Written by James Hamel
People in the market to buy their first new car are all at different stages in their lives. Some have just gotten their driver’s license; some are going to a university where the parents are hoping their kids will drive home now and then to visit them while still there are others who have always before now bought used cars but this time wanted that “new car smell.” If you want to know, the new- car smell is the odor coming from the toxic glues, dyes and sundry chemical treatments in your car’s interior. We don’t think anyone has died from “new car smell,” however, but just know what you are in for.
Over the course of months of road testing and living out our daily lives in the following affordably budget priced, economical and very practical new car models these vehicles bubbled up in our minds as the best first purchases. First up we tested a nicely loaded Kia Soul sadly not equipped with the new 1.6 liter turbocharged 201 horsepower motor now standard on the exclaim models. Next time. Then we road tested a 2017 Honda Civic Coupe Touring model with the 1.5-liter turbo motor, supremely sassy style, an impressive standard audio set-up and excellent infotainment system.
After that, refugees from Scion came knocking from Toyota first in the form of the super-affordable and newly named 2017 Toyota Yaris iA whose only option is an automatic transmission. Then in the form of the euro-hatchback Corolla of your dreams with its sole option being affordable in-dash navigation and a CVT automatic. On both Toyotas, we recommend the manual gearboxes. They really do add much needed spice to these cars that only seem fiery when parked next to a Corolla you rented 10 minutes before.
Honda recently introduced the 2017 Civic Coupe in EX-T trim with a manual gearbox (although the Civic has the best CVT automatic in the class) and more to come in the Civic hatchback and hotter Si variants of coupe and sedan. Disappointingly Kia only offers base trim Soul models with a manual gearbox option and we think might be missing a small but enthusiastic segment who would love a Soul turbo, fully loaded with a self shifter.
But then, data seems to indicate the number of new cars sold with a manual gearbox are so low as to only be relevant to third party political candidates. Still, our experience with cars like these is that almost universally they are more engaging and enjoyable to drive when equipped with a clutch pedal. And despite huge advancements in tech and autonomous driving, you still do have to participate in the driving process. If you don’t know that, put down the keys and ask the closest person where to find the closest bus stop.
Now for car buyers shopping the following new cars and crossovers, let’s see how they fared and quit stalling. Just realize you can enter into your first new car relationship any way you want to, just make sure the thought of driving it each day makes your heart skip a beat. If it doesn’t or if it has something scary like huge blind spots (cough*Hyundai Veloster*cough) then walk away. There is nothing worse than new car buyer’s remorse.
The 2017 Kia Soul
Best All Around Winner – (Good at Everything):
If you haven’t heard of Kia’s now omnipotent and all crushing 2017 Kia Soul then you missed out on an automotive success story unprecedented as so many other others in its class are no longer with us (Nissan Cube, Scion xB) several half copies that also manage to be just about half as successful as the Kia Soul. For 2017 Kia has decided to install its corporate 1.6 liter turbocharged 4-cylinder good for 201 horsepower and 195 lb. feet of torque standard on all “!” models.
But you don’t have to spend a small fortune (still well under $30K for turbo fully loaded Soul models) to feel as frisky as a Hamster in its favorite wheel when driving the 2017 Kia Soul. Prices start at just $16,100 for base models with a non-turbo 1.6 liter 4-cylinder which puts out 130 horsepower/160 lb. feet of torque and is available not only with a six-speed automatic but a six-speed manual as well making this the perfect learner car for a first-time manual transmission buyer.
In our opinion, this is the wiser buy for your college bound off-spring than, say, a Mustang 5.0 V8 with a manual gearbox that will positively scream to the world that either you trust your kid way too much or they got so obnoxious during their teen years you would have happily sent them to school in a used Ford Pinto. And your kids might not even notice their Soul is the base model it is so nicely equipped. Also, we applaud Kia’s decision to be rid of the cheap plastic wheel covers that used to come standard with the base trim instead replacing them with decent 16-inch alloys.
The base Soul comes with a 6-speaker AM/FM/MP3 Sirius XM audio system, Bluetooth with steering wheel mounted controls, USB port, air conditioning, power windows with auto down, power locks, an overhead sunglass holder, tilt, telescoping steering wheel, loads of convincingly soft-touch plastic as well as boasting a 24.2 cubic foot cargo hold which grows to 61.3 cubic feet when the split fold rear seats are down. So, each time your kid moves, you won’t need to help because you already got them their own moving van! Genius!
But what if you want more style or luxury with your 2017 Kia Soul? The mid-level “+” trim now offers exterior paint with contrasting roof and body colors sort of like you may have seen on many Mini models. As of now the Soul is available with a white body and red roof (and sider mirrors) as well as a very nice looking red model with a blacked-out roof (and side mirrors). This feature is only available with this mid-level Soul as is a handsome new black/gray leather seats and interior trim option which really brightens up the cabin.
The “+” trim comes with a slightly more powerful and just as efficient 2.0 liter 4-cylinder which puts out 160 horsepower as opposed to the base model’s 130 horsepower. It starts at just over $19,000 which adds automatic climate control, back-up camera, standard 6-speed automatic, automatic headlights, fog lamps, heated outside mirrors, tinted rear windows, cooler looking 17-inch alloys and plenty of way to push the MSRP all the way to about $26,000.
That would then include a full length panoramic sunroof, the aforementioned leather seating, an amazingly crisp Harmon/Kardon audio system, a central 8-inch touch screen infotainment display with UVO eServices, Apple Carplay, Android Auto, Premium Navigation, push button start, power front seats which also are ventilated and heated along with the rear bench seat as well as the steering wheel.
Most importantly to us, however, is that when you do purchase a Soul + with all the options you get a full active safety system including blind spot warning, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, rear cross traffic safety alert, high power projection headlamps as well as new front and rear LED lights which improve the visibility of the Soul on the road.
If you want a turbo 2017 Kia Soul “!” with all of those options the price jumps reasonably to $27,650 which isn’t a lot considering the power increase as well as the installation of Kia’s excellent 7-speed dual clutch automatic perfectly suited to access to sweet spot of the power band of its small but mighty turbocharged 1.6 liter 4-cylinder. Oh, and leather comes standard and you can have it in any color so long as it’s black. With the panoramic roof, trust us, the interior of the 2017 Kia Soul will never seem claustrophobic. Unless you load it to the roof with 10 overweight human sized hamsters. That might feel crowded.
2017 Honda Civic Coupe
Best Car to Look Cool In
The line of 2017 Honda Civic models is truly one of the most expansive and ambitious in the history of this highly successful compact car brand unto itself. Civics tend to last longer, hold onto their value more strongly and engender a level of owner loyalty you just don’t often find in this market segment. With the introduction of its latest Civic sedan last year, Honda quickly unveiled a two-door coupe variant which we must say is easily the best-looking coupe the brand has ever made. It looks a bit like a fighter ship from space but not in a sci-fi geek kind of way rather its lines are smooth, sexy and it all works together like a finely tailored suit. It kind of makes the sedan look frumpy in comparison.
Our two door Touring model came lavishly equipped for just around $26,000 equipped with Honda’s sweet new 1.5 liter turbocharged 174 horsepower 4-cylinder which can lazily munch epic mileages when equipped as ours was to a relatively seamless CVT automatic. Standard features at this price include power moon roof, leather seats, 17-inch alloys, auto headlamps and wipers, push button start, a premium 10-speaker audio system that was impressive for this price class, dual zone climate control and all of Honda’s cutting edge active safety tech like lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, a collision mitigation braking system, forward collision warning and more. There’s no safer place to put your money that the 2017 Honda Civic coupe.
The one drawback, as is the case in so many sexy looking two doors, is that rear visibility was rather more difficult to judge but we know we have experienced far worse rear blindness that this little Honda coupe manages and besides, you can rely on this car’s nifty right side mirror mounted camera that shows your blind spot to you on the screen whenever you activate the turn signal to merge. Now there are no words for how handy that one feature will prove to be for any 2017 Honda Civic coupe owner. It is the difference between having an accident and not as well as never regretting your automotive style decision. And that’s cool.
(To be continued…)