The dust has settled on the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, and we’re dying to take some hit reveals from the show and pit them against simultaneous debuts from the same segment.
The 2019 Mazda3 and the 2020 Kia Soul, for example, both saw the covers pulled off of their next-generation iterations at this year’s LA Show, and both decided to target buyers acquiring their first car by wowing them with out-there looks.
Which came out as the winning debut in this year’s Show-Off? Let’s look at the details.
Our writers on the floor in L.A. summed it up best: while both cars are distinctive, the Kia Soul is more about “poking automotive styling traditionalists in the eye” while the boldness of the Mazda3 comes from its bringing to production an aesthetic that looks very concept car.
The Mazda designers’ inspiration boards must have been plastered with water-weathered stones and images of honey oozing out of a honeypot, because it looks smooth. We have to admit that the proportions on the hatchback are not fantastic around the rear end, but we can forgive it for how tidy the sedan’s trunk looks in comparison.
The Soul, meanwhile, has some trick elements – the razor-thin headlights and wrap-around-the-rear-window taillights – tacked on to some terrible proportions. Teasers of those features had us looking forward to the car’s futuristic styling, but when all was laid bare, we were not so impressed. Worst of all is that, from certain angles, the surplus of sheet metal around the wheel arches can make the wheels seem absolutely tiny.
While Kia’s gone with an electric option for the Soul, Mazda’s refusing to let go of gasoline, but at least it’s also refusing to stop innovating internal-combustion-engine tech, making more power in new, more efficient ways.
The gas engine under the hood of the Soul is a new 2.0-litre four-cylinder non-turbo turning out 147 horsepower, and mated to a Hyundai-engineered “intelligent” CVT – an IVT – that mimics the step-shift feel of an automatic and offers better response. The 201-horsepower EV option, with DC fast-charging and a 64-kWh battery, is, however, the even more impressive piece of kit in Kia’s corner.
It doesn’t sound nearly as neat as the 2.0-litre Skyactiv-X making its brand debut in the 3, though. That engine offers 178 horsepower and diesel-levels of fuel economy thanks to some tricks borrowed from, well, diesel engines – it combines spark- and compression-ignition in its combustion cycle, for example. Even better, Mazda’s got alternatives galore for buyers: 1.5-, 2.0-, and 2.5-litre Skyactiv engines topping out at 186 horsepower, and, for the first time in the 3, all-wheel drive! An automatic transmission backs them up unless you opt for the six-speed manual.
The technology Kia has stuffed into the Soul is where it really shines – while it sounds like a gimmick, I’ve found firsthand how much of an impact wild in-car lighting systems can have on young buyers, and the Soul offers 11 “moods”, including “party time”. There’s a huge 10.25-inch touchscreen and double-device Bluetooth pairing, plus a booming Harman Kardon sound system.
The Mazda3 doesn’t lag far behind in this department either, though, with its head-up display soldiering on and a 12-speaker Bose sound system replacing the standard eight-speaker when buyers check off the higher trim instead of the base model. Its 8.8-inch display is controlled by a knob on the centre console.
Running down the tale of the tape, it’s a sure victory for the Mazda3. It looks stylish, sleek and bold without being polarizing, unlike the Soul, which we can see splitting up friendships even more than its (arguably cuter-yet-more-conservative) predecessor. The Kia wins the horsepower war if you go the EV route, but overall the Mazda gives you more choices, including one for the enthusiast in the form of that six-speed stick. The tech may tip toward the Soul, but it’s not enough to secure it the win in this Show-Off.
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