A New Keithmobile?

Could it be? Is it possible? A new Keithmobile – the first new one in 7 years?

amanda's new kia soul 2

Ha ha, no, actually this is NOT a new Keithmobile – the faithful Keithmobile-D (my Mitsubishi Outlander) is still around, and we can’t have more than one Keithmobile at a time, now can we?

However, this IS a new car – our first “second” car – and since we still have the Outlander, that kind of makes this “Amanda’s car.” And boy, does it suit her!

This is a 2011 Kia Soul – which you might recognize instead by it’s insane TV commercial featuring a bunch of singing (rapping) hamsters. Yeah, that car.

Specifically, this is a Soul+ (because apparently Kia felt that using names or even letters for trim levels was too boring, so instead we get symbols – there’s the “+”, the “!” and… the “Sport.” Real creative there.)

You can look up all the particulars online if you care, but suffice it to say that this is the perfect second car for us. The Soul is a nice cruising car – comfy and quiet on the highway, with good gas mileage and a kick-ass sound system (8 speakers, including a subwoofer) which also has a true iPod connection (that is, not only can you play your iPod, but the info about what song is playing shows up on the radio’s screen, and you can skip songs using the steering wheel mounted controls).

Most amusingly, the upgraded audio package includes what can only be described as “mood lighting.” There are LED lights around the speakers in the doors which can glow in one of 5 different colors (red, blue, yellow, green, purple) – and they can either just cycle through the colors slowly, or they can “pulse” in time to your music!

I drove this car a while back as a rental, and thought that it might work well for us as a second car, and after doing some research, we decided that it would be perfect. It sits 4 people comfortably and has ample space in the back (especially with the seats folded down), plus it has that nice “not too high, not too low” driving/seating position which we like.

Oh – and that spine-shattering stiff ride I talked about in my original review of this car? Well, apparently Kia listens to what people say, because they’ve definitely fixed it in the 2011 model. The ride is firm, but not nearly as bad as it used to be. So kudos to Kia for fixing that one big problem!

The Soul is not all-wheel-drive, however, so it will probably spend some time sitting in the garage come winter, but for most of the year (at least around here) it will do quite nicely. And it’s nice to finally have 2 cars in the family!

Truthfully though, the Kia Soul is a very nice little car – not too big, but not too small, either. If you’re looking for a practical car with a bit of style that won’t cost you an arm and a leg, you can’t go wrong with one of these. Hey, I bought one, after all!

Keith’s Winter Driving Tips

With all the snow & ice hitting us up here in the northeast US, I figured it was time to try and educate people about how to drive in the snow… because, seriously, a lot of people seem to have a real problem with it. So here goes.

Slow down

If you do just one thing while driving in the snow, it should be to slow down. Pretend that everything is happening in slow motion. In the snow, or really any time the roads are very slippery, everything you try to do takes longer to happen. This means you need to do things more slowly/gradually: accelerate slower, brake slower, and turn slower.

Check your tires

It doesn’t matter if you’ve got AWD, 4WD, traction control, anti-lock brakes, etc., unless your tires can get some grip. If you’ve got summer tires, or worn down “all-season” tires, this more than outweighs any advantage from those sorts of systems.

This is especially true if you’ve got low-profile, high-performance sport tires – if you have these sorts of tires on your (sports) car, you should really just stay home and keep off the roads. (And that goes double for people driving luxury SUVs which often come with “sporty” tires which are absolute rubbish in the snow.)

Acronyms don’t make you invincible

This is something that really needs to be drilled into people’s minds. Yes, 4-wheel drive (4WD) or all-wheel drive (AWD) is great, and yes, it gives you extra traction… for getting moving. But keep in mind that when it comes time to turn, or to stop, you still have the same number of wheels (and brakes) as everyone else on the road.

4WD/AWD will help keep you from getting stuck in the snow, but that’s about it.

Clear all the snow from your car

Yes, I know it’s annoying to have to clear all that snow off your car, and it can be tempting to just clear the windows and go… but there are a lot of good reasons to take the extra time and effort to clear the rest of the snow off your car.

If you have a tall vehicle (say, an SUV, which is probably why you don’t want to make the effort to get the snow off in the first place since it’s harder to get at) then all that snow is adding weight to your car, and adding it up high like that makes you rather top heavy – or to put it simply, you’re more likely to flip over.

And let’s also not forget that eventually that snow is going to come flying off your car – and then just think about the poor person behind you.

Turn on your lights

I’m seriously amazed at how many people I see driving in the snow without their headlights on. Many of them are driving white or silver cars, which makes it even worse.

Many states (something like 20 the last time I checked, including New York and New Jersey) have a “wipers on, lights on” rule, and for a very good reason – when visibility is reduced due to rain, fog, or snow, turning on your headlights makes it easier for other people to see (and, critically, avoid) you.


I hope that some of these tips have helped someone out there – driving in the snow really is not that complicated, you just need to keep your wits about you and make sure you have the right equipment.

If you have any winter driving tips of your own to share, feel free to share them in the comments!

Behind the Wheel: 2010 Kia Soul

Ahhh, the 2010 Kia Soul… yeah, that car, the one with the funny commercial featuring rapping hamsters (or are they gerbils?)

I got a chance to drive this odd-looking little car recently, and much to my surprise, I actually liked it – a lot!

I was a bit worried when I first saw the Kia Soul, because I had conflicted feelings about these little cube-cars that have started to become popular lately. I worried that it would be woefully underpowered, have lousy gas mileage, and be top-heavy and completely uninteresting to drive.

Fortunately for me, the Soul turned out to have none of these problems.

The Soul has a fuel-sipping little 2.0L 4-cylinder engine, which pushes out a surprising 142 HP. (For comparison, my own car, a 2003 Mitsubishi Outlander, has a larger 2.4L 4-cylinder engine which puts out… 140 HP.) Because of this, the Soul is zippy enough to be enjoyable to drive – which I think is important, especially in small cars.

Surprisingly, although the Soul looks like it would be kind of top-heavy, it actually holds quite well through the curves. The steering on the Soul is very crisp and responsive, and you don’t feel nervous hitting a curve at some speed (although obviously not too much speed!).

On the inside, the Soul continued to impress me. The Soul has the kind of driving position I just love – elevated a bit, with good forward visibility and a comfy chair that you sit straight up in (no “leaning all the way back while driving” positions here!). The seats are at hip-level, so you just slide right in – you don’t have to fall down into the seats (like you do in some cars), and you don’t have to climb up into the seats (as you do in some big SUVs).

There is also a lot of neat techno-stuff on the inside of the Soul – the radio is cleverly laid out, and very nice – it has both a regular auxiliary input for any MP3 player, plus you can plug in your iPod and control it using the radio’s own controls (although you do need a special cable for that). You can even control your iPod using the controls on the steering wheel – which is really nice (and a safety bonus – you don’t have to take your hands off the wheel or your eyes off the road to skip songs!).

The steering wheel controls, by the way, were some of the best I’ve seen yet. Unlike a lot of other cars, the controls are easy to operate just by feel alone – the buttons and switches all have unique shapes, so you can tell what button you are pressing just by feeling it. Too few car manufacturers take this aspect of steering wheel mounted controls into consideration, and you end up with controls you have to look at first before you use them – and if you have to look down from the road to see what you’re going to push, then what’s the point of having them on the steering wheel in the first place?

It almost seems like the Kia Soul is the “Goldilocks” of cars – not to big, not too small, not too sluggish but not over powered, clever but not overdone – in other words, “just right.”

However, there is one rather… jarring downside to this car, if you’ll excuse the pun – the suspension. The suspension on this car is very, very stiff. Going over bumps and such was almost painful. We’re talking “almost jolt you out of your seat” bad. Now, I know the suspension is probably stiff to help give the Soul good handling in the corners and prevent it from feeling top-heavy, but honestly I would almost prefer a little bit of top-heaving feelings just so I don’t shatter my spine every time I hit a pothole.

With that one black mark against it, the Kia Soul is otherwise a very nice car which I greatly enjoyed driving. I think it’s a very practical and economical car, without being boring, which is a rare thing these days. If the suspension wasn’t so tooth-rattling, I’d almost give it perfect marks. But even so, I still think it is a really good car. If you don’t mind a rough ride, and are in the market for something small, fun, practical and economical, I’d highly recommend the new Kia Soul.

Behind the Wheel: 2010 Dodge Charger

Recently I had the opportunity to spend a couple of days behind the wheel of a car I really wanted to drive – a 2010 Dodge Charger. Yes, that’s right – I wanted to drive what is essentially a muscle car.

Unfortunately I didn’t have much time (just 3 days) with this car, so I didn’t get a chance to really put it through its paces. However, I did get to drive it along a lot of various roads, ranging from straight & boring (but high-speed – 70 MPH speed limit, yippie!) interstate highways to twisty (and properly banked!) secondary state highways that followed the Mississippi river.

The Dodge Charger is a surprisingly big car – as soon as you get behind the wheel you really feel how big the car is, and you sense its muscle car heritage. However, even though it feels big, the Charger isn’t terribly large on the outside, and in fact it is quite easy to handle, both at high speed and low speed (e.g., parking).

The interior of the Charger was actually very comfortable – it was easy for me to find a comfortable driving position, which is often a challenge for me in cars, since I’m so used to the higher-up seating position in SUV’s and trucks. I had 3 other people with me as well when I was driving the Charger, and the back seats had plenty of room for 2 full-sized adults.

Unfortunately I forgot to check which engine our rented Charger had – it would have been either the 2.7L 178 HP V6, or the bigger 3.5L 250 HP V6. Given that it was a rental, I’m going to guess we had the smaller engine, but don’t let those numbers fool you – the Charger isn’t a terribly heavy car, so it gets up and goes quite well. And it’s rear-wheel drive as well (yay!) so you can have some good-old fashioned tail-spinning fun.

All-in-all the Charger was a pleasure to drive, with plenty of power and smooth steering. The automatic transmission, while simple, was fine – I never felt like it was “hunting” for the right gear, nor were the gear shifts really noticeable. I’m sure this car would be quite a ball with a manual transmission, but (sadly) of course you’d never find a manual transmission on a rental car.

The Charger did have a couple of things that bugged me, however. As is apparently typical of all American cars these days, the Charger comes with automatic headlights (I guess because we’re too stupid to remember to turn them on when it gets dark?) and doors that lock automatically once you get moving – and can’t be unlocked (at least from the rear seats) unless you shift into Park. This last one in particular is really annoying – if you’re dropping anyone off, and they are sitting in the back seat, you MUST shift into Park before they can get out of the car!

Also, watch out if you go into the trunk on the Charger – I hit my head more than once on the very low latch on the trunk. And I can attest – it HURTS.

Other than those few problems, the Charger was a fine car and I quite enjoyed driving it. If I ever felt the desire to own a muscle car, I would definitely consider the Dodge Charger as an option. Hey, if it’s good enough for the police, why not for me?

Behind the Wheel: 2010 Chevrolet Malibu

I recently had an opportunity to spend a good amount of time behind the wheel of a 2010 Chevrolet Malibu while driving from Miami down to Key West.

Unfortunately, although I certainly didn’t hate the Malibu, I didn’t exactly like it either. Like so many American cars of the last, oh, 5-10 years or so, it felt like it was trying really hard to feel more upscale than it really was.

A few things I didn’t like were:

  • The very low ceiling (not helped by the fact that our car had a sunroof)
  • The annoying automatic headlights (and what ever happened to all Chevy vehicles having daytime running lights?)
  • The annoying automatic door locks… which passengers could not unlock until you put the transmission into “Park”
  • The steering wheel control buttons that you had to look at to see what they do (you can’t tell by feel)
  • The 3-spoke steering wheel (each of the spokes was just too big to hold on to when cruising, probably because of the need to fit in all the radio & cruise controls)

Some things I did like were:

  • The radio (I do like that Chevy’s have one of the few CD players that actually read CD-Text for song titles – why don’t more cars do this?)
  • The engine (peppy without being hard to control, and definitely nice considering it’s just a 4-cylinder, albeit a 2.4L one, putting out 169 HP)
  • The paddle shifters (completely unnecessary, but still kind of nice to have)

All-in-all, the Malibu was an OK car, but nothing special. If it was a little bit less expensive (running somewhere between $21K-$27K) I would say it’s a good deal for the money. But as is, it’s just… meh.