Monthly Archives: April 2016

The best electric vehicle

Surprise: The answer isn’t Tesla. (Not unless you have a lot of money.)


This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Read the full article here.

After doing three months of research, interviewing leading experts, and driving all 11 electric vehicles that are available in the US, we’re convinced that the Kia Soul EV is the best car for most people who want to drive gas-free. Costing about $34,000 (or $26,500 after a federal tax credit), the Soul EV is a comfortable, versatile everyday car that’s easy to live with and drives better than most other EVs. Its 93-mile driving range is one of the longest you’ll find, which reduces range anxiety. It’s stocked with nifty high-tech features that make driving an EV easier. And it has a superlong warranty. Overall, the Soul EV is a great car that will cut both your driving costs and your carbon footprint.

Why you might consider an EV

An all-electric car is for people who want to drive completely gas-free, whether to cut driving costs or be more environmentally friendly. Unlike ahybrid car, an electric car runs completely on electric power and doesn’t have a backup gas engine. You can plug the car into any electrical outlet to recharge the battery, although recharge times are definitely longer than filling up at a gas pump (see Ins and outs of plugging in below).

You can save money by driving an EV because electricity is typically cheaper than gasoline; at the national average of 12 cents per kWh, electricity costs the equivalent of $1-per-gallon gas. EVs also require no oil changes or “tune-ups,” so you save money on maintenance. And in some areas you can get access to carpool lanes and other driving privileges. From the environmental perspective, an EV uses only about one-third the energy of a similar gas-powered vehicle. And it doesn’t produce any tailpipe emissions. Yes, emissions are generated by the power plants that charge an EV, but when broken down per vehicle the emissions are still much less than those from driving a typical gasoline car. EVs are also pleasantly quick and quiet to drive.

Downsides? EVs have a limited range before you need to recharge them—100 miles or less for most models. That’s enough for most commutes and around-town runs, but unless you have access to public charging you won’t be able to do longer trips. EVs cost more than a conventional car, although a federal tax incentive of $7,500 and various regional incentives help lower the price. Also, EVs aren’t sold in all states yet.

It may look like an engine under the hood, but there’s no combustion happening here.

Questions you should ask before getting an EV

  • How far do you drive in a day? Estimate the average distance you travel in a day so you can choose a model that easily gets you there and back before you need to plug it in.
  • Are there places where you can charge when away from home? Public chargers can give you a lot more flexibility in your daily driving.
  • Do you have access to another car for longer trips? If you don’t, are you okay with renting a car for those treks?
  • Do you have a convenient place to plug the car in for recharging (ideally a 240-volt outlet)? If not, how much would it cost to run an electrical line to a good location?
  • Does your utility company offer special rates for EVs? If not, can you charge the car during lower-rate, off-peak hours?
  • Will you need to drive the EV in freezing temperatures? Cold weather (and running the heater) can reduce an EV’s range by up to 40 percent, so add a buffer to your range estimates. If that adjusted range creates a pinch, you might consider a plug-in hybrid, such as the 2016 Chevrolet Volt, which provides a gas engine while still giving you lots of gas-free miles.
  • Are you okay with leasing a car? We think it’s better to lease an EV rather than buy one. You get the federal tax incentive up front, and leasing provides a hedge against the possibility of the battery pack failing prematurely (a part that might cost you thousands of dollars to replace) and possible rapid depreciation of the car because of how quickly EV technology is advancing.

Ins and outs of plugging in

Think of filling up your electric car as being more like charging your cell phone than remembering to stop for gas.

While you can plug any EV into a normal 110-volt household electrical outlet (called Level 1 in EV speak), a full charge can take a very long time: 16 to 20 hours or more. For most people, it’s much more practical to use a 240-volt charger (called Level 2) because it cuts those charging times by half or even more. But setting up your home for Level 2 charging can cost $500 to $1,200, plus installation and any necessary electrical upgrades. Some public charging locations have even-faster Level 3 chargers to give your EV a quick boost when you’re on the road.

Our pick

The Kia Soul EV has great range, an affordable price, and the best set of high-tech features.

Among affordable electric cars, the Kia Soul EV offers the best combination of a long range, a reasonable price (especially with the federal tax incentive), and a practical layout. Its 93-mile range is 15 miles more than most EVs, and it offers the best collection of features that are important to EV owners. The Soul is comfortable and space-efficient and it drives nicely, which isn’t something you can say about a lot of EVs (the regular Soul is our top pick for subcompact crossover SUVs). And Kia’s extra-long five-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty keeps the Soul covered longer than most cars; the powertrain, EV system, and battery are covered for 10 years or 100,000 miles. The one notable drawback is that it’s available in only 10 states: California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington.

The best EV—if money doesn’t matter

The Tesla Model S is the best electric vehicle. But because of its price tag, we can’t say the Tesla is the best electric vehicle for most people.

If you can handle its nearly $90,000 price, the Tesla Model S is easily the best overall electric car available, especially with the optional 90-kWh battery. It treats you to a long 200-mile range, luxury-car comfort, blistering acceleration, and sports-car cornering. It’s also a high-tech tour de force that makes you feel like you’re driving a bona fide car of the future.

An affordable runner-up

The Nissan Leaf SV is the go-to electric vehicle that most people know because it has been available for so long and has sold more than any other EV.

The 2016 Nissan Leaf SV, which costs about $35,000 (or about $27,500 after the federal tax credit), provides many of the same benefits as the Kia Soul EV, has an even longer range than the Soul (107 miles), and is sold nationwide. We recommend getting it with Nissan’s Quick Charge Package. The Leaf isn’t our top pick, though, because it’s not quite as roomy, comfortable, or versatile for carrying cargo and passengers as the Soul is.

This guide may have been updated by The Wirecutter. To see the current recommendation, please go here.

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

BY Mike Costello
Car Advice
Mar. 31, 2016

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Mid-sized SUV sales are growing more rapidly in Australia than any other vehicle type, and the two class benchmarks based on our testing to date are the Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5.

Proving, in this case at least, that our testing aligns with actual car buyers, this pair are also topping the sales charts in their segment so far in 2016. But both have a new enemy to contend with that, on paper, stacks up very well indeed.

Said enemy is the all-new Kia Sportage, which launched earlier this year to extremely positive reviews. It wraps its underpinnings in an edgier design to its South Korean sibling from Hyundai, and offers superior aftersales care.

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

The reality is, though, you couldn’t find a more similar trio of cars. The CX-5, Tucson and Sportage are all but identical in terms of drivetrains, dimensions and capabilities. And all three will be cross-shopped relentlessly.

We’ve chosen to test each in low-grade (but not base) specification, with entry petrol engines, automatic transmissions and front-wheel drive. This is the ‘sweet spot’ in the class, the box a significant number of people tick.

And so the breakdown is: Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport. Which is best?

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Price and equipment

The cheapest car here is the Mazda, at $32,790 (before on-road costs). This undercuts the Tucson at $32,990 and the Sportage at $33,990.

The commonality in specification is marked. Each car here gets a 7.0-inch screen, USB/Bluetooth connectivity, cruise control, a reverse-view camera, automatic headlights and six airbags.

But there are differences. The two South Koreans (Hyundai and Kia) get 18-inch alloy wheels with full-size spare wheels, while the Mazda gets 17s with a temporary spare. The Hyundai and Kia also get leather seats over the Mazda’s cloth upholstery, which is a big tick for parents, and electric-folding mirrors.

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport
Pictured above: Kia Sportage (top). Mazda CX-5 (below).

The Mazda is also the only car without parking sensors, with the Kia getting front and rear units and the Hyundai getting them at the rear. The Mazda is, finally, the only car here without daytime running lights. The Mazda is, however, the only car here with push-button keyless start.

The Tucson alone misses out on climate control air conditioning (it has a manual setup instead), rear privacy glass and rain-sensing wipers. It also lacks satellite navigation, unlike the other pair, though at present it’s the only one with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (the Kia gets it in the second half of 2016 as part of a software update). Therefore you have maps, albeit ones that rely on data.

As the newest car here, the Sportage misses out on nothing here, except for the aforementioned keyless start. It is also the only car with a standard electro-chromatic (auto-dimming) rear-view mirror.

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport
Pictured above: Hyundai Tucson (top). Kia Sportage (below).

But it’s not necessarily a win for the Kia. First, it costs $1000 more than the Hyundai and $1200 over the Mazda. Second, our Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport is fitted here with the $1230 Safety Pack, which adds blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and low-speed autonomous braking.

Thus, as tested, the Mazda CX-5 plays catchup in a big way. It boils down for this tester to which you’d prefer — the Kia’s leather seats and ‘proper’ spare wheel, or the Mazda’s optional safety tech (which you can buy with the cost difference you save on the CX-5).

The Hyundai’s lack of integrated navigation is a fail from us, but some people won’t mind. Objectively, though, it has a little bit of ground to make up.

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport
Pictured above: Mazda CX-5.

Cabins

Each of these three offer very respectable cabins for a family SUV. There is ample room in each for five adults plus gear, and a higher-riding and thereby more commanding driving position than an average small hatchback.

All also offer ample storage under the fascia with USB and 12-volt sockets (two in the Kia), big door pockets, sunglasses holders and door pockets, as well as suitably comfortable driving positions with enough seat and steering wheel adjustment to suit most.

Up front, it’s the Mazda that feels the most premium and upmarket. Its lovely leather wheel, tactile switches, silver cabin inserts, expensive-looking gauges (albeit without a digital speedo) and electric parking brake all feel like the province of a more expensive vehicle.

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Furthermore, its MZD Connect rotary dial that operates the tablet display is by far the most ergonomic here, the infotainment UX is the simplest to navigate, and the sound system (as checked by our chief technology officer and audiophile, Cam) is easily the best of the bunch.

But the presence of cloth seats bereft of proper bolstering or base length undoes the premium vibe somewhat. The seats are frankly, flimsier and cheaper than what the other pair offer. Which is a real shame, and a good reason to consider the $43,390 CX-5 GT AWD.

The Porsche influence carries over from the Sportage’s nose through to its cabin. Do you think those upright air vents flanking the fascia are just coincidentally similar to a Cayenne’s?

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Indeed, the Sportage offers an excellent cabin for the money. Its black leather seats are the best here, given they have the full gamut of electric adjustment and, despite the presence of some hard, cheap-feeling plastics, the overall tactility of the switchgear and most touch points, is superior to the less well-equipped Tucson.

We make particular mention here of the silver-rimmed window switches, the great sports steering wheel, the superior UX from the properly integrated 7.0-inch screen, and the contemporary, less sparse, dash layout. Cam also noted the Kia had the fastest electric windows here — 1.9 seconds to go down. ‘Every last detail’ indeed.

Compared with the Kia, the Hyundai looks austere. And next to the CX-5, it feels less tactile. The giant ‘voice control’ button in place of a sat-nav one, and the sea of black plastics, are notable, though the ergonomics are essentially without flaw. The presence of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration is a welcome fillip, though, Apple Maps is no substitute for satellite navigation.

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

In the rear, the clear winner is the Kia. It’s the only car here with rear air vents, and even offers a rear USB to recharge your phone/tablet. And while it has the fattest C-pillar here, and no third side-window, outward visibility is fine.

All cars here offer ISOFIX anchors, though, only the Mazda has a neater seat-mounted middle seatbelt, unlike the tacky roof-mounted setups in the Hyundai and Kia. On the flip side, the hard plastic seat backs in the Korean brands’ offerings are more child-friendly than the soft cloth setup in the Mazda.

There’s a similar amount of occupant space in the back row, which is to be expected given the equality of dimensions. The Hyundai and Kia share a 2670mm wheelbase, 30mm shy of the Mazda. The CX-5 is also 65-70mm longer and 50mm taller, but widths are about identical.

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport
Pictured above (top to bottom): Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage.

In the cargo area, the Tucson wins, with 488 litres expanding to 1478L when the middle seats are folded. The Kia is close, at 466L/1455L, ahead of the Mazda at 403L, which grows to an excellent 1560L.

The Mazda also has the best cargo cover, because it clips to the tailgate, and is the only car with levers in the rear to drop the middle seats (it even drops the 40:20:40 individually), meaning you don’t have to walk around the car to perform this task.

So when it comes to cabin analysis, the Kia and Mazda win again. The Kia offers the best rear seats, and has a more contemporary layout than the Hyundai. The Mazda has the best tactility and feel of quality, the cleverest boot and the greater sound system, but the lack of leather seats (plus the average bolstering) lets the team down.

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport
Pictured above (top to bottom): Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage.

Drivetrains

Each car here uses a 2.0-litre petrol engine matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, sending torque to the front wheels (front-wheel drive). Let’s be realistic — do you really need all-wheel drive in any of these cars? Rarely.

If you really need AWD, only the Mazda at this spec level comes with that option, paired to a bigger 2.5-litre engine for an extra $3000 (this previously said $5000, erroneously). You can get the Hyundai and Kia in AWD, but only in higher spec grades and again, with different engines.

Leading the pack in this test is the Hyundai, with 121kW of power (at 6300rpm) and 203Nm of torque (at 4700rpm). This is ahead of the Mazda with 114kW (at 6000rpm) and 200Nm (at 4000rpm), with the Kia just behind at 114kW (at 6200rpm) and 192Nm (at 4000rpm).

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

The Mazda (with start-stop) claims the lowest combined-cycle fuel consumption at 6.4 litres per 100km, appreciably better than the other two at 7.9L/100km. In our real-world urban testing the differences between the three were close to this, though each used about 25 per cent more fuel (we weren’t driving in the most efficient manner). All run on cheaper 91 RON petrol.

As the figures suggest, none of these SUVs are speed machines. All feel perfectly adequate punting around the city and at lower speeds, with decent response from their naturally aspirated engines, but feel rather laboured under heavier throttle. In other words, they’re fit for purpose but a touch uninspiring.

As the least powerful car here and the heaviest (at 1606kg kerb), the Kia feels marginally more lethargic than the other two. But in truth, the GDi engine in the Hyundai, despite its extra 7kW/11Nm and 22kg lighter kerb weight to pull about, feels scarcely different to the casual observer.

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

It’s the Mazda that has the edge, presumably because at 1491kg, it’s far and away the lightest car here. It also has that signature annoying SkyActiv (Mazda’s engine family) loud initial idle and tinny note.

But where it wins easily is its superior ‘Sport’ mode (all three cars have a mode that changes the throttle to make acceleration punchier, but the Mazda’s works best), and its brilliantly calibrated six-speed automatic transmission.

It’s the most intuitive here, not that the Kia or Hyundai’s torque-converter units are bad. They’re perfectly fine.

We did basic acceleration tests on each of these cars partially laden, and all measured between 10.5 seconds and 11 seconds 0-100km/h over repeated testing. There’s not much in it.

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Ride and handling

So far, then, we’ve seen the Kia and Mazda edge ahead. But now, we’ve found an area where the Hyundai shines.

Both the Tucson and the Sportage have Australian-developed suspension tuning, but for ours, the Tucson’s ride comfort is superior. It positively glides over all those road imperfections you’ll find out there, from potholes, to bridge joins, corrugations, cobbles and gravel. There are many, many European luxury crossovers that don’t ride this well.

The Kia, by comparison, feels just a touch harsher on initial impact. Both ride on larger 18-inch alloy wheels, though, neither actually feel it. The Kia is still well ahead of the class average. It just feels a little firmer and a little sportier as it reflects its branding, but is this what buyers want?

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

The Mazda feels the sportiest here, with a little more steering resistance and a little more eagerness to turn-in (thanks its lighter kerb weight). But all three have excellent body control for SUVs, staying flat in corners. The Mazda is a few decibels louder at a cruise, with some tyre roar sneaking through compared to the other pair.

The reality is, all three ride and handle better than the class average. None have an overly choppy or brittle ride, each steers and handles well, and each has the ability to be both comfortable yet sporty for the class, though, not compared to the average small hatchback of course.

But when you factor in what should be the priorities here, it’s the Tucson that wins, on account of its applause-worthy ride. The others are a little sportier, but that’s not what buyers here want, surely. We’d take any of them over a Toyota RAV4 or Nissan X-Trail in a heartbeat.

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Ownership

The Kia wins in terms of ownership. And not just against these rivals. There is simply no car brand with a longer-lasting aftersales program. You get an industry-topping seven-year/unlimited km, fully transferable warranty with roadside assist, and seven years of capped-price servicing covering a period of seven years/105,000km (this is seven services).

Sister brand Hyundai offers a very decent five-year/unlimited km warranty and roadside assist. It also offers a fantastic lifetime servicing plan, meaning every Hyundai dealer must charge the same amount for a given interval at a given time, which you can find out on its public website (as with Kia).

The Mazda comes with a three-year/unlimited km warranty. Mazda standard roadside assistance costs $68.10 per year, while its premium roadside assistance adds benefits such as accommodation, a rental car, or vehicle recovery, at a cost of $83.50 per year. It also comes with lifetime capped-price servicing.

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Verdict

If you’re determined or limited to spending around $35,000 on a mid-sized SUV for urban use, you won’t do better than this trio. Each offers an outstanding proposition, but there’s a clear order to be found.

The Hyundai Tucson Active X rides like a dream, offering supreme comfort, while its cabin is vast and its external design very stylish indeed. But it’s under-equipped and sparse inside compared to the Kia.

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

The Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport has the best cabin tactility, interface and sound system. It’s the sportiest in feel here, has the cleverest cargo area and comes available with outstandingly affordable preventative safety features.

But this sales champion is shaded by the new Kia Sportage SLi, though they’re both 8.5/10s. As you step up into higher price brackets, the order will no doubt change. But in this part of the segment, the Sportage offers the best balance between equipment, design and comfort, with the fewest compromises. It also offers the best ownership credentials.

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

If any of these cars floats your boat more than the other, rest assured that none are bad choices. The Kia for our money would be the best one. But it’s close.

Information boxes

Kia Sportage SLi FWD auto — $33,990
Hyundai Tucson Active X FWD auto — $32,990
Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport FWD auto — $32,790*

Sportage
SLi

Tucson
Active X

CX-5
Maxx Sport

Leather seats

Yes

Yes

No

Cruise control

Yes

Yes

Yes

Keyless start

No

No

Yes

USB port

Yes

Yes

Yes

Screen size

7.0-inch

7.0-inch

7.0-inch

Sat-nav

Yes

No

Yes

Apple CarPlay/Android Auto

Soon

Yes

No

Bluetooth

Yes

Yes

Yes

Climate control

Yes

No

Yes

Alloy wheel size

18-inch

18-inch

17-inch

Spare wheel type

Full-size

Full-size

Steel

Roof rails

Yes

Yes

Yes

Privacy glass

Yes

No

Yes

Rain-sensing wipers

Yes

No

Yes

Parking sensors

Front/rear

Rear

No

Reverse-view camera

Yes

Yes

Yes

Electric-folding mirrors

Yes

Yes

No

Isofix points

Yes

Yes

Yes

Daytime running lights

Yes

Yes

No

Auto headlights

Yes

Yes

Yes

Number of airbags

6

6

6

ANCAP rating

Not tested

5 stars

5 stars

Hyundai Tucson Active X v Kia Sportage SLi v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

Little Kia Soul comes up big

BY Jil McIntosh
Toronto Star
Apr. 8, 2016

Square shapes make the most interior space for passengers and cargo, always a bonus in a compact model such as Kia’s Soul.

2016 Kia Soul

It’s not necessarily pretty, but it’s practical. Square shapes create the most interior space for passengers and cargo, always a bonus in a compact model such as Kia’s Soul. It doesn’t take up much space in the driveway, but it’s surprisingly roomy inside for its size.

The Soul starts at $17,195 for the base LX trim, with a 1.6-litre four-cylinder that makes just 130 horsepower along with a six-speed manual transmission. But the basic trim doesn’t include air conditioning. You’ll have to pay $18,995 for a stick-shift model that does, or $19,895 to add A/C with an automatic transmission to that trim.

If you’re planning on packing in passengers, I recommend the 2.0-litre engine. It makes 164 horsepower and is used in all other trim lines, starting with the EX at $21,195, up to the top-line SX Luxury at $27,495. All Soul models are strictly front-wheel drive, there’s no all-wheel drive option.

My tester was the SX Sport, at $25,995. It’s immediately identifiable by its two-tone red-and-black paint scheme. You can also get it in black-on-red or red-on-white, the only colours available on this trim.

The larger engine comes exclusively with a six-speed automatic transmission. It’s econobox-noisy on hard throttle, but it’s otherwise adequate for downtown commuting or highway hauling. Handling is quick and it’s fun to drive, although Kia is fond of a gimmicky feature, Flex Steer, which changes the steering feel when you press a button. It’s been around for a while and I notice it’s been considerably improved since its inception, back when the Comfort setting on some vehicles was so soft it felt wobbly. This time around, there isn’t much difference between Comfort and the Normal setting. I kept it in Sport, which definitely isn’t sportscar-firm but it feels the most responsive.

A short turning radius helps with tucking the Soul into tight parking spots, especially with the rearview camera that’s optional on the mid-range EX and standard on the SX.

For its size, the Soul feels substantial. The doors close with a solid thunk, the interior surfaces are soft-touch, and the fit-and-finish is excellent. It’s a considerable step up from the first-gen Soul (last seen in 2013) and from other cheap-feeling (and now discontinued) boxy models such as Scion’s xB and the Nissan Cube.

And while the interior design has just enough funky cues to be interesting, it’s not over-the-top. I love the stereo speakers stacked above the vents, especially with the bright red accents that are part of the Sport package.

Kia packs quite a few features into the Soul, especially in the upper levels. My car included heated leather seats, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, automatic headlamps, automatic climate control, power-folding mirrors, push-button start, and my new favourite feature, a heated steering wheel. Taking the Soul up to its highest level also adds a panoramic sunroof, premium stereo, cooled seats, navigation, and lane departure and forward collision warning, among other items. All Soul models also come with a five-year/100,000-km warranty on almost everything.

It’s tough to cross-shop the Soul, since little else in the segment shares its boxy body or the features in its mid- and upper-level trims. Hatch models, such as the Toyota Yaris hatchback, Honda Fit and Chevrolet Sonic, also offer far less horsepower than the Soul’s 2.0-litre unit. But if price is of prime importance, those three competitors range from $2,420 to $2,800 less than the base Soul LX, even though the output from Kia’s 1.6-litre engine is comparable to that of the Fit and Sonic.

Still, for its features, the Soul’s worth a look and a test drive. It may look like the box it was shipped in, but there’s a lot more to it than that.

2016 Kia Soul

PRICE/AS TESTED: $17,195/$25,995

ADD-ONS: $1,725 freight

TYPE: Compact hatchback

PROPULSION: Front engine, front-wheel drive

CARGO CAPACITY: 532 L (rear seats up), 1,402 L (rear seats down)

TOW RATING: Not recommended

ENGINE: 1.6-litre four-cylinder or 2.0-litre four-cylinder

TRANSMISSION: 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic

POWER/TORQUE: 130/118 (1.6); 164/151 (2.0)

FUEL CONSUMPTION: City 9.8, hwy. 7.5, as-tested 9.3 (regular fuel recommended)

BRAKES: 4-wheel disc brakes

TIRES: P235/45R18 all-season (SX trim)

STANDARD FEATURES:

(SX trim as tested): Automatic climate control, Bluetooth, satellite radio, push-button start, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heated steering wheel, cooled glovebox, portable cargo flashlight, heated leather seats

ACCESSIBILITY: The high sill may be tough for some to step over

COMPETITION: Chevrolet Sonic, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris Hatchback

WHAT’S BEST: Handsome, well-finished interior

WHAT’S WORST: Noisy acceleration

MOST INTERESTING: You can also get an all-electric version

WEBSITE: Kia.ca

LOOKS: Yes, it’s a box. Some of us like boxes.

INTERIOR: Well-finished and comfortable

PERFORMANCE: Definitely not snappy, but gets the job done

TECHNOLOGY: Kia’s UVO voice recognition system is one of the best

WHAT YOU’LL LIKE ABOUT THIS CAR: A roomy interior for the vehicle’s size

WHAT YOU WON’T LIKE ABOUT THIS CAR: You can’t get all-wheel drive

SCORE: 6.8/10

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