Quirky is a word that may be overused in the automotive world to describe not-so run-of-the-mill vehicles, but it’s the best word we’ve found to describe the 2012 Kia Soul, so we’re gonna use it.

You may be familiar with the look of the Soul since there are many of them around the streets of Houston. It’s your basic little box with a car-like nose. The trailing edge of the box is slightly tapered so as not to mimic the Scion xB – which it doesn’t .

There are 3 trim levels, two of which have quirky names, base, + (plus sign) and ! (exclamation mark). I had the top of the line ! model.

This loaded-up Soul has everything you’d want and expect in a car that starts at $19,600 for the “!” model and includes 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic headlights, foglights, LED daytime running lights and taillights, a sunroof, houndstooth pattern two-tone upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and the Audio Upgrade package. If you tack on the Premium package for another $2,500 you’ll get what I had… keyless ignition/entry, leather upholstery, heated front seats, automatic climate control and a navigation system with real-time traffic.

Now I don’t care who you are…that’s a lot of car for about 22-grand.

So how does it drive? Awesome. Now I’m not trying to sell this car, just being totally honest here. This is NOT a sports car, so I didn’t expect, nor want, sports car-like ride and handling. This is an everyday, user friendly, fun, nicely equipped car that can zip you around town with a sporty-type ride, yet won’t beat you to death with a stiff suspension.

Highway travel is a breeze too. There is plenty of passing power in the 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine that whirrs out 164 horsepower. I had the 6-speed automatic transmission, which is the only one available in this top model. If you want a stick-shift – which I couldn’t imagine why – a six speed manual is available in the base and plus models.

I grew up in an era when controls were all operated manually and still really appreciate climate and audio adjustments that can give me the instant satisfaction I’m looking for. But I also appreciate navigation with a touch screen that incorporates audio, so I know the artist to which I’m listening, or the year the song was released.

One crazy feature that took me back to the late 60’s was lighting surrounding the speakers in the front door panels. Not only can you change the ring color but you can also synch it to the beat of the music. My friend Tommy (Puss) Wilson strapped a similar gizmo under the dash of Renault Dalphine and I thought that was the neatest thing, almost as good as Mike Campagna’s “reverb” unit located in the glove box of his Chevy Biscayne.

As for shopping comparisons to the Soul, let’s mention again the quirky Scion xB, just a lot more bulky looking , the Chevy Sonic and the bizarre, weird, odd-looking Nissan Juke. The only reason we throw the Sonic in there is pricing and size, other than that, it’s what I consider more mainstream in looks. As for the xB, it may have more interior space, but the current model losses a bit of the quirk and leans more toward ugly.

Speaking of ugly, another competitor to the Kia Soul is the Nissan juke. Now my fellow Texas Auto Writers all raved about its power and handling, and if that’s what you’re after, then I must agree. However, I can’t get past the disjointed front end on the Juke. Imagine wanting to show off your new girlfriend and you bring the chick nobody wanted to date to the party. What do you say? Oh, how nice, what a cool ride, absolutely love it…while deep down inside all of those friends and family members are wondering if you were high on something when you thought she looked good.

Back to the Soul, here’s what I really like about it. It’s kind of like a wagon without the wagon look, with plenty of cargo space to handle the Home Depot stuff or the kids soccer equipment with comfortable rear seating. If you need to haul a nightstand to Aunt Mary’s house or take your better half on a weekend back to nature trip, fold down the rear seats and you’ll still have room for the dog.

Oh, and did I mention fuel mileage? The 2.0-liter Soul gets a solid 26 mpg-city and 34-highway.

I’m giving the Kia Soul ! a five out of five stars. Loved it!!