Car Review: 2014 Kia Soul

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The new 2014 Kia Soul is a testament for just how far small utility vehicles have progressed in today’s market. We drove a solar yellow Soul for a week and discovered that this is not only a fun car, but refined beyond what we expected. The 2014 Kia Soul’s all-new take on design, driving dynamics and desirable features totally transform one of Kia Motors America’s best-selling cars into an urban utility vehicle that is as comfortable in the city as it is on the open highway.

EXTERIOR

When the wild Track’ster concept made its debut in 2012, Soul enthusiasts and pundits alike urged Kia to turn the aggressively fun fantasy into reality. With 18 months from design freeze to production, the stage was set for the all-new Soul, and many of the concept’s dramatic design cues can be found in the production vehicle. The upright stance, squared shoulders and distinctive fender flares are instantly recognizable as Soul. Combining a longer 101.2-inch wheelbase (up 0.8 inches), overall width that’s broadened to 70.9 inches (increased by 0.6 inches) and a reduced overall height of 63.0 inches (decreased by 0.4 inches) adds a more aggressive edge to the all-new Soul’s appearance. Likewise, the wraparound greenhouse, high-mounted tail lights and upright stance are all hallmark design elements. Premium touches such as available LED front positioning lights and rear LED halo lights help connect Soul to siblings within the Kia lineup that share similar design cues, such as the 2014 Sorento CUV and 2014 Forte sedan.

Exterior Track’ster similarities are easy to spot. The large trapezoidal lower air intake is nearly a direct carryover from the concept, and the location of the available fog lights – down low and pushed to the leading edges – mirror those found on the Track’ster. Kia’s signature grille is present, but it’s been reworked to more closely resemble the concept. Adding a touch of flair, the unique “floating” body-color panel inset into the lift gate originated with the Track’ster as well. Subtle enhancements include a wider (by 2.4 inches over the previous Soul) opening for the lift gate, allowing Soul to swallow more stuff. There is a smooth feel to the skin of the 2014 Kia Soul that exudes confidence and appeals to the eyes. The Soul Exclaim as tested adds to the Plus, with standard features like 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 235/45R-18 tires, fog lights, body-color bumper “tusks,” projector head lights, front LED positioning lights and rear LED halo lights.

INTERIOR

Our test model was equipped with extra options from head to toe, and we appreciated them more and more as the week moved on. Overall, the design paid particular attention to instilling a more premium look and feel to the 2014 Soul’s interior. Liberal applications of soft-touch materials are found on the instrument panel, center console and door panels. Details such as our media car’s leather trimmed seating with improved lateral and thigh support, and the use of high-gloss piano-black trim pieces on the center console and dash, elevate the Soul’s interior to new levels of sophistication. The panoramic sunroof with a power sunshade was spectacular, navigation with a whopping 8-inch screen was bright and clear, and the Infinity audio system was spot on with a strong bass!

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Car Review: 2014 Lexus GS 350 F SPORT

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We set out to drive the 2014 Lexus GS 350 Sport Sedan with the formidable F SPORT package and came away with very favorable impressions. Lexus has moved the needle on styling in recent years and continues to challenge all rivals on the performance front. This car was up to that challenge!

EXTERIOR

Behind its distinctive spindle grille, which creates an unmistakable brand identity, the Lexus GS 350 shines bright with a refined but aggressive body. You first notice the 19-inch alloy wheels that pop along the amazing Riviera red paint. The GS 350 F SPORT is exclusively equipped with 19-inch staggered width wheels paired with 235/40R19 front and 265/35R19 rear summer compound tires for RWD models, while AWD models will have 235/40/19 all-season tires in the front and rear. The F SPORT stands apart with exclusive front bumper and rear lower valence styling, a rear lip spoiler and F SPORT mesh grille inserts. The rear bumper integrates a distinctive exhaust diffuser and centered aero fins to help control underbody airflow.

INTERIOR

Even with its sweeping, coupe-like profile, the Lexus GS 350 provides ample headroom for rear-seat passengers. The new-generation GS offers greater rear headroom, knee room, legroom and foot space than the previous GS, yet in a sleeker package. The trunk, too, grew with the redesign and can easily accommodate four golf bags. The sumptuously detailed cabin, trimmed in perforated leather and matte dark brown walnut wood, comes with standard 10-way power front seats. Some competitors charge extra for leather, even in this price range. Rear seat passengers are treated no less regally, with deeply scalloped seats providing excellent support and generous legroom for long trips.

Lexus recognizes that temperature is a personal preference, with passengers often having diverse needs. The GS 350 addresses this situation quite effectively. A first-in-class technology, the energy-saving S-Flow automatic climate control system detects if there is a front passenger and directs airflow only to the occupied front seat or seats.

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Car Review: 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata PRHT

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Hot summer days demand drop-top cars to truly enjoy this time of year in the Midwest, and the 2014 Mazda MX-5 Miata answered the call for us. We drove and drove the MX-5, soaking up everything this car and the summer breeze had to offer, and never left the wheel disappointed. After a week of driving, it’s no wonder to us that the MX-5 is still by far the best-selling two-seat roadster in the world.

EXTERIOR

The MX-5 Miata was developed primarily for the North American market, and throughout the vehicle’s history, the region has come through to remain dominant in global sales. Available with two distinctive and easy-to-operate head wraps, the 2014 MX-5 Miata comes standard with a Z-fold design soft-top or an industry-leading Power Retractable Hard Top (PRHT) as tested. The soft top, available on all trim levels, continues to set the industry standard with its simplicity and ease of use. With a central latch handle, the top requires only a simple hand motion to fold and stow behind the seats. The top itself descends into a cleverly designed storage well, thus leaving the 5.3 cubic feet of cargo space completely untouched.

An available option on Club and Grand Touring trims only, the PRHT is stored in the same manner as the soft top, again not affecting storage space. Designed to perform in any climate, PRHT models outsell soft-top models by a 4:1 ratio worldwide. Using a single-button operation, the PRHT offers one of the fastest power-operated open-and-close cycles for a hard top in North America at an efficiently expedient 12 seconds.

The true red paint coupled with the shiny black hard top looked amazing and really popped with the dark gunmetal 17-inch alloy wheels wrapped in 205/45R17 street-sticky Bridgestone Potenza RE050A tires.

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Car Review: 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited Hybrid

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There is no doubt that Toyota has been focused on styling with new models recently, and the 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited Hybrid keeps that spirit alive and well. The all-new Highlander is a no-compromise, mid-size, three-row SUV that brings together the best in style, technology, comfort, capability and safety. Its exterior design conveys both refinement and strength, which complements a totally redesigned interior that will raise the bar in its segment. We drove the new Highlander for a week and had the chance to see exactly where Toyota is headed.

EXTERIOR

I first want to comment on the silver sky metallic paint, because so many people took notice of the color and complimented on the appearance and paint for the whole testing period. It’s a very clean color that also looks very modern and stylish. Sophisticated and dynamic, the new Highlander Hybrid features a progressive silhouette, a lower roofline for improved aerodynamics and sculptured side-door panels. The exterior has grown in length by approximately three inches, while width has increased one-half inch, conveying a sleek and strong appearance.

From the front, Highlander’s hood merges with a redesigned trapezoidal grille, wraparound headlamps and deeply chiseled fenders for a more aggressive appearance. The length of the profile, from the front fenders to the rear quarter panels, boldly stands out with sculptured wheel wells at the corners, allowing for prominently protruding wheels. The total package is capped off by a newly designed height-adjustable rear lift-gate with an available one-touch power open/close and driver selectable memory height settings, and taillights and a bumper that exude style and strength. The chromtec roofrails were also a nice touch!

INTERIOR

This is where Toyota has really stepped things up with the 2014 Toyota Highlander Limited Hybrid, delivering a luxurious cabin with more space than appears from the exterior. Toyota engineers raised the bar on interior design for the mid-size SUV segment by adding even more refinement and functionality to the new Highlander and Highlander Hybrid. The 2014 model offers a premium interior highlighted by increased spaciousness for up to eight people, and an array of standard comfort, convenience and technology features.

The new Highlander’s interior utilizes premium materials to offer an upscale experience, with most models featuring standard contrast seat stitching. All Highlanders come equipped with a soft-touch instrument panel and silver-painted, satin and chrome-plated accents that are thoughtfully placed throughout the interior. Wood-grain pattern trim can be found on the front dash and door trim. The Limited grade model we tested adds touches of elegance. Premium fabrics, available smooth and perforated leather-trim seats, leather wrapped steering wheel and shift knob add to Highlander’s redesigned upscale interior. The adoption of a high-quality knit roof lining and available second-row sunshades add to Highlander’s refinement and comfort.

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Car Review: 2014 Audi 8L TDI Quattro Tiptronic

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The words “Oh my goodness” come to mind when you take a look at the 2014 Audi 8L TDI Quattro Tiptonic. That’s not just the first glance either, because it impresses time and again before you even drive this beautiful machine. The long wheelbase extends this marvel, as the A8 embodies premium and functional design, progressive technology and advanced engineering and performance.

EXTERIOR

If you are okay with the “wow” factor, then keep an eye on the 2014 Audi 8L TDI Quattro Tiptonic when searching for your luxury sedan. The Audi A8 flagship sedan exudes modern elegance, luxury and dynamism. With its sweeping lines and uniquely bold Audi Singleframe grill with angled corners and horizontal chrome struts, the A8 delivers a striking visual statement. New for 2014, the Audi A8 Premium package option as tested includes powerful yet efficient full LED headlights that give the A8 a distinctive and unmistakable Audi appearance. Also featured on our test model were 20-inch, 10-spoke wheels that literally light up the road. The understated luxury actually makes more of an impression than some rivals that go out of their way to get noticed.

INTERIOR

Inside, the spacious A8 features meticulous craftsmanship and modern yet functional design elements. A new Premium package for the A8 3.0T, 4.0T and TDI includes 22-way front seats with ventilation, making any long drive enjoyable. Ventilated and massage rear seats have been added to the Rear Seat Comfort plus package for the long wheel base 3.0T, 4.0T and TDI models, which can be combined with the diamond stitch interior of the Luxury package. The interior space is endless and the rear leg room is just ridiculous, as some limos could get jealous from what the 2014 Audi 8L TDI Quattro Tiptonic offers. Luxury is at your every turn with heated 18-way power front seats with memory, four-zone automatic climate control, power rear window and rear side window sunshades, Audi parking system and high-tech rearview camera and extended leather package.

The 2014 A8 model line is equipped standard with the award-winning infotainment system, Audi connect. Audi was the first global auto manufacturer to offer factory-fitted in-vehicle Wi-Fi connectivity for passenger use, enabling the Audi connect system to deliver connectivity to up to eight wireless devices. With Audi connect – offered complementary for six months and available for as little as $15 per month thereafter – the onboard Audi MMI Navigation system is enhanced with Google Earth maps for a true aerial view of the route. Audi connect also features real-time localized weather, news and live fuel prices; Google Voice Local Search for detailed information about travel destinations, such as restaurant or hotel hours, pricing and customer reviews; and the myAudi Destination feature, which allows users to log on to Google Earth from virtually any location in the U.S. and download up to 50 destinations to the vehicle. Audi also offers real-time Sirius XM Traffic information via enhancements to the Audi MMI Navigation plus system (active Sirius XM Traffic subscription required).

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