Category Archives: Economy Car

Fiat 500 Lounge – Winner, Winner, Spaghetti Dinner

 2018 Fiat 500 “Cinquecento” Lounge

– The perfect city runabout with a turbo

Check out our Queer4Cars YouTube Channel Video on the Cinquecento

2018 Fiat 500 Lounge Turbo HatchbackFCA offered us a week of Italian car time, sending the 2018 Fiat 500 Lounge, or to be proper in Italian, Cinquecento.

72 Fiat 850 Spider in Yellow courtesy of Hemmings Motor News
72 Fiat 850 Spider courtesy of Hemmings Motor News

This brought back lots of memories of a college-era yellow 1972 Fiat850 Spider. While today’s modern 4-seat two-door hatchback was not a drop top like that classic spider, it did have a retractable glass roof. More important it had a lot more of pick up and go and provided similar fuel economy in the upper 30’s miles per gallon on premium fuel. (Editor’s note: the ’72 got 42 mpg on premium fuel, 9-gallon fuel tank, out of a very tiny less than a 1-liter engine, and the convertible top leaked when it rained, but it was a really cute car.)

 

Fiat 500 Lounge Ivory Seat OptionThis 500 was dressed in Oliva Green Pearl paint with an Avorio or ivory white seats and matching interior that stood out quite well in contrast. At first, there were some feelings of reluctance to like the 500, but as the week went by and the more we drove it, the more we came to like its quirkiness, and how spunky it was. Going downtown on a busy Saturday proved its worth, as the smallness of the Fiat meant no problem parking in a spot that other cars could not have slipped into. Win ONE for the Fiat.

 

Floor It Again Tony

Fiat 500 Turbo 1.4 liter engineThe turbo powered 1.4 inline 4-cylinder multiport fuel injected engine connected to the six-speed automatic transmission (a $995 option, yes, a manual is available,) produced plenty of power for this little runabout for city driving. And while it does not sound noisy on the outside when parked, there seems to be plenty of exhaust noise on the inside, this may be to make you think it is a powerful, sporty European car. While we did not take it out on the highway, there is no doubt this engine would work hard to keep up at top highway speeds.

At city speeds from 0 to 40, we found it had plenty of power and then we became used to the sporty exhaust noise. Fuel economy was in the mid to upper 30’s for us buzzing around town. Win TWO for the Fiat.

 

Cuteness Overload

1960's Fiat 500 Cute Little Car
1960’s Fiat 500 photo courtsey of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

While the design is hardly flashy it is quite reminiscent of that from the 1960s zipping about European cities with movie stars driving them. You must admit clunky can be cute, and the 500 can be customized to make it even more adorable. When they first came out there was even a Gucci designer edition. We found that mature women swooned over this little car.   Win Two and a half for the Fiat.

 

Interior

Fiat 500 Lounge InteriorWe found the interior to be functional and attractive, using the exterior body color as a splash across the dash in a plastic insert that gives the interior an eye-attracting splash of color. And it does take your eye away from the hard plastics that make up the rest of the interior, which is normal on cars in this price range.  Button placement on the mid and upper center of the dash, are large and easy to engage, as well as know what they are doing.  This is a major WIN for the Fiat.

Fiat 500 Front SeatsSeats are comfortable though not easily adjustable, the front seat back adjustment lever is on the inside, which took some searching for and the front and rear adjustment is in the front and once released is very quick to move, so don’t do it as you accelerate, which we did, finding ourselves at the back of the track very quickly.  Rear seats are not just a covered foam board like in other much higher priced vehicles. Right and left rear seatbacks to fold Fiat 500 Lounge Rear Seat Entrydown individually so you can get someone in the back and carry longer items as well. Don’t expect a lot of leg room, but you would not with a car this small anyway, the good news is there is some leg room, and getting in and out will not turn the rear seat passenger into a pretzel, but if you practice yoga, you will find it easier get in and out of the back of a Fiat 500.

Fiat 500 Lounge Rear Hatchback with seat folded down

Cargo area is big enough to carry groceries or other items, surprising for such a small car. You actually have a space to put things even if you have four people riding in the car, which is helpful as everyone carries stuff with them.

 

Fiat 500 has USB Power and other outletsFiat 500 Lounge USB Power in glove boxPower plugs are a must these days and the 500 had three if you include what at one time was a cigarette lighter. Two USB ports, one tied to the Uconnect Audio system in the center console, and one in the glove box that only provides power. A simple audio jack is also undercover in the center console. These three all are vertical, so something could fall into them and cause issues, which is why they have cover doors over them. Like most cars today you have to add a $30 smokers’ package, which is an insert into a cup holder for an ashtray and a cigarette lighter to go in the leftmost power outlet, to accommodate smokers. We thought all Italians smoked.

 

On-Board Technology

Fiat 500 Lounge Tech Screen BeatsAudio SiriusXM RadioAt this price point, tech is often very low. Though Fiat does give you some trendy pop brand options like TomTom for GPS and Beats audio, and of course Sirius XM Satellite radio. The Uconnect in the Fiat is very basic, we never did connect our Samsung phone to it, as it kept not recognizing the Bluetooth signal. The $595 Fiat 500 TomTom GPS

TomTom GPS is very simple with grainy imagery and clunky operation. The $695 premium Beats audio did not stand out as we thought it might.  This is a loss for the Fiat.

 

What’s not to like

While it is a short list, and the pros are more than the cons, there are some things that we found bothersome about the 500.

Fiat 500 Sunshade and visorThe seating position never quite gives a comfortable driving position for your legs. If you put the seat back to stretch out, the steering wheel was too far away, up close, your legs were uncomfortably bent. So this would not be a good long-distance driving comfort.  The sunroof’s interior sunshade is an open weave screen fabric letting in the bright sunshine even while closed. And the sun visors are tiny, because the front window is small, and do not extend when you move them over to the side covering less than half of the door’s window. And we never did find the door electric lock/unlock button, to unlock the doors you will have to open the door from inside handle. Price is a con, as it is high compared to other automobiles on the market today.  More loss than a win, so be it.

 

What is to love

Fiat 500 Gage ClusterAt first the cuteness of the size of the 500, easily slips into a small parking spot. The rear camera gave a great view of where the bumper was in relation to the car behind and the curb as well. And if you have the wipers on, the rear wiper will activate as well, helping you see.  Visibility was very good for this car, plenty of glass to be able to see out and very little obstructions. Fun to drive in town, we found it zippy and energetic. WIN for the Fiat

 

Fit and Finish

Fiat 500 Fit and FinishFor a small inexpensive car (though the price may not reflect that) that has the carried the Fix It Again Tony line since the brand started, fit and finish is very good both inside and out. And at this price point no one expects premium materials on the inside, nor do you get them, but the design is good for what is in your main line of vision. Exterior parts are well put together and the doors and hatch feel and sound solid.

 

Price

Fiat 500 StickerWhile four models of the 500 are available, Base Pop starting at $16,495, 1957 Retro Edition, $19,745, Lounge (what we drove) $19745, and the awe-inspiring Abarth, $20,495. All of these come in your choice of a hatchback or Cabrio, which is more a canvas sunroof. Our hatchback came with the $795 power glass sunroof.

The Cinquecento that we were loaned by FCA priced out at $24,815 which included the $250 Ivory seats, $995 automatic transmission, $795 power sunroof, $595 Tom Tom Navigation, $695 Premium Beats Audio System and the $445 16-inch bright aluminum wheels, with a $1295 destination charge.

At the time of writing there was a $1250 cash incentive on the Fiat 500. Even with that, it is pricy for this segment of car.  With just about the same amount being a destination charge, larger vehicles have smaller numbers on that line. No doubt you are paying for the brand names of the audio and navigation systems.  Our take on this is to dicker on the price, one and two-year-old models are going for $17K at the big lot used car centers.                                                                      This is a loss for the Fiat

 

Overall

Fiat 500 Turbo Sliding Glass SunroofWhile this would not be a car that we would seek out for ourselves and our lifestyle. It is a fun little city car that is filled with cuteness overload. While it is pricy for the segment, it would be a great car if you needed something for around town driving and short commutes. Fuel economy is not amazing, especially using premium fuel. It does have a four-star government safety rating, though reliability has not been stellar. The 500 does come with a 4-year 50,000-mile warranty. If this is a car you want, and plenty of people do, then get the best price you can, and have some fun.  We recommend the glass sunroof option, and if you like a manual transmission, that is standard.  – Ciao Bambino

 

Word and images (except where noted) by William West Hopper.

FCA, Fiat USA and Motus1 provided us with the use of the 2018 Fiat 500 Lounge Turbo for a week, no other compensation or payment was given to us to review this vehicle.
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The Hamsters were Running with the Ducks – A thousand miles in a Kia Soul Turbo

2017 Kia Soul in Wild OrangeThis past month we had a thousand-mile journey and the team at Kia offered us a Wild Orange 2017 Soul Turbo for the trek. Thinking about great fuel economy and rising gasoline prices, it was a natural yes. Second thoughts were a light little breadbox rolling on the crazy interstates, this might not be the best idea.

 

 

 

Kia Soul Rear SeatTurns out that the Soul Turbo was a great road trip car, very capable on the highway, nimble in traffic and on the back roads, good on fuel, with plenty of space for luggage and people. As the trip turned out, it was mostly driving during inclement weather, rain, and fog. And the Kia Soul handled it, all in stride. The hampsters and the ducks got friendly on this trip.

 

History of the Kia Soul

Rolling bread boxes with the first generation XB from Scion and the 2017 Kia Soul.
Rolling bread boxes with the first generation XB from Scion and the 2017 Kia Soul.

The Kia Soul appeared on the market a decade ago, when small all activity vehicles were the rage. Spending time with the car, you can see how the Soul’s concept vehicle was inspired by a wild boar wearing a backpack. The New York Times reported, “the boar’s attitude of strength and capability was the image.” Today the Soul is the only rolling breadbox left as mundane crossovers have taken over the market share.

Kia Soul Rear Entry
Getting in and out of the Kia Soul was easy with plenty of room.

The Soul, designed to appeal to hip urban youth has also found a niche with the gray hairs who want a vehicle with easy entry and not a high price. Looking for something to carry the dogs, gifts for the grandchildren, and all that goes with life after kids have fled the nest. During our time with the Soul we had to agree as it had space for our stuff, and still room for people and a comfortable ride.

 

Kia Soul Saftey

While we did not test all of the Soul’s safety features, we did experience the anti-lock brakes on a wet interstate. They engaged, our heart skipped a beat, and we stopped safely.

Kia Soul Dash
Kia Soul Turbo steering wheel has color-coordinated stitching and easy access controls.

In 2009 the Kia Soul quickly earned a maximum five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP. With the dual front advanced and side curtain airbags, as well as the electronic stability control and vehicle stability management systems, this feels like a safe small car.  That safety rating places Kia Soul among the safest B-segment family cars in the world.

 

 

Marketing Strategy – Hamsters Drive the Soul

Kia Soul HamsterWe identify with the chubby Hamsters and are thrilled to see them every chance we get. After the Soul’s release, Kia USA launched commercials in a campaign titled “A new way to roll” featuring city streets with animated hamsters on stationary hamster wheels. The commercials have attracted popularity on video-sharing sites and were awarded “Automotive Ad of the Year” at the Nielsen Automotive Advertising Awards. he most recent commercial was for the Turbo model, featuring the Motörhead song “Ace of Spades“.

Our Experience

Having always liked the out of the box, boxiness of the Soul, it is great to see that it is easily customizable with options and Kia offers the Soul in bright colors which have appealed to folks in this white, silver, and black painted automotive world we live in.

Kia Soul Steering WheelThis Wild Orange Soul was also economical averaging around 30 mpg on the trip. Holding the road in the inclement weather and was easy to slip in and out of traffic with plenty of power from the 1.6-liter turbocharged direct injection 4-cylinder gasoline engine.

Interior space is well laid out, not expansive, but we did slip in a six-foot-long piece of art on canvas then later loaded it with supplies for our felines. The Soul did well even with the added weight in the rear.

Room to carry in the Kia Soul
Room to carry in the Kia Soul

A long drive was made comfortable by the firm and well-fitting leather and cloth seats. Easy access to the controls and view of the dash and displays made driving the Soul a fun experience. While it tended to be a bit choppy at lower speeds due to the 7-speed dual clutch transmission, which from what I understand is actively shifting gears. But at higher than in-town traffic speeds that did not pose an issue. And was actually quite smooth and somewhat quiet.

 

 

 

UVO, Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, Sirus XM and lots of USB ports

Modern cars seem to be short on USB ports to charge and connect phones and devices to the in-car technology. The Soul had two USB’s easily accessible and lit up at night, as well as an audio input jack and two 12-volt power outlets which seem to me to be so old school, back to when cars had cigarette lighters.

The Kia’s UVO eServices Infotainment System and associated smartphone app seemed to me to be more hype than help, while it is nice, I never found it very useful. Though a friend driving a Niro found it to be very interactive on that vehicle.

Not being a fan of Android Auto, as I feel it takes control of my phone, or maybe I am not an experienced enough user of it, this time it did not bother me as much as in other cars. On the other hand, it is nice to see that the car is equipped to handle whatever technology that is brought into it.

Kia Soul Backup displays on a 7-inch screen
Kia Soul Backup displays on a 7-inch screen

The 7″ touchscreen with rearview camera and the audio system worked great. The backup camera gave a clear large view of what was behind the vehicle even in bad weather. Sound quality out of the audio system was good, though not concert quality. This Soul was not equipped with navigation, though it would have been nice to turn off the display screen, as it had very little to display other than the Sattelite radio station information.

Dollars and Sense

20180514_130420The 2017 model we drove had a sticker price of $23,620 including freight, but not tax, tags, and dealer add-ons. Mileage was just under 30 mpg during a week of brisk highway driving, twisty side roads, and crowded city streets. Lower trim levels of the non-turbo Soul start at $16,200, though, with the extras that this model had, the price is reasonable. And with an auto club or buying service discounts, dealer incentives no doubt you can grab a great deal on a Kia. Like all Kia’s, this one carries one of the best warranties out there.

Driving Near and Far

Kia Soul has a distinctive and effective tail light cluster.
Kia Soul has a distinctive and effective tail light cluster.

The Soul Turbo was a great all-around car, small enough for parking in town, large enough to carry things and not be uncomfortable on the highway at speed with other traffic. The Soul Turbo had enough power to keep up with traffic and move out when needed. Interior space and comfort were plentiful and appointments while not luxurious, were modern and functional.

The Soul is a decade old design now, and with a refresh in the works, it will be interesting to see the next iteration. As with other Kia models, we have driven, we give this car a thumbs up.

William West Hopper with the Kia Soul Turbo

Words and Images by William West Hopper

 

 

Kia Rio 5-Door Hatchback EX Launch Edition – More for the Money Than You Might Expect

2018 Kia Rio EX 5-Door HatchbackFor a small and inexpensive car, the 2018 Kia Rio has a lot of pluses and very few negatives. It is most refreshing to find a car so well equipped at this price point. It is what we are coming to expect from Kia, a car company that has built a reputation for dependable transportation with decent overall design and execution. Not to mention that Kia’s vehicles have an industry leading warranty that backs all of this up.

 

We took a 2018 Kia Rio EX 5-Door Hatchback with its 1.6-liter GDI powerplant out to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley with its twisty mountain roads, long flat interstates as well as the suburban grid of neighborhood streets. The Rio did well with two adults situations. Performing with adequate power, handling, and a ride that was not at all jarring, as one would think with a small car.

 

Look and Feel

2018 Kia Rio EX 5-Door Hatchback RearThe exterior design of the Kia Rio is very unassuming, with clean lines and a well-proportioned body. There is nothing flashy or garish (Kia’s new performance sedan the Stinger, is a bit more abrupt in its design – as were some of the previous Kia models, one was almost a hodgepodge of design.) While some think the Rio’s exterior is run-of-the-mill, to me the Rio is aesthetically pleasing, both inside and out.

 

Interior of the 2018 Kia Rio EXThe interior has an efficient and clean layout. Guages centered behind the steering wheel, a 7″ screen center for audio and backup camera display, controls for the HVAC are large and within easy reach, a familiar gearshift in the console and a hand-operated emergency brake.  The switchgear clustered on the steering wheel and stalks may seem cluttered. On the other hand, you do not have to reach for anything, including cruise control.

Powertrain

1.6 Liter GDI Engine of the 2018 Kia RioThe 1591 cc 1.6-liter double overhead cam Gasoline Direct Injection (GDI) engine may not seem to be much, but with its dual continuously variable valve timing it produces 130 horsepower at 6300 rpm. You are not going to win at the drag strip with this little front driver!  Mated to a 6-speed automatic with Sportmatic® it did produce the published 37 miles per gallon on the highway. The Sport Mode button is more than just for show, it did subtly downshift for more power.

 

Handling

This is not a sports hatch, nor does it pretend to be one. The handling was predictable and kept the four wheels on the road going around the interstate’s cloverleaf onramps as well as on the twisty back roads.  I did not feel any wheelspin or torque steer with heavy acceleration. There was not an annoying ride by being shaken or jostled riding over expansion joints or rough road surfaces. The suspension provided a solid and flat handling that give the Rio a secure feel.

 

Details Matter

Interior of the 2018 Kia Rio EXWhile indeed this EX is the top of the line model, it has some excellent items on the equipment list like fog lights Rear disc brakes Autonomous Emergency Braking4 Remote keyless entry Leather-wrapped steering wheel front and rear USB jacks, and Auto Light Control. The larger 7″ Touchscreen gives you a good view from the Rear Camera, and the UVO eServices Infotainment System connects to both Android Auto & Apple CarPlay Smartphone Integration. And yes you can subscribe to SIRIUSXM® as well as AM/FM and MP3 through the front USB outlet. Yes, the Rio we drove had was Bluetooth® enabled.

Single Rear USB Port in the 2018 Kia RioThe UVO system links with your compatible smartphone for a hands-free way to stream music. Through the UVO app you are able to check maintenance requirements with Vehicle Diagnostics, and for access to 911 Connect or Enhanced Roadside Assist — all with no subscription fees for 10 years.

The downloadable UVO eSERVICES APP takes advantage of additional features like Parking Minder and can access the GPS in a compatible smartphone and other apps. Not all apps work through the touch screen.

Other assets you will find included in the Rio EX include a multi-adjustable driver’s seat, ours had Red Leather accents. A 60/40 split folding rear seats that make the trunk even bigger, and still carry a rear passenger. Dual illuminated visor vanity mirrors. Remote keyless entry, tilt and telescopic steering column leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift knob, Steering wheel mounted controls (Bluetooth/Audio/Cruise,) gauge cluster w/ LCD display. Outside, fog lights multi-reflector headlights, and heated outside mirrors.

Saftey items that you don’t often find like autonomous emergency braking (AEB,) forward collision warning system (FCWS,) as well as front and side airbags.

Space both for passengers and cargo. This is a small car on the outside but did not feel so small on the inside. Neither of us was cramped sitting in the front seats, and the rear seats have adequate room, not spacious, both head and leg room. Cargo area expanded considerably with the rear seat partially or fully put down.

 

Bargain

The 7" Screen shows clearly what is behind the 2018 Kia RioAt the time of this writing (May 2018) the car had a sticker of just over $20K including an $895 delivery fee.  Kia is offering a $1000 discount the purchase price of the Rio or Zero Percent financing for 60 months with their finance company.

If you have participated in one of Kia’s customer experience events or signed up for information from the brand at a recent auto show, there may be additional discounts available to you. Always check your membership in the Warehouse Clubs, Automobile Associations, Insurance Company, Credit Union or professional association you may belong to see if they have a buying service or provide automotive discounts to their members.

 

Warranty

Kia has provided a 10 Year/100,000 Mile Limited Powertrain Warranty 5 Year/60,000 Mile Limited Basic Warranty 5 Year/60,000 Mile Roadside Assistance for a long time to demonstrate how good their vehicles are. This is one of the longest warranties on new cars sold in the marketplace.

 

Negatives

2018 Kia Rio EX Launch Edition HatchbackYes, we found a few things we did not like in our day driving and riding in the 2018 Kia Rio EX 5-Door Hatchback Launch Edition. The very first audio experience you have with this car is the tinny sound when one opens the door from the door handle, while when you close the door, there is a solid thunk sound, which is good.  While passenger comfort in the right front seat was fine for an hour-long drive, once moving over to the left driver’s seat, I found that I did not get enough thigh support and was always moving to find a more comfortable driving position. The clutter of the switchgear on the steering wheel. I am not a big fan of Kia’s Muffin center steering wheel, and the switches seemed to dominate both the wheel and the right (windshield wiper control) and the left (turn-signal) stalk.  Though I know you would easily get used to them, and it is a plus not having to reach far to control just about everything on the vehicle.

 

Overall

We give the 2018 Kia Rio 5-door hatchback thumbs up for the value it provides. The only real drawback that I found was the tinny sound upon opening the doors, and it could use a little more thigh support for the driver seat.

 

Try one out for yourself

For more information download the 2018 Kia Rio Guidebook, or stop into a nearby Kia dealership for a test drive this model and others within the Kia lineup.

 

Words and images by William West Hopper