The 2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro 4x4 off-roading near Mt. Rainier in Washington state.With the rear seats down, cargo space on the 2019 Mazda CX-5 Signature AWD is 59.6 cubic feet.The 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line 1.6 Turbo provided performance, comfort, tech, safety, and excellent fuel economy.

Light trucks and SUVs of all sizes continue to impress with driveability, cargo space

There is a very valid reason that pickups (along with SUVs) are the hot sellers in the North American market – they are simply highly usable vehicles. And our test of the 2019 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro 4x4 DoubleCab verified that a pickup can be comfortable and perfect for hauling cargo.

Powered by a 3.5-L dual VVT V-6 engine, the Tacoma TRD Pro is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. The result is EPA/DOT fuel ratings of 18 MPG/city and 22 MPG/highway. Even with some serious off-roading during our weeklong test, we garnered more than 21 MPG overall.

There is much to like on this midsize pickup (we’ll review the full-size Tundra next month), including everything TRD (cat-back exhaust, black alloy wheels, skid plate, tuned Fox internal bypass shocks, and more), Rigid Industries LED fog lamps, Hill Start Assist Control and Crawl Control (both superb for off-roading), and the exceptional Entune Premium JBL audio system with Integrated Navigation and Entune App Suite.

One option of note on our tester was the Desert Air Intake ($795), a black snorkel-like pipe that crawls up the passenger side for improved intake during off-road and water driving.

For safety there is the Toyota Safety Sense P system (lane departure warning, pre-collision warning, dynamic radar cruise control), plus a rear-view camera, rear parking sensor, blind-spot monitoring, and more.

On the exterior of the Tacoma TRD Pro 4x4 are projector beam headlamps, a “heritage-inspired Toyota” front grille, tow hitch and sway system, and very usable 16-inch all-terrain tires.

Inside there are leather-trimmed seats and steering wheel, dual zone climate control, a seven-inch touchscreen, and USB ports.

All in all, this Voodoo Blue pickup was fun to drive on- and off-road. MSRP was $45,515 with just more than $1,000 in options.


AWD Mazda made for comfort and utility

We like the Mazda offerings of SUVs/crossovers as they offer a diversity of models for a variety of needs. Our tested 2019 CX-5 Signature AWD (top of five CX-5 trim levels) was just plain pleasurable. This SUV is comfy, is loaded with standard equipment, and hauled all the cargo we needed to transport.

The top two CX-5s have the Skyactiv-G 2.5T engine that produces 250 HP and 310 lb.-ft. of torque at just 2,000 RPM. Virtually no turbo lag with the dynamic pressure turbocharger on this puppy. With the Skyactiv-Drive six-speed automatic with manual shift and Sport Mode, the i-Activ AWD system allows for fuel ratings of 24 MPG (22/city and 27/highway). We experienced just under 24 with both on- and off-road testing.

The list of “likes” on the CX-5 is much too long, but some highlights include the Caturra Brown Nappa leather seats (heated front and rear), wood trim, the plentiful technology, power/heated outside mirrors, power moonroof, very capable Dynamic Stability Control and traction control systems, heated steering wheel, Mazda radar cruise control, power rear liftgate, Bose 10-speaker audio system, and the tight-gripping 19-inch all-season tires.

The Mazda Connect Infotainment System provides a full spectrum of radio and entertainment, and the seven-inch color screen displays everything from audio to Mazda Navigation to traffic/weather to Apple CarPlay.

As with tech integration, safety is plentiful ranging from G-Vectoring Control to front and rear stabilizer bars to lane departure warning to blind-spot monitoring, and more.

Our MSRP on the Signature AWD was very decent at $36,890. With just a few options, including the very cool

Soul Red Crystal paint ($595), the final price was $38,330.


Fun to drive and fuel efficient

The 2020 Kia Soul GT-Line Turbo, the top of six models, was sporty with its GT-Line Sport front and rear bumper fascias and Sport side sills with red accents.

This small wagon was powered by the 1.6-L turbo combined with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Fuel ratings are 29 MPG overall (27/city and 32/highway) and we noted just more than 30 MPG overall during our test.

With a base price of $27,490, this Inferno Red Soul had amazing tech, safety, and comfort features. There were heated front seats and steering wheel, Smart Cruise Control, UVO link with a 10.25-iunch screen and navigation, heads-up display, Hill-start Assist, lane keeping assist, rear cross-traffic warning, blind-spot collision warning, front collision avoidance, and a very jazzy Harman-Kardon audio system.

Soul features great lighting with bright LED projector headlamps, LED taillamps, and LED fog lights. Plus there was a power sunroof on our tester, as well as very generous cargo capacity of 62.1 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. With just two minor options, this wagon had a final price of $27,715 – quite competitive for all it offers.


Parts & People

Parts & People is published monthly by Automotive Counseling and Publishing Company, Inc., a Colorado corporation, P.O. Box 18731 Denver, CO 80203, 303-765-4664. President-Lance Buchner. Founded by Lance Buchner and Dave Lucia.