Buying a Car Step 3.2 Kia and Ford and Hyundai Oh My!
The contenders list it keeps a-changing. Today’s alterations are:
Fiat 500: Hanging on by a thread. Concerns over the newness of the dealer
and distribution system mean various dastardly issues are virtually
a lock to raise their ugly heads. However, Susan has yet to see the
car, and a good test drive might yet persuade both of us. The
salesman referred to the other day has not bothered to e-mail me,
last I checked, which is a game-ender for his dealership.
Ford Fiesta: Below.
Ford Focus: Below.
Honda Civic Si: Back in the game. A glowing review in a magazine urges me to
wait for one to reach our area.
Honda CR-Z: Omit. This one is too small for the very occasional need to carry
more than two people.
Kia Soul: Below.
Kia Koupe: Add. Details below.
Hyundai: We looked at two models at the insistence of a saleswoman. The
Elantra fails for a side treatment reminiscent of the 1959 Buick, a
car my father described at the time as looking like it had been
sideswiped by a load of steel pipe. Fatuous swoopy line for little
purposes – on both. . The other was an “economy car,” so utterly
devoid of interest I cannot recall the model name.
First up to bat today was the Kia Soul, and it almost hit the ball out of the park immediately. We stopped at Lee Johnson Chevrolet, Kia, Mazda, and who knows what else, and met Payman Hakimi. Mr. Hakimi impressed immediately with a quiet and polite manner, and actually listened to what I was saying.
With some difficulty he located a Soul + (with the + you get a larger engine and most of the “good stuff” you would insist on anyway) with a manual 5 speed. The one he had was in the “Alien” green, which we both like.
A nod to Susan. Susan is excellent as a partner in shopping for a car. She asks lots of good questions I would forget to ask, and is a keen judge of style and substance. She really liked the Soul + from the first moment she saw it. From long experience, we have developed a “system,” where she carries a note pad and jots down all sorts of things, and asks any questions that come to mind, while I focus on driving the car.
When we get to the bargaining stage, she tends to become Teller to my Penn, and tries to speak not at all. The salesperson will toss out a ridiculously number that would make the eyes of a literally minded person water, and I will respond with an absurdly low number in kind. Then comes the stage where the salesperson has to get the deal approved, and will come back with deeply felt sorrow that no, the Sales Manager will not go for it. Then we politely take our leave, and the salesman will come out to the parking lot and surprise! the manager has agreed after all. This all seems silly to Susan, because it is. It is also the way it is done. No hard feelings, just reality.
The Soul + has adequate power and is incredibly well equipped, with all sorts of things you would want and probably expect to pay more for. It also has cavernous interior room, and storage spaces, cubbyholes, and handy features galore. An armrest is a nice touch. The salesman made a fuss about the speakers with rims that change color, which makes not a jot of difference to me, but perhaps sells a lot of cars.
The downsides are few. It is actually a little bigger than I would want, the clutch take-up is very high on the pedal, which you could get used to but seems odd, and the window sill is too high for comfy arm-out driving. The steering wheel tilts but does not telescope, which is a trivial detail. The seat adjusts both fore and aft and up and down, so we will give that a pass. Ergonomics, other than the high window line and the clutch pedal, are just fine.
We drove it for a bit, and it impressed. The transmission seems absurdly easy to shift, and reminds me of motorcycles with quick shift systems or my Triumph Speed Triple with (now) 31,000 miles on its transmission. With such motorcycles, the clutch can be used for upshifts, but is not really required. I was tempted to see if the Kia would slot into the next gear by simply lifting off the throttle, but to what purpose? In addition, it would have been rude to Mr. Hakimi, who sat in the back seat feeding us ever more information about features and capabilities at a slow and easily digestible pace. His input was helpful, instead of the more usual cascade of blarney to convince you to buy this car right this minute.
Back at Lee Johnson’s I had Susan take a gander at the Kia Koupe. At first she did not like it, but it began to grow on her. Alas, no manual shifts were to be had (we were told that there are two in the NW, both in Idaho), but of course that can change. Susan said we should at least sit in one, and she was right. The one on the showroom floor was a loaded model with a sunroof, and it failed immediately for lack a grotesque lack of headroom. Two hours later it occurred to me that a non-sunroof model would have more headroom, so a query has been sent to the erstwhile Mr. Hakimi.
He also insisted we take the Honda through their free car-wash, which was a nice customer service concept and underscored his assurance that loaners for life and free car washes any time you wanted are part of the deal. Such details mean a great deal.
After that we stopped at Totem Lake Ford to check out the Fiesta and Focus, and had a completely different experience.
“Feeling tone” is a term used in education for the emotional sense of a classroom or building, and it is very real. Back when I was the president of the local teachers’ union, I could walk into a building and tell in less than 30 seconds if the school was “working” or not. Do you feel relaxed? Do the teachers and students seem calm, friendly, and purposeful? Feeling tone in a school or a store is very striking when you attune yourself to it.
Same thing with a car dealership. I always felt comfortable as a customer at Doug’s Lynnwood Mazda, which is one reason I began my motorsports “career” with a part time gig with them. Conversely, Totem Lake Ford has always given me the creeps! I let them work on our Focus – once, and felt I had been gouged. I have been car shopping there twice now with similarly dismal results.
Our salesperson was a woman, and at first I thought this might be interesting as she and Susan could “bond.” Er…. No. This was the stereotypical car salesperson experience – a person who says a great many things, some of which are odd or doubtful, and does not listen at all or pick up on context clues fed by the customer. In this case I tried to help her as much as possible. I reeled off the suitors for our money with sufficient detail of assets and debits and performance features that it should have been abundantly obvious that I was a car nut. I told her I wanted a car that was fun to drive and that had a manual shift, and she spent the majority of the time extolling the virtues of the automatic. It was also at her insistence that we walked to the far end of the lot to view the two Hyundai models, neither of which would appeal to anyone who has ever enjoyed the ambrosia of nitromethane or can quote arcania from auto history until the sun dies out. I even mentioned the coming Hyundai “Volster,” which she (surprise) knew nothing about.
On to the cars. The Focus made an immediate impression – and not a good one. It appears to be about 12 feet longer than my 2000 model. Of course, the current Focus is available only as a 4 door, which does not help. The two door Focus RS may be coming next year, but by now I was too depressed to ask any questions about it.
The Fiesta is a possible. Again, only as a four door, but small and with a nice interior that would make driving in a “sporty” manner possible and fun. She did not have any 5 speeds on the lot, which may explain her refusal to get off the automatic bandwagon (‘ya think?) so we only sat in the car. My concern was the distance from the driver’s head to the windshield, which makes every bug or fleck of dust be a bigger hindrance to your enjoyment. Her solution to my explanation of why a long reach to the windshield was not optimal was to tell me how the windshield washer works. Gosh, if only I’d thought of that!
When I pointed out to Susan that the Hyundais had cheap pressed steel wheels of tiny size with stamped hubcaps, and that I preferred cast wheels of a size appropriate to the car, our ever helpful salesperson added that she did too, because they did a better job of keeping the wheels in balance. Have you ever heard of that? I must have looked skeptical (me?) because she quickly added “Or so they say.” … And… who are they?
This experience sucked all the enthusiast marrow from our bones, so we tucked our horsepower tails between our legs and scooted for home.
Next up – I want to drive a Kia Koupe with a 5 speed, and a 2012Honda Civic Si with the new engine that promises more torque at lower rpm and less weight. More money, but it might be worth it.
For now, the Kia Soul + is working its way into our – souls.
Copyright 2011 David Preston