Behind the scenes of our subcompact crossover shootout
The cameras had been set up for almost an hour, and now, the living room filled with the sweetness of freshly brewed blonde roast. The late-summer sun had just started peaking over towering maples. In a week the colors will start changing, the inevitable sign of the coming gray skies and snow.
Half past eight, the editors arrived. The Scandinavian inspired house that served as the headquarters for our subcompact crossover comparison couldn’t accommodate all seven of us, so they had stayed at a turn of the century farmhouse down the road. While geese, chickens, cats and sheep made for an authentic Northern Michigan farm experience, ingredients for a good night’s sleep they were not. Within minutes Red Bulls cracked open and short, cocoa-colored mugs appeared, filled with a variety of caffeinated beverages.
“I thought we were gonna have fried eggs,” Editor-in-Chief Greg Migliore said, smiling, before refusing a muffin. Associate Producer Alex Malburg ran from camera to camera, adjusting focus and exposure, trying to keep up with the ever-changing light, which poured into the room faster each minute.
“I was promised food. I’m not filming.” Consumer Editor Jeremy Korzeniewski’s sarcasm thinly veiled his true feelings. To keep the group content I promised a craft-services buffet next time.
For the second time, we shot our comparison just outside of Traverse City. While we took advantage of a local off-road park for the first, this round proved a bit more tame, utilizing the hilly, winding, wine-country roads that define the region.
An air of nervousness could be detected. Only one person knew the outcome of our test, Senior Green Editor John Beltz Snyder. I found myself both impressed and surprised he had kept this secret overnight, though I came to find out later that he revealed the winner to Producer Amr Sayour on the drive to dinner the evening before.
The cameras started rolling, the audio recording, but the caffeine hadn’t yet entered the bloodstream, with one exception. Associate Editor Joel Stocksdale sipped his lime green Mountain Dew. That seemed to be working, as he passionately laid out his argument for the Kia Soul and his preference for winter tires over all-wheel drive. From behind the camera I silently disagreed with him. “No one buys winter tires,” Jeremy argued.
As we consumed more coffee, the sun came up, and so did the energy of the debate. We had finalized the decision on the day of testing, less than twenty-four hours before. The time had come for John to reveal the winner. In last place, the Honda HR-V. A selection that surprised no one, as it had been ranked last in almost every subjective category the day before. No arguments arose from the table. John continued.
The next three felt like they could shake out any which way. In third, the 4x4 Jeep Renegade. I had grown to love the tiny Jeep in the week we'd tested it. The 1.3-liter sounded surprisingly good, at least when standing outside the vehicle, and it felt the closest to an SUV of any of the vehicles. The as-tested price far and away exceeded any of its competitors, though for reasons I felt justifiable. The LED light package made it easier to spot deer while driving around rural forest roads at night, and the panoramic sunroof gave the cabin an airy feel unmatched by any other sunroof. In the end, the headlights and sunroof lost out to the superior ride and handling performance of the Jeep’s stiff competition.
That left the Kia Soul and the Hyundai Kona vying for first. FWD cars. Both proved surprisingly peppy; chirping the tires when accelerating from a standstill proved simple. Both crossovers have the same engine, albeit with slightly different tuning, and while the Kona does at least offer an AWD option, it felt cramped compared to the spacious Soul.
John lifted the weight of secrecy off his chest. In second place, the Hyundai Kona, which meant that the Kia Soul emerged the winner of our subcompact comparison. Joel beamed from ear to ear.
“Joel and I, I think, are pretty happy,” remarked Greg, before taking a sip of his coffee.
“For me it’s kind of a bummer,” countered John from across the table. “It was the least crossover-y of the bunch and doesn’t have all-wheel drive.” A few more points were argued, but the outcome had already been reached.
The Soul reigned.