Editor's Note: In the second annual CultureMap Auto Awards, our automotive correspondents Nic Phillips and Kevin McCauley bestow honors in 10 categories for the top cars and trucks of 2013/2014 and explain why they're deserving of a good hard look. First up:
Hot Compact of the Year: 2014 Ford Fiesta ST
Small cars are a definite trend going into 2014 with automakers racing to meet demand for efficient, economic yet premium offerings. Topping our list this year is the completely reinvented Ford Fiesta with our hat tipping to the brilliant ST performance variant.
Fiesta introduced Ford's first-ever three-cylinder EcoBoost engine, making one of our most memorable drives of the year. This tiny turbo mite is an engineering marvel with several revolutionary technologies delivering up to 45-mpg highway, but with enough low-end grunt to make it a joy to drive. The engine's block is so compact that a Ford engineer was able to pass it through TSA airport security (see slideshow). But despite its diminutive dimensions, it's remarkably refined with smooth, confident power delivery.
Fiesta introduced Ford's first-ever three-cylinder EcoBoost engine, making one of our most memorable drives of the year.
Premium is the keyword when describing what Ford has done with the Fiesta. Why limit features and technology to only the largest of cars? Basically one can have up a Fiesta equipped Microsoft Sync with myFord Touch and Sync Applink, Navigation with traffic, rearview camera, push-button engine start, LED ambient lighting, heated leather seats... the list goes on and on while the price stays below $20,000.
Ford continues to be one of the few carmakers that hasn't forgotten about the enthusiast driver and so we have the ST. Performance upgrades start with a specially tuned 1.6-liter turbo four-cylinder EcoBoost boasting 197-horsepower and 202 lb-ft of torque mated to a six-speed manual. Sportier front and rear suspension components, quicker steering, torque vectoring control, beefier brakes and a curb weight well under 3,000 pounds add up to a compact experience that's sure to turn that frown upside down.
Be sure to spend on the available RECARO sport seats, you'll appreciate them in the corners and they go a long way to show you have something special to show on the inside. EPA estimates fuel economy at 26 city / 35 highway, but if you're hitting those marks you're not driving the ST as you should be.
Bravo Ford, our right foot thanks you.
The Ford Fiesta starts at just $14,100 and our lusty ST model, complete with every option, just breaks $25,000.
Hot Compact Runner-up: 2014 Kia Soul
Kia's tagline for its hamster toting, future blasting nightclub box on wheels: "Totally transformed."... and it couldn't be more true. In the biggest surprise of the year, the Soul has grown up, is completely reworked and presents one of the best values on the road.
Pete Schreyer (Audi TT, the New Beetle) is responsible for Kia's styling and he smartly retained the iconic boxy design nature of the Soul adding to its desirability inside and out. The wheelbase has been stretched and strengthened making the profile longer, lower and wider with finishes that make the box look practically wrapped in high-gloss, as if it's been polished. Inside surfaces are more nuanced, more sophisticated with expensive new soft touch materials ultimately raising the bar for its sub-compact competitors.
The Soul is no driver's car, it's more of a lounge on wheels and there it maybe over equipped with a downright soulful 350 watt Infinity Audio System shaming many luxury car systems costing thousands more and an optional LED light show for, well you know, those nights.
Pricing been simplified into three trim levels and a few package options starting at $14,700 and the whole shebang right around $24,000.