IRVINE, Calif. — The 2012 Kia Soul is this year’s No. 1 back-to-school car, according to Kelley Blue Book. The vehicle information site’s annual “10 Back-to-School Cars for 2012” llist ranks the top affordable new-car choices for students.

Editors of looked at the most affordable cars of 2012 and then picked the 10 best bets according to the needs and wants of students. All of the vehicles on this year’s list are available for less than $16,000, according to KBB’s Fair Purchase Price. 

“From funky hatchbacks to stylish sedans, all of’s 10 Best Back-to-School Cars of 2012 are affordable, safe and reliable, not to mention fun to drive and fuel efficient.  Most importantly, these vehicles fulfill the often distinctively different set of new-car criteria of both parents and students, striking a healthy balance,” said Jack R. Nerad, executive market analyst for Kelley Blue Book’s 

Below is a ‘cheat sheet’ of sample selections from’s 10 Best Back-to-School Cars of 2012:

2012 Kia Soul

“With a low price tag, roomy interior and singular looks, the Kia Soul charms with a practical but youthful exuberance. And it gets even better for 2012, gaining direct injection technology and six-speed transmissions that yield bumps in power, responsiveness and fuel economy. Stir in tastefully refreshed exterior and interior bits, and the Soul convincingly grabs the top spot on our list of Best Back-to-School Cars for 2012.”

2012 Hyundai Accent

“Like an adolescent outgrowing that gawky stage and becoming a runway-worthy young adult, the Accent has shed its econobox self to become a real stunner. Done with its automotive puberty, 2012 marked an all-new Accent sedan and hatchback with fresh sheet metal, more power and even better fuel economy. Retained is a 10-year powertrain warranty that will last beyond the college years.” 

2012 Chevrolet Sonic

“Sporty design, vibrant colors, lots of space for friends and even that cool name make the Sonic hatchback and sedan attractive to younger drivers. Their parents, meanwhile, will be keen on this subcompact’s outward visibility, easy-to-drive manners, good fuel economy and eager (but not overwhelming) engines.”

2012 Mazda3

“Student bodies seeking a bit more space for passengers and cargo will find lots to like in the stylish and sporty Mazda3. Available in sedan and hatchback forms, even the most affordable four-door version of this well-finished compact comes with a respectable measure of Mazda’s zoom-zoom character, impressive safety features and a utility-enhancing 60/40 split-folding rear seat.”

2012 Nissan Versa

“As the least expensive car in America, the Nissan Versa makes an excellent choice for students looking for the most sensible way to get from A to B. But despite its rock-bottom price tag, the five-passenger Versa sedan includes a full suite of basic creature comforts plus unexpected niceties like an auxiliary audio jack for portable music players.”   

For the remaining five vehicles, including full editorial commentary for each of the editors’ picks and the rank order, click here.