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2014 Kia Soul+

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Two black panels in the roof are twin sunroofs.

Cute, youthful Kia Soul impresses on all fronts

We all could use a little more Soul, and Kia is certainly doing all it can to encourage it.

Kia’s Soul is one of the cutest crossovers out there and among the most economical too, both on the pricing and fuel economy fronts. I never ceased to be impressed by this small hatch, tall wagon, or whatever you choose to call it.

First, its hip hamster commercials have helped draw attention to the slope-roofed compact, but its look also sets it apart from other boxy vehicles. Now Kia has slightly stretched its wheelbase and its power while keeping pricing modest so that the youth market the Soul targets has a fighting chance of being able to afford it, even if the minimum wage doesn’t increase.

Let’s start with the driving pluses.

By extending Soul’s wheelbase about an inch to 101.2 inches, the Kia, which already had a good ride, becomes even more manageable on today’s decrepit roadways. There is a still some jiggle on high, or deep road obstacles, but they are mostly well muted, so never a sharp jolt.

kiaHandling is fairly quick and much livelier feeling than in most small utes, crossovers and such. Plus the turning radius is a modest 34.8 feet, so putting this into a parking space or maneuvering crowded East Side streets is a breeze. And at 2,714 lbs., the Soul feels light and agile. The tested Soul+ model also comes with 17-inch tires, one inch larger than is standard on entry-level models. Continue reading 2014 Kia Soul+

2014 Lexus IS350 AWD

Who makes the best compact sport sedan? Well, BMW has owned that segment for years, but it would be hard to argue against Lexus now making the best looking sport sedan with its new IS series.lexus red

Lexus created the IS to be a BMW 3 Series (now renamed the 4 Series) fighter, but Lexus is better at creating a luxury feel than BMW. The difference is BMW always leans toward total performance and Lexus leans more toward luxury in any of its makes.

Ah, but the tested bright metallic red (Matador Red) IS350 AWD has plenty of power to go with its outward styling pizzazz. Lexus pops a 3.5-liter V6 with variable valve timing under its well sculpted hood and that throbbing engine pumps out 306 horsepower. Boom! It’ll kick you in the seat of the pants and with paddle shifters on the steering wheel you can control your own seat kicking!

There’s a seamless shifting 6-speed automatic that you can control manually with those paddle shifters, but a key here is the svelte nature of the IS350. The sport sedan weighs 3,737 lbs., but rides on a 110.2-inch wheelbase. So while it feels nimble, it’s long enough to provide a mostly fine, yet sporty ride.

lexus red3Sure, take it on our crumbling cement streets or over railroad tracks and that stiff sport suspension will give you a little shake. But that’s the nature of the beast. Lexus puts a double wishbone front suspension on the IS and a multi-link system in back.

Handling? Precise, is the key word, along with fluid. The car steers easily and smoothly, but you can snap off corners or apexes of turns crisply and the car stays completely flat as you power through a sharp turn. A BWM gives you that same handlingl, but usually with heavier steering feedback. Whichever you like is certainly a matter of personal preference. Continue reading 2014 Lexus IS350 AWD