Today's compacts provide high content, cutting edge engineering

2014-02-07T00:00:00Z Today's compacts provide high content, cutting edge engineeringAndy Mikonis Times Auto Correspondent nwitimes.com
February 07, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Compact and subcompact cars were once the bottom of the automotive food chain, but these days that has all changed.

Automakers have recognized that small cars are the most common entry point for those all-important young buyers. Today's young buyers are looking for quality products. Hence, we are seeing an unprecedented era of high content small cars with cutting edge engineering.

Now that the econobox image has been shed, older buyers are rediscovering small cars, whether they are downsizing or just looking for a fuel efficient ride.

Mazda's most popular model, the Mazda3, is completely redesigned for 2014. Four and five-door versions are available in four trim levels, starting as low as $17,000. An increase in wheelbase allowed for more interior space, while the exterior length of the car is actually a little shorter. A 2.0-liter engine with 155-horsepower is standard with a 184-horsepower 2.5-liter as an option. A six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission are available.

A new look with sculpted lines also results in best-in-class coefficient of drag. Repositioning the A-pillars and outside mirrors increases outward visibility over the previous model. The Mazda3 also debuts the Active Driving Display, a clear pop-up panel that provides vehicle information within the driver's immediate line of sight, and then hides away when the ignition is off.

"The new Mazda3 just started to launch last month," said Andrew Thompson, sales manager at Kennedy Mazda in Valparaiso. "It gets 41 miles per gallon and it's selling very well."

Consumers also can see the Mazda3 at Art Hill Mazda in Merrillville.

At the North American International Auto Show in Detroit last month, John Mendel, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co. Inc., said the 2015 Honda Fit has a lot of potential.

"Honda first made its mark in America with a subcompact car," he said. "But for the last several years, we just haven't had the supply to take full advantage of our opportunities in the marketplace."

The replacement for the well-regarded Fit goes into production this month at a new Honda assembly plant in Mexico. This will be Honda's eight North American plant, which Mendel said means 98 percent of Hondas sold in the U.S. will be built in North America.

It's an all-new platform that shaves 57 pounds through the use of high and ultra-high strength steel. An all-new 1.5-liter direct injected has increased power and is mated to either a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission. Wrap it all together and the 2015 Fit will get 41 miles per gallon on the highway. The Fit will go on sale at Bosak Honda in Highland and Team Honda in Merrillville.

Small cars come in different shapes, and while many once-trendy "boxy" cars have faded away, the Kia Soul has become one of Kia's best sellers.

Completely redone for 2014, the all-new Kia Soul has a special connection to the Chicago Auto Show. Kia designers managed to retain the quirky look that made the Soul so popular, while incorporating design elements from the Kia Track'ster concept car which debuted at the Chicago Auto Show in 2012.

The new platform is longer and wider so there's more interior room, even though the roof is lower. The body structure is also stiffer for a quieter, more refined ride, and improved driving dynamics.

Inside, designers wanted a more premium look and feel, so there's more soft touch surfaces and higher quality materials. Even the Track'ster's interior design theme consisting of a number of circles comes through in the new Soul. A 1.6-liter engine with gasoline direct injection produces 130 horsepower comes with the base model, with a choice of six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. Higher trim levels receive a 164-horsepower 2.0-liter also with direct injection, a the six-speed automatic.

Kia is one of the only automakers to post increased sales through the economic downturn, and the new Soul should help keep the momentum going. It's on sale now at Arnell Kia and Southlake Kia in Burns Harbor, Nielsen Kia in Portage, and Thomas Kia in Highland.

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