These rides hit the trifecta: Well-priced, stylish and built to haul


The Fiat 500L has the versatility of a bus with the fun colors and winning lines of a sporty car.


CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

It’s not the dimensions of the box, but the size of its load that matters. Many of us must economize to get by, but we don’t have to forego enjoyment or utility to get the car of our dreams. Maybe one of these automotive partners will satisfy all your desires.

Fiat 500L. The 500L is like a small Italian bus. Interiors can be customized with a myriad of colors and patterns, touchscreen infotainment and glass roof. It feels like a loft, especially with the Nero/Marrone (black/brown) color scheme. Beats audio, Bluetooth, 6.5-inch touchscreen, navigation and voice controls add tech. A 160 horsepower turbo four-cylinder engine, connected to a six-speed manual or automatic, delivers up to 33-MPG hwy. Go for smooth Italian bodies or the ruggedly-American Trekking edition. Prices start around $19,000, but pay up for options.


The Buick Encore, right, adds luxury detailing to the sub-compact crossover; the Kia Soul, below, incorporates elegant touches to its second-generation model.

Buick Encore. Buick is the new black — and Encore is its Little Black Dress. Based on the Chevy Sonic, it’s crafting a market for luxurious sub-compact crossovers. Available with Bose audio, heated leather seats, heated steering wheel, lane departure warning, rearview camera, noise cancelling technology and 25/33-MPG city/hwy. from a 138 horsepower 1.4-liter turbo engine, it lures stylish urbanites. Choose front- or all-wheel-drive. Chrome dash trim that turns blue at night is a flick trick. Proving the point, Encore won awards for appeal and quality from J.D. Power. Prices start under $24,500 for a smooth little box that doesn’t look like a box.

Kia-SolKia Soul. Kia’s second-generation Soul debuts with a larger shell, enabling a more cavernous interior. Soft materials and elegant piano finishes accompany a gesture-recognition touchscreen. Kia’s optional UVO infotainment system provides turn-by-turn navigation, Pandora internet radio, weather, sports scores, movie times and local fuel prices. Luxuriate in heated leather seats and 350 watts of Infinity audio. A 164 horsepower engine moves the hamsters. Designed in California, Soul flaunts glamorous colors like Solar Yellow, Kale Green and Infernal Red. Stickers begin around $15,000.

Hyundai Elantra GT. More a sporty coupe than a tall box, the Elantra GT is nonetheless a roomy ride. Fluidic sculptural styling surrounds a fancy cabin available with a cooled glove box, dual-zone climate control, heated leather seats, Bluetooth and 12v outlet in the cargo area — perfect for deploying that air mattress. A panoramic sunroof serves the moon while the 148 horsepower four-cylinder engine brings 27/37-MPG city/hwy. Drivers choose from Comfort, Normal and Sport steering modes. Staying connected is easy with Blue Link, combining voice-to-text messaging, POI web search and navigation. Pay under $19,000.

Ford Transit Wagon. The wrapper may be small, but it contains a mighty big box — perfect for that adoptive family or all your toys. When erect, fold-flat second- and third-row seats load up to seven passengers. Euro-inspired dashboards accompany options like a full-glass roof, rear camera, navigation and SYNC with MyFord Touch voice-controlled infotainment. Luxurious leather, comfortable cloth or heavy-duty vinyl upholsters the seats. Powerful EcoBoost engines deliver up to 30-MPG hwy. Look beyond its plaid mini-van shell to find a refined trendsetter. Expect to pay under $25,000 as a start.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 15, 2013.