The boxy subcompact car segment is one that is on the rise in the USA, with the redesigned Kia Soul and the all-new Fiat 500L being the latest members.
It is not every model that has done well in this category in the past, with the likes of the Honda Element and the Scion xB counted among the failures.
Sales of both models were brisk at the outset, but Honda eventually discontinued the Element in 2011, while the xB saw sales drop off dramatically, to about a third of initial numbers, by the end of 2013.
The Kia Soul started to dominate the segment shortly after it was released in 2009, and it hasn’t looked back since. Great value and a ton of street cred propelled the Soul to 118,000 units sold in 2013, making it one of Kia’s most popular models in the United States.
Kia Soul Compared To Fiat 500L In The Latest LA Times New Vehicle Road Test
The second-generation Soul model took to the streets last year.
The new version retains the iconic look of the original, but there were some subtle changes made to the dimensions, as well as having a new front wheel drive chassis to ride on.
The Fiat 500L, on the other hand, is the newest model in the boxy subcompact segment.
Think of this model as an extension of the super-popular Fiat 500. This is a 5-door hatchback model that Fiat believes will help expand the reach of their brand in the United States.
They are somewhat following the lead set by Mini Cooper, who started out with a single model and now has 7 variants in the line-up.
The 500L is obviously looking to knock the Kia Soul off of its perch, but does it have what it takes to steal the crown?
The US-renowned LA Times took a look at both of them, with the final answer perhaps coming as a surprise to many!!
“One of these cars is the best in the category, while the other is one that probably shouldn’t even have seen the light of day.”
Rather than building the suspense, let’s just say that this car is one of the worst new releases in quite some time. Every single aspect of the car, from drivetrain to overall design, is a total disaster.
In fairness, this observation did come as quite a surprise, especially since the 500L looked great on paper.
It sports the same 1.4L turbocharged four-cylinder engine that is found in the hot Fiat 500 Abarth, which in this model delivers 160 horsepower and 184 pound-feet of torque.
The model that LA Times tested came with a 6-speed dual-clutch transmission, a $1,350 option.
It was actually this combination that took all of the fun out of driving the car. Turbo lag made it impossible to get any kind of acceleration from a stop.
Getting the engine up to a decentpower level meant having to deal with an incredible amount of noise. The transmission shuddered through every change, taking away any chance of a smooth shift.
Ergonomically speaking, the inside of the 500L is awful. There is literally no comfort or support to be found in the seats. The climate controls are positioned so low as to be virtually invisible, and the construction materials used feel cheap.
Fuel economy: On the plus side, the 500L delivers slightly better fuel efficiency numbers than the Soul. A 24 mpg city and 33 mpg highways, which compares to the 23/31 of the Kia model.
Every single thing that Fiat did wrong was done right by Kia!
The fun begins with the drivetrain. All but the base model come with a 2.0-liter direct-injected, 4-cyliner engine that delivers 164-horsepower and 151 pound-feet of torque, and is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission.
It’s a combination that delivers a smooth, quiet ride, with a lot of power to spare.
Ride & handling: The new Soul’s lighter and stiffer chassis makes it much easier to handle than the 500L, which had a leaning issue when taking turns. The seats are comfortable and positioned to give a great view of the road ahead.
Interior: The Soul comes in 4 inches shorter than the 500L, but you would never know it from the interior. There is plenty of space for passengers and cargo.
Rather than going for the hip factor, Kia created a dashboard that is intuitive and very well laid out.
All buttons were well within reach and right where you would expect them, while the touchscreen navigation system was incredibly easy to use.
The minor complaints about the interior of the Kia Soul seem particularly trivial when you remember the hot mess that is the 500L.
The button that controls the panoramic roof is trickier than it has to be, while the colored rims around the speakers are a distraction, albeit one that can be switched off.
Pricing: The Kia Soul that we tested came fully-loaded, which meant heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, the massive panoramic sunroof, touch-screen navigation system, backup camera, HID headlights, leather seats, etc.
The total price after all those additions came in at $26,195. While that is more than the $24,445 Fiat 500L sticker price, there were no heated seats, heated steering wheel, or panoramic roof included in the Fiat.
Add those into the mix and you take the total price to about $1,000 more than the 2014 Kia Soul.
You can get the base models of each for less than $20,000.
Review: New Soul Proves To Be The Best Vehicle In The Boxy Car Segment
What we believed would be a closely fought battle ended up being a mauling, with the Soul showing why it is such a beloved little car.
Fiat, however, are in the process of re-introducing their brand to the US, may have hurt themselves a bit by producing the 500L as part of that strategy.