Kia Soul & Toyota Sienna Limited AWD
Kia Soul |STARTING PRICE: $16,000
The most aptly deserved name for the Kia Soul might be “Square Peg.” With the rise in popularity of the subcompact and compact crossovers, the demand for tall, boxy wagons has plummeted. However, the demand is still there, and the boxy Soul stands ready to fill the need. The Kia Soul was introduced to the world in 2009 as a quirky yet fun little vehicle. It was an immediate hit and has grown in popularity over the past several years. Yet the shortcomings of the vehicle remained and consumers wanted features that the original car couldn’t deliver. It received some major changes in the second generation in 2014, and now two years later, the 2016 Soul delivers even more.
Kia did a skillful job of retaining the uniqueness and fun of the Soul while adding substance and refinement. The changes will significantly increase the demand for the car. Not only has the essence of the vehicle been preserved but the starting price has also remained low. Kia has reconfigured the vehicle to allow a huge array of options to be added. The beauty is that if you want the base version of this greatly improved vehicle, the price is still attractive. But if you want a Soul full of options, you can now have that too.
The fundamentals of the 2016 Soul are impressive. Regardless of which model you buy, they all have a 5 star safety rating, which includes a full suite of air bags, 4 wheel disc anti-lock brakes, stability and traction control, a side door steel beam, tire pressure monitoring system, etc. The impressive ride quality and handling is the same on all models. The interior roominess, comfort and quietness are also found on all models.
My test Soul was the top of the line “!” model which carried a sticker price of $26,195. This year’s changes come in the form of more standard equipment, including forward collision and lane-departure warning for the Soul! Also new are HID headlamps up front and an array of LED lights for the rear. As you add options to this very nicely designed vehicle, the price goes up. My test Soul carried a sticker price of $26,195. Kia cleverly offers premium options on this small economy priced vehicles. My Soul had leather seating, a panorama sunroof, navigation plus an upscale audio system.
It also had a power driver seat, a hidden storage area in the back and lighted speakers with glowing colored rings around them. Uniquely, my Soul had a keyless entry/push to start ignition with proximity sensors that would automatically fold the outside mirrors in when I left the car and fold them back out as I approached it. It also had luxury items not available on vehicles costing twice as much, such as heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel and most impressively, ventilated/cooled front seats! Another new but small touch is in the two-tone stitching and soft touch materials used throughout the cabin. The Soul’s interior feels more plush and more substantial. Even LED mood lighting adds to the overall feel of the inside.
The car is a joy to drive either in the city or on the highway. The 2-liter engine with the 6-speed automatic transmission is a perfect match for the vehicle. It has more than enough power and delivered an excellent real-world 26.8 miles per gallon of fuel economy in a week of driving.
What Kia is offering with the Soul is a vehicle that is substantial enough to be safe, poised and refined enough for cross country trips, nimble enough to happily live in the city and yet has enough cool
features to keep you entertained and enthralled with the car for years to come.
Toyota Sienna Limited AWD | STARTING PRICE: $29,000
Minivans: people either love ’em or hate ’em. The 2016 Toyota Sienna Limited makes a strong case for the Love ’em category, especially when you add in the Platinum package.
So, what makes the Toyota Sienna such a winner? For me, it starts with the way it drives. While the Sienna is large (200 inches long and nearly 70 inches tall) it handles with the control and finesse of a 4-door sedan. Its rack-and-pinion steering might have something to do with that; or it could be its independent front strut and rear torsion beam suspension. Perhaps it’s the fact that the Sienna is built on the Camry platform. Whatever it is, the driving dynamics of this minivan are impressive.
Beyond that, the Sienna is a really great way to get around town. Again, handling like a smaller sedan is a big plus. It’s easy to drive and has the maneuverability to squeeze into parking stalls with ease; the rear backup camera makes things even better. The cabin maintains a level of Lexus-like quietness.
Its 3.5-liter V6 engine is more than ample and the 6-speed automatic transmission effortlessly ticks through the gears. For a little more control you can switch over to sport mode and change gears yourself — something I like to do on the downhill runs. This powertrain combines for 266 horsepower and 245 lb.-ft. of torque. So no, you’re probably not going to win any races off the line, but you will be able to merge onto the freeway without even thinking about it and you can even do it while towing up to 3,500 pounds. Average fuel economy is about 19 mpg.
Now for the good stuff — the interior. Dual power-sliding doors are the first step into the spacious cabin. Third row occupants can easily pass by the second row captain’s chairs, and there’s plenty of room for everyone to spread out. The third row seats can fold completely flat — easy to accomplish with a one-handed operation. There’s still a generous amount of storage space behind the third row. Leather throughout, 3-zone climate control, and plenty of places to charge or plug in your electronics are all nice touches. Navigation, push-button start, and satellite radio are also included plus a Blu-Ray/wireless headphone setup.
There is no doubt that the Sienna was built and designed with the family in mind. An excellent ride quality, spacious interior, and plenty of amenities make this a great family vehicle, whether you’re taking road trips or just getting around town. As tested, my Sienna featured about $1,500 in options, topping out at just under $50K.
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