“Soul, Man” 2013 Kia Soul! Compact FWD Sedan

2013 Kia Soul! Premium

    When I asked the press fleet manager what kind of vehicle was coming here for testing this week, he answered, “Soul, man”, and it brought to mind one of my favorite old songs by Sam & Dave – “Soul Man”.  It was co-written by Isaac Hayes, of “Shaft” fame, who noticed during a television newscast in the summer of 1967 that buildings left standing at the scene of the 12th Street Riot in Detroit had “soul” graffitied on them.  Mr. Hayes subsequently decided that a “Soul Man” was one that could rise above present conditions; perhaps a pride thing for such an individual.  “Soul Man”, the song, was a smash, and reached number two on the Billboard Hot 100 list by the fall of 1967, and also garnered a Grammy Award in 1968.

Sam (Moore, the tenor) and Dave (Prater, the baritone) did pretty well for themselves, too, and performed together for twenty years.  “The Sultans of Sweat”, as they were affectionately known, became members of both the Rock and Roll and Grammy Halls of Fame.  Their “Soul Man” hit was one of the first songs by a black group to top the charts using the word “soul”, helping pave the way to acceptance in white, popular culture.

Like me, Kia has punctuated the Soul name with their Soul! (exclaim) offering at the top of the compact car’s lineup.  It is the model I drove around in these last few days, just like the hamsters in their television advertisement.  The series of ads has attracted a cult following, and it was designated “Automotive Ad of the Year” by Nielsen.

The test Soul was equipped with the premium package ($2,500), which included navigation, backup camera, satellite radio, pushbutton start, proximity keyless entry, leather (and heated front) seating, and auto climate control.  The base price was $19,900, so the total M.S.R.P. came to $23,575 with the premium items and some miscellaneous equipment.  Standard on this model is a moon roof, 18” specific alloy wheels, P235/45R18 Hankook Optimos, Bluetooth connectivity, cruise, power window and lock package, and privacy glass.  The fold-down back seat easily seats 3 passengers, leaving a 19.3 cubic foot cargo compartment in the rear.  The Infinity stereo/CD system has blinking lighted speakers in the front doors that follow the music beat.

Handling in town is nimble and somewhat fun; highway cruising is OK with a rather firm ride.  Fuel economy ratings are 23-City and 28-Highway, and that is with a 4 cylinder, 164 horsepower, 2.0 liter DOHC engine.  A six-speed automatic is positioned behind it with the manual mode arrangement.  Curb weight is 2,700 lbs. for this front-wheel drive compact.

Styling of the Soul is a positive, and of the little “urban crossovers”, it stands out.  I got several positive comments during my time with the car, but not all were as such.  I like the looks of the vehicle, the equipment list, and the interior, so put me down as a fan.

“Respect” 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE 4WD

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

Aretha Franklin knocked it out of the park with her hit song that was recorded 46 years ago this past week in New York City.  Otis Redding wrote “Respect” from the perspective of a desperate man, but Aretha turned the ballad into that of a strong, confident woman that knows that she provides what her man wants.  She modified the lyrics somewhat with the addition of the R-E-S-P-E-C-T spelling, as well as the “sock it to me” refrain by backup singers near the end of the song.  It is number five on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time, and it earned Franklin two Grammy awards in 1968.

Mitsubishi Motors is attempting to earn a little respect in the U. S. automobile market with cars such as the one I tested last week, a Rally Red Outlander Sport SE four-wheel drive compact crossover.  The Tokyo-based manufacturer has existed since 1917 and is the sixteenth largest in the world.  It has weaved in and out of ownership arrangements with several suitors such as Daimler, Volvo, Chrysler and several Chinese firms.  But U.S. sales peaked about ten years ago, and Mitsubishi is relying on acceptance of vehicles such as the Outlander Sport to maintain a foothold in this country.

I actually liked the car pretty well, and was not too shocked to step into it after just concluding a test of a $64,000 luxury crossover.  Its M.S.R.P. was $28,570, including freight ($825), a premium package ($2,050), and a navigation system ($2,000).  Positives included the styling, nimble handling, and comfortable black cloth bucket seats.  The premium items were a panoramic glass roof with LED mood lighting, roof rails, backup camera, and Rockford-Fosgate 9-speaker stereo with a ten inch subwoofer located in the rear.  Of course it had power locks/windows/mirrors, heated seats, satellite radio, tilt/telescope, cruise, and auto climate control.  It had seating for five and 21.7 cubic feet of cargo room behind the back seat.  A proximity key arrangement, pushbutton start, and console-mounted emergency brake were items that pleased me, as usual.

Powering the Outlander is a 4 cylinder, 2.0 liter, 148 horsepower DOHC engine rated at 24 mpg-city and 29 mpg-highway (15.8 gallon tank).  Behind it is a continuously variable gearless transmission that has paddle shifters on the steering column for sport motoring.  The car is not overly powerful, but the paddles saved the day.  Four-wheel drive is selected on the fly with a console-mounted button.

I mentioned the styling, which was enhanced with 18” bright alloy, eight-spoke wheels, a bold grill arrangement, a spoiler, and deep-tint rear windows.  At the rear was a chrome exhaust finisher and dual fog lights were attractively arranged on the front of the car.

Mitsubishi has managed to put together a vehicle worthy of respect with their Outlander Sport SE.  The car didn’t “sock it to me” in any way, but I did like it, would own one, and had a pleasurable week driving it around.

2013 Lexus RX450h Luxury Hybrid AWD Crossover

2013 RX450h @ CC

Lexus has been in a position to offer the most popular luxury SUV since its introduction in 1998.  My latest test car was such a vehicle, the RX450h hybrid model available since 2009.  It came in Stargazer Black metallic paint and featured saddle tan leather seating for five.

This was a loaded RX, with an M.S.R.P. of $64,339, including freight.  A multitude of options present included rain-sensing wipers, heated/air conditioned front buckets ($825), triple screen entertainment system ($4,920), heads-up display ($1,200), luxury package ($6,125), Mark Levinson 15-speaker 7.1 surround sound stereo ($995), intuitive parking assist ($500), and radar cruise control.  The two expensive options also included voice command navigation system, backup camera, blind spot monitor, moon roof, heated steering wheel and 19” fifteen-spoke alloy wheels.  The front buckets were sumptuous and supportive at the same time, and the three rear occupants that I had on board did no complaining.  The LCD screens in front of each were capable of playing different entertainment, and heating/air conditioning ductwork to keep them comfortable was in abundance.

Ruth and I drove the RX north (Ault and Wellington) and south (Broomfield) and enjoyed the cruise control, which keeps the driver from running up upon another motorist, and the blind spot monitor, to prevent movement into an occupied lane.  The stereo equipment is as advertised, and the navigation screen has options that are selected with the console-mounted mouse and mousepad.

Regarding the styling, it is what has made the RX so popular since its inception, in my opinion.  It is Lexus’ top selling hybrid (the 450h), and in fact was the model that kicked off their entire hybrid line, including sedans.  Hybrids, as you know, have at their heart a gasoline engine along with dual electric motor-generators.  I have driven hybrids with 134 and 200 horsepower, and now have driven a machine with 295 (combined) horsepower – this RX.  It’s a 3.5 liter V-6 with 24 variable-timed valves and is rated 30 mpg in the city.  Coupled to it is a continuously variable gearless transmission with sport mode.  I felt that acceleration was acceptable for a hybrid and I actually like the CV transmissions.

I started to discuss styling, and will continue by saying the car was an attractive upgrade to my driveway all week, plus fun to park and crawl out of.  Lexus dresses up the side with the big chrome strip and “hybrid” lettering, and the wheels looked great.  They were wrapped with Dunlop P235/55R19 Grand Trek Touring A/S all season radials.  Of course the RX has LED lighting out front that glows at all times, bringing attention to the vehicle while out on the road.  The “spindle” grill is upgraded for 2013, following the Lexus family theme.  The 450 has a wheelbase of 107.9”, an overall length of 187.8”, is 74.2” wide, and weighs 4,652 lbs.

The RX450h seemed somewhat big to me (it has a big battery and fancy all-wheel drive train), but not ponderous.  I can recognize why two of my friends in town recently purchased this Lexus model, and wouldn’t object to being an owner myself.

“Beetlemania” 2013 Volkswagen Convertible

VW Convertible @ NBCEI’m mixing metaphors on this date, February 7th, because 49 years ago today the Beatles (band) appeared on the Ed Sullivan show to perform their smash, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.  The single had sold 1.5 million copies in under three weeks, and Americans were hungry for something enjoyable, just eleven weeks removed from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.  The Beatles were wildly popular in the UK prior to the Sullivan show, and they toured the U.S. at various dates over the next two years, including Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Colorado on August 26th, 1964.  That was the only Beatles U.S. concert that failed to sell out, and the group was through with live concerts by 1966.

I’m not writing about the Beatles at this time, however, but about the Beetle Volkswagen convertible that was introduced late in the fall.  The company has had quite a smash on its hands, as well, having manufactured over 21 million Beetles since 1938.  Volkswagen was originally founded at that time by the German Labor Front, a Nazi trade union.  The venture included production of an inexpensive car for the common person utilizing state-sponsored financing (“five marks a week you must put aside, if in your own car you want to ride”).  Previously, Germans could typically only afford a motorcycle, but with the advent of a new Wolfsburg factory, hundreds of thousands could afford the new Beetle, which had been designed by Ferdinand Porsche.

The 2013 convertible I got to test was equipped with a five cylinder, 2.5 liter, 170 horsepower engine and six speed automatic with Tiptronic feature.  It came in Platinum gray metallic with Titan black V-tech leatherette buckets for four inside.  The rear seat is kind of a bench seat, kind of a pair of buckets.  Five people should not enter the car, but four were in there on several occasions this week, and had fun.  The VW had pushbutton start, proximity keyless entry, tilt/telescope, electric windows and locks, navigation system, cruise, and a Fender branded upgraded stereo with satellite radio.  Front seats were manually adjustable, but seemed to get out of the way OK for entering rear passengers.  The car has front-wheel drive, and a smallish trunk.  The convertible top electronically races up and down and there exists a cover for it folded up in the trunk (unless installed, which I did with some exertion).  Even with the top up, it’s fun to roll down all four windows and cruise like you’re driving a two door hardtop.

The styling of this new, third generation Beetle is the best yet, with more ample taillights and 18” aluminum/chrome wheels.  Tires are 235/45R18 Hankook Optimo all-season radials.  All on board enjoyed the VW ride, and road noise is acceptable considering the rag top.  Fuel economy ratings are 22-city and 29-highway, with a 19 gallon gas tank that holds regular.

M.S.R.P. for the Volkswagen is $28,495, and that includes freight, technology package, and the Fender stereo.  Friends that visited with me in the presence of the convertible during the week seemed to always express surprise at how little such a car listed for, and that is in the car’s favor.  It garnered my respect, and it was fun to test.

“A Whiter Shade of Pale” 2013 Cadillac ATS AWD

2013 Cadillac ATS AWD Performance Collection

    It may not be a good characterization of the Cadillac ATS test car’s color, but the paint on it was extremely white, and attractive.  It was a Diamond Tricoat (a three-layer painting process) upgraded color that added $995 to the Cadillac’s window sticker.

The song, “A Whiter Shade of Pale” rocketed to No. 1 in the U.K. in 1967, and without fanfare it reached No. 5 in America, as well.  It was the debut number of the British rock band Procol Harum and is now in the Grammy Hall of Fame.  The original manager of the group, Guy Stevens, named the group after a friend’s cat (really?).  One of the song’s co-writers, Keith Reid, overheard someone at a party tell a woman “You’ve turned a whiter shade of pale”, and he couldn’t get the phrase out of his mind.  Procol Harum is one of the most misspelled group names in existence, and in fact I could barely get it registered on this keyboard.

ATS, on the other hand, is easy to spell, but I cannot determine its meaning.  Being Super Bowl weekend as of this writing, all I can come up with is “against the spread”.  In Cadillac parlance, the ATS is the new compact luxury sedan introduced in August of last year.  GM developed the car in their Warren, Michigan technical center and they assemble it down the road in Lansing.  It is Cadillac’s smallest offering.

I picked up my test ATS at Ghent Motors early last week, and immediately was attracted to the Morello Red and Jet Black leather interior with carbon fiber trim.  This car had the “Performance Collection” of assets – aluminum pedals, bolstered buckets, paddle transmission shifters, high intensity swivel headlamps, and Bose surround sound stereo.  Also present were moon roof ($1,050), machined-finish 18” alloy wheels ($800), cold weather package ($600), and a navigation package with backup camera ($795).  Those items, added to the aforementioned paint, brought the total M.S.R.P. with freight to $50,830.

The Cadillac ATS is pretty sporty, featuring magnetic ride control, which reacts to road conditions ten times faster than the blink of an eye.  It is a technology borrowed from Corvette and by Ferrari.  I drove a V6 powered ATS with 3.6 liters and 321 horsepower.  Behind it was a six-speed automatic transmission and 3.27 axle ratio (all-wheel drive).  Zero to 60 elapsed time is reportedly 5.4 seconds and top speed is 152 mph.  Economy?  City-19 mpg, and highway-26 mpg.

The ATS features athletic, chiseled styling with the LED running lights glowing out front as well as chrome, dual exhaust finishers emanating a distinctive note in the rear.  The alloy wheels are surrounded by 225/40R18 Michelin Primacy all-season run-flat radials.  And light stripes are present on the chrome door handles as are puddle lights under the outside mirrors.

With its ATS, Cadillac has targeted BMW’s 3 Series and its nearly 100,000 annual sales figure.  I’m sure they are hopeful that the ATS will blast off like Procol Harums’ hit song did in June of 1967.  The car certainly won’t “Pale” in comparison to the Bimmer – it may even end up being considered the “Cadillac” of compact luxury sedans.