2014 Kia Soul
Redesigned for model-year 2014, this boxy wagon gained interior room and refinement but not much fuel economy. The hipster styling is tweaked, but the general look is intentionally familiar. Soul is among the larger subcompacts, with ample space for four adults and useful cargo volume. It’s front-wheel-drive only, and while base models suffer with just 130 horsepower, most versions come with a capable 164. Ride is quite firm and handling no more than adequate. But Soul has attitude and rare-for-the-class available features, including cooled front seats, heated rear seats, a panoramic sunroof, leather upholstery, navigation, xenon headlamps, and an air-conditioned glovebox. Fuel economy is rated 26 mpg combined for all configurations. Base-price range is $15,495-$21,095.
2014 Mazda 2
This design cousin to the Ford Fiesta comes only as a four-door hatchback that benefits from Mazda’s handling expertise. It somehow feels lighter on its feet than the already laudable Fiesta and so is among the most agile subcompacts. Thankfully it’s also among the lightest because its 100 horsepower engine and choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions leave it wanting for acceleration. Prices are attractive, but the rear seat is small, noise levels high, and features basic; Bluetooth is a $275 option, for example, and you -must opt for the top of the two trim levels to get cruise control. Fuel-economy ratings span 30-32 mpg combined. Base-price range is $15,515-$17,845.
2014 Mini Cooper
The Mini arm of BMW will roll out new Cooper designs for model-year 2015, starting with the mainstay two-door hatchback. But the 2014 lineup remains a cornucopia of variety, including two- and three-door hatchbacks, two types of convertibles, a chopped-top coupe, and the all-wheel-drive two-door Paceman and four-door Countryman. Engines range from a weak 121-horsepower to turbo variants of 181 horses and, in the John Cooper Works, a rowdy 208. Every Mini handles like a go-kart; unfortunately, all but the base models and Countryman ride as stiffly as a go-kart. All but the Countryman have cramped rear seating and the dashboard layout is an acquired taste. These are more lifestyle statements than subcompact economy cars. Fuel-economy ratings span 26-32 mpg combined. Base-price range is $20,495-$36,495. See the CarPreview.com 2014 Electric and Plug-in Hybrid Vehicle Buying Guide for a review of the 2014 Mini E pure-electric model.