With 2014 coming to a close and your's truly still having a number of vehicles that need to have reviews written up, I thought it would be a good idea to finish up the year with the remaining vehicles from the 2014 model year. Over the next few weeks, I'll be posting a number of quick reviews. This will be leading up to my favorite vehicles I drove in the past year.
Let's begin with the smallest vehicles that I reviewed: subcompacts and compacts.
First Up: 2015 Honda Fit EX
If there was one model that defined the current subcompact class, it would have to be the Honda Fit. When it was first introduced back in 2006, the Fit featured a clever back seat to increase the practicality of the vehicle; impressive driving dynamics, and sipping fuel like no other. Now the subcompact field has grown in terms of quantity and quality of vehicles. Honda has responded by introducing the third-generation Fit this year. How does the new Fit stand up to the new crowd?
The Fit retains the shape it has for the past two-generations, but it gets a bit more aggressive and sleeker. The front looks like Honda’s designers watched a bit too much of Iron Man with the solid one piece grille. Other items of note on the front include larger air ducts and slimmer headlights. The side profile boasts two character lines to help give it an identity. Around back are a set of tall taillights and a set of faux vents in the bumper.
Even though the new Fit is about 1.6 inches shorter than the previous model, Honda was able to increase passenger space by 4.9 cubic feet. This is due to a longer wheelbase and a thinner, center-mounted gas tank. Sitting in the back. I found more than enough head and legroom. Now the increase in passenger space means cargo space has dropped by about 4 cubic feet. Still, the Fit cargo’s space is impressive with 17 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 53 cubic feet with the seats down.
The back seat is also one of the most versatile I have ever come across in a vehicle. The Fit’s ‘Magic’ seat can be set up in four different ways to provide added functionality. Those include:
- Folding the rear seats down to create more space
- Folding one part of rear seats (60/40 split) to make room for cargo, while retaining some seat space for a passenger
- Folding the seat bottoms up to carry tall items
- Folding the front seats back to create a sudo-bed
Power comes from a 1.5L EarthDreams four-cylinder with 130 horsepower and 114 pound-feet of torque. In my tester, the engine was paired up to a CVT. The engine has to be worked to get up to speed which is normal for this type of car. What I’m not so happy with is the amount of buzzy-ness that is coming from the engine. Honda has said they have worked on trying to improve NVH levels in the Fit, though I find that hard to believe due to the amount of engine noise in the cabin. Thankfully, the powertrain does quiet down when you settle into speed. The CVT does behave nicely and doesn’t have the whine that most transmissions of this type are known for till you get higher in the revs. Fuel economy wise, the Fit with the CVT is rated by the EPA at 33 City/41 Highway/36 Combined. My week saw an overall average of 38 MPG. I should note that I did see 40 MPG when I took the Fit on a trip to Northern Michigan.
The Fit earned a reputation for being a fun to drive subcompact, and for the most part that still holds true. It feels playful when going through the curvy bits and the chassis keeps the car grounded. The steering is a bit too light, and it doesn’t have quite the feel that the last generation model was known for. But what surprised me is how Fit did on a long drive. Being a subcompact, I thought the Fit would be uncomfortable due to its short wheelbase. But Honda has made some improvements to the suspension to make it more comfortable for long trips. This means the Fit was able to deal with bumps and imperfections without having any of the passengers feeling it. After doing a drive to Northern Michigan, I had no aches or pain when I got out of the Fit.
The Honda Fit still stands tall in the subcompact class with its impressive versatility, fuel economy, and driving dynamics. Hopefully Honda has plans in the works for improving the NVH levels in the engine. Otherwise, the Fit is worth a look if you’re shopping for a new subcompact.
Disclaimer: Honda Provided the Fit EX, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Engine: 1.5L 16-Valve DOHC i-VTEC four-cylinder
Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, CVT
Horsepower @ RPM: 130 @ 6600
Torque @ RPM: 114 @ 4600
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 33/41/36
Curb Weight: 2,630 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Yorii, Japan
Base Price: $17,560
As Tested Price: $19,180 (Includes $820.00 Destination Charge)
Next Page: 2014 Kia Soul ! (Exclaim)
The automotive marketplace is known sometimes for being the arbiters of fads. Consider such models as Mazda Miata and the clones that followed soon after; or the Chrysler PT Cruiser. The most recent fad that we went through were the box cars, started by the likes of the Nissan Cube and Scion xB. These two models enjoyed some success in sales. Kia would become the third entrant in the box class, with the Soul. Like the Cube and xB, the should would become a decent seller. But in recent years, sales began to wane on the Cube and xB, while Soul continued to rise in sales. So what is it about the Soul that makes it a shining star, while its competitors dim out?
The Soul’s overall design hasn’t gone through a major transformation. The reason for that is Kia moving 112,000 Souls last year and the thought of a dramatic change could spell doom for sales. But that doesn’t mean Kia hasn’t made any changes. The front end now features a new lower fascia with a trapezoidal grille and a set of fog lights sitting on either side. The back takes some ideas from the 2012 Soul Trackster concept with a new rear tailgate design and large, wrap-around taillights. Those sharp looking eighteen-inch wheels come as part of the Exclaim (!) model.
Power comes in the form of two engines. The base is a 1.6L four-cylinder, while my tester featured the 2.0L GDI four-cylinder. The 2.0L produces 164 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic is the sole transmission choice. The 2.0L engine can be classified as being adequate as it seems to produce the same amount power as it does in noise. Stay on flat surfaces and around town duties and the engine does a fine job. But if you need to merge or tackle a steep hill, you’ll need to put the pedal to the floor and enjoy the noises coming from the engine. To be fair, the six-speed automatic does a decent job of keeping the engine right in the sweet spot of power. As fuel economy, the EPA rates the Soul Exclaim at 23 City/31 Highway/26 Combined. I got 27.3 MPG during my week of testing.
On the ride and handling front, the Soul did pretty well over some of Michigan’s ‘fantastic’ roads. Bumps and imperfections were mostly ironed over. As for the curves, the Soul’s suspension mostly keeps the vehicle planted. However, the tall shape does mean some body lean appears. The Exclaim model came equipped with the flex-steer system which varies the steering weight. I really don’t like this system as the comfort and sport settings are on the extreme ends (one is really light, while the other is too heavy). I left in normal which provided a nice balance.
Much like Kia, I can’t fully explain why the Soul is doing so well. But I have a good guess. Kia has a really impressive package in the Soul with an improved interior, good ride quality, and a funky look that makes it stand out. Whatever the reason is, Kia is doing something right with the Soul.
Disclaimer: Kia Provided the Soul !, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Trim: ! (Exclaim)
Engine: 2.0L GDI Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Six-Speed Automatic
Horsepower @ RPM: 164 @ 6,200
Torque @ RPM: 151 @ 4,000
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 23/31/26
Curb Weight: 2,837 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Gwangju, South Korea
Base Price: $20,300
As Tested Price: $26,195 (Includes $795.00 Destination Charge)
Sun & Sound Package - $2,600
The Whole Shabang Package - $2,500
Next Page: 2014 Mazda3 Grand Touring Hatchback
Its hard to believe that only a couple of years ago, Mazda was beginning to roll out its Skyacitv technologies in the last-generation Mazda3. In my review of the 3, I praised the Skyactiv powertrain for being a clever way of increasing fuel economy without resorting hybrid technologies. I also wondered how the 3 would be once it received the full suite of Skyactiv technologies. Well I had my chance when a 2014 Mazda 3s Grand Touring hatchback arrived for a week-long evaluation.
Mazda has been producing some of most distinctive vehicles on the road and the 3 is no different. Armed with the Kodo design language and lovely Soul Red color, the 3 stands out in the compact car crowd. Up front is a tall grille with a slim chrome bar running from underneath the emblem into the front headlights. The side profile reveals stylish curves for the fenders and roofline. Inside, the 3 has really stepped up in terms of design and quality. Materials are top notch, even though Mazda is sticking with the blackout theme. Some contrasting colors would be nice Mazda. Despite an increase an overall size, interior space is still small. Sitting in the back, I found myself wishing for bit more leg and headroom.
The Mazda3 comes with two different powertrains. i models get the 2.0L Skyactiv-G four-cylinder while s models come with the larger 2.5L. My 3 was equipped the latter which packed 184 horsepower and 185 pound-feet of torque. This is paired up to a six-speed automatic, but you’ll be able to get a six-speed manual. The 2.5 packs quite the punch and gets the 3 moving at a quick pace. Also, Mazda deserves credit for building a four-cylinder that’s refined and smooth. The six-speed automatic is quick on shifts and provides a good pairing for the 2.5. EPA rates the Mazda 3s Grand Touring at 28 City/38 Highway/32 Combined. I saw an average of 31 MPG.
The Mazda’3s handling is amazing. Along a curvy stretch of road, the 3’s chassis keeps the model flat. Meanwhile, the steering has good heft and provides a sporting driver the details of the road. It may not be a sports car, but 3 sure acts like one. Now the sports car aspirations do mean the 3 is a little bit more bouncy when dealing with potholes and bumps. Road and wind noise are kept at decent levels.
There is one concern I do have with the Mazda3. As tested, my 3s Grand Touring cost $30,415. The price includes $2,500 tech package which includes blind spot monitoring and radar cruise control. It made me wonder if Mazda was asking a bit too much for the new 3. It has value to justify it, but I wonder if someone is willing to drop that much for a Mazda3.
So the new Mazda3 is very much improved with the full suite Skyactiv technologies that it could be considered as best in class. The price however does give me pause from fully recommend it.
Disclaimer: Mazda Provided the 3 S Grand Touring, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Model: 3 Hatchback
Trim: s Grand Touring
Engine: 2.5L DOHC Skyactiv-G Four-Cylinder
Driveline: Front-Wheel Drive, Six-Speed Automatic
Horsepower @ RPM: 184 @ 5700
Torque @ RPM: 185 @ 3250
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 28/38/32
Curb Weight: 3,002 lbs
Location of Manufacture: Hofu, Japan
Base Price: $26,495
As Tested Price: $30,415 (Includes $795.00 Destination Charge)
5GT Technology Package - $2,500
Soul Red Paint - $300