2014 Fiat 500L and 2014 Kia Soul - Getting Personal - Comparison Review + Vids

Small "urban crossover vehicles" sure started out bland, boxy and inert. See the original Scion xB.  An infusion of soul gave them the lifestyle that milennials expect. We say "personal crossover."

Two of the "Cuter Utes" to recently hit the U.S. scene include the 2014 FIAT 500L and the reworked 2014 Kia Soul, both which "Drive...He Said" recently got a hold of.

"In Your Face":

- Kia launched its first Soul just four years ago. For 2014 Soul received stretch marks. It's been flattered with a bolder front clip, deeper chin, and tapered headlights with luxo LED parking lights. Haunches are more athletic and tall LED vertical tail-lighting span either side of the liftgate.

- The FIAT 500L is all new this year. "L" = "Lungo" [Italian "long"]. Aha! But it comes from a totally different platform than the Nuovo 500  city car. Huh? The shape: boxy ovoid. A theme that extends to the rear LED lights.

Grade: 500L: C   Soul: B

Staring Back At Ya':

- The layout of the Fiat 500L cabin and controls follows that age-old European paradigm of form over function. Sometimes that is a good thing; other times it isn't.

Look what they did to the 500L steering wheel, Ma! Varying the rim padding imparts an optical illusion of a bent rim.

Calf height auto climate dials and obscurely located seat heater switches suggest a design for mild Mediterranean climate.

All 500Ls get U-Connect handsfree infotainment. Our Lounge saw an upgrade from 5.0" to 6.5" LCD touch+button LCD with built-in nav and limited apps. Consistent with their "cans' [headphones], the powerful BEATS audio system is bass boomy.

A day in the 500L cabin and your eyes may never be the same again. From black-on-white gauges illuminate lavender at night to a burnt orange LCD multi-function readout, blue-grey leather seating with Alcantra inserts and dash front pad to brown door panels, and panoramic roof. Naked seat brackets are no Boticelli nude, though.

- Shove us blindfolded into the Kia Soul! Then uncover the eyes. We'd swear we were inside the premium Cadenza sedan.

Soul! driver's seat is heated + cooled  + 8-way powered. The other 3 outboard seats are also heated. Ditto the leather wrapped fully adjustable steering wheel.

Approach the driver's door with key fob; comfort and keyless entry power unfold the wing-mirrors.

Front door speakers flicker in tempo to the music coming out of the Infinity hi-fi. Or switch to mood colors.

An 8.1 LCD UVO interface infotainment/ nav display = HUGE.

Gander inside the Kia Soul. Soft padding with contrasting stitching , tasteful chrome and gloss black bits even a mouse-fur headliner are the rule. Grains of hard plastics match the soft ones. If it's mostly colored black, well so is formal wear. TFT instrumentation and LCD displays are crisp. Proof that soothing need not be boring.

Grade: 500L: C   Soul: B++

So the Beluga Said to the Guppy...:

"I can swallow a hell-uv-a-lot more than you can."

- In this comparison the FIAT 500L is the Beluga whale. Hell, it has as much cargo capacity as a Hyundai Santa Fe Sport mid-size family cross-over. Pretty trick: second row 60/40 split seats jackknife forward.

Tall seat cushions = a tall seating position = better vistas ahead.  But first you have to climb up. Front buckets offer slightly more lateral support than your Flxible bus driver's perch. Outboard door armrests might as well be a yard further out.

Numbers don't tell the whole story. Row 2 knee-room is appreciably more generous in the 500L than in the Kia Soul.

An open liftgate in the 500L tail is moderately high. A single grab handle is on side opposite where the driver exits.  A power lift would have been nice.

- One of the more noticeable improvements to the Kia Soul from extending the wheelbase 1.4"inches is 39" of rear legroom.

The power adjustable driver's front seat is comfortable and supportive. Chicago's brutal winter cemented our affection for Soul's heated steering.

Under-liftgate storage in the Soul has also grown. Though lacking a protective rear bumper cover the Kia Soul load floor is compact hatchback low.

Grade: 500L: B   Soul: C+

 Some of the Right Moves:

-  Both Kia Soul's engine choices have been massaged for 2014. The optional direct-injected 2.0L twin-cam inline-4 has some oomph. Its 6-speed automatic is defined by its proclivity to upshift early and reticence to manumatic downshifts.

A 29% stiffer suspension tames corner float. That and stunning 18" checkerboard wheels hiccup over frost heaves.

Among Goldilock's choice of 3 boost levels: Comfort is too nuclear, Sport has rigor mortis, Normal is easy to live with.

ABS 4-wheel disc brake halts on snow laden surfaces were confident, though not inspired by a queasy pedal.

A 66% increase in stiffness eliminates any "tin can" feeling of old. Most pieces fit evenly and tight. Generous insulation, triple door seals and laminated glass keeps noise out.

- A FIAT 1.4L turbocharged engine, that likes to spin hard in the 500 Abarth, sounds ratchety and gets a slower throttle in the 500L. It doesn't like the extra 600 lbs. The dual automated clutch gearbox lapses in engagement. Small displacement and electro-mechanical valve throttling still couldn't improve 24 mpg fuel economy.

Optional Koni FSD dampers don't wince at bad pavement. The torsion beam rear end can get wiggly in abrupt lane changes. A slower electric assist steering rack needs constant on-center fiddling on the freeway.

"Abrupt" aptly described the transition of the four wheel disc brake pedal from groggy to urgent.

Engine din and some rattles in our 500L  were disappointing. Note to the  former Zastava tractor factory, where the 500L is assembled in Serbia: "Gotta' improve left rear quarter panel fit." Exposed seat fasteners are more embarrassed than a Boticelli nude model.

Grade: 500L: C   Soul: B

Targets?:

- Starting at $19,100, the 2014 FIAT 500L makes sense for small [but growing] families. A 500L Lounge with leather, U-Connect nav+apps and glass roof arrives at $27K sans keyless ignition. Looking pretty tame in white it's a few green stripes away from an Alitalia van. The 500L is but quicker reflexes, a smoother drivetrain and assembly improvements away from rivaling less voluminous conventional compact crossovers.

- $26,000 worth of coin for a fully optioned 2014 Kia Soul! ? It's what option packages like "the Whole Shebang" can do to the $15,500 base 1.6L price.

For 30% < than a  Mini Cooper Countryman  there's some resemblance. Soul pulls off "serious" better than the Nissan Juke . Though not as playful at 8⁄10ths, no apologies are needed for Soul's car-like ride and better fuel economy. Give Kia Five. On the Side. In the Hole. They've given us "Cute Ute" Soul.

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