure was a bummer at the end of the week when I found myself Soul-less again.