Car Review Time!

I usually don’t do posts reviewing cars (at least I haven’t in a while), but I recently test-drove a 2017 Kia Soul. My sister enlisted my help in finding a good car for her, and like any good car-loving brother, I obliged. Somehow, there were no strings attached. We made a stop at the local Kia dealer, and looked at a few Souls. Next up was a test drive. Here are my thoughts on the 2017 Soul:

It’s a great little car. Decent power for it’s size and class. Yeah, I might want a bit more power when passing at higher speeds, or when it’s loaded down with people and gear, but that’s what the new turbocharged version is for! That being said, for everyday driving, it’s perfectly adequate. I’ll talk more about the driving dynamics in a bit.

Now onto how it looks. They’re certainly not for everybody, but I think it looks cool. It’s very roomy inside because of the styling, and the tail lights are cool. Yeah, the front end could look better, but that’s just me. Other people like it. Because of its boxier styling, it’s got great visibility. The windshield is big, and when you’re backing up, you’ve got great visibility. Because it’s a compact car with a very good turning radius, it’s great for big cities where space is at a premium. In white, it looks like an enlarged stormtrooper helmet.

This is the Soul "+" (Plus) model shown.
This is the Soul “+” (Plus) model shown.

The salesman was telling us that his first client was a big, tattooed, Harley-Davidson-riding guy, who really wanted a white Kia Soul because it “looked like a stormtrooper helmet.” It turned out that he was tired of nearly getting hit by cars all the time, so he decided to get a car and keep the Harley for nicer weather.

Yes, those are all of the available colors for the 2017 Soul!
Yes, those are all of the available colors for the 2017 Soul!

Inside the Soul, you’ll find a nice interior. By no means is it a Mercedes-Benz interior, but for what you pay for, it’s great. If you’re tall and find yourself in the backseat, don’t worry! I’m 6 feet tall, and had plenty of room behind the driver’s seat set to my liking! I could easily share the backseat with 2 other people. It’s also very quiet, thanks to Kia’s use of expansion foam in the body cavities. There’s a convenient USB charging port on the front console. There are also available fast-charging ports located inside and on the back of the center console. The overhead LED reading lamps work well. It also has fully automatic climate control.

Pretty swanky for a compact hatchback, don't you think?
Pretty swanky for a compact hatchback, don’t you think?

If you want a backup camera, you’ll get a bigger screen than the cars without  one. Spring for the navigation system and you’ll have a much larger screen (8 inches). You’ll also a 3-month SiriusXM All Access trial subscription, which gives you access to over 160 channels. The available UVO infotainment system (Kia’s intuitive infotainment system) has some neat features that are integrated onto your smartphone: it can keep track of where you parked your Soul, download Kia recommended apps through their App Download Center, monitor your driving habits and provide suggestions on how to improve fuel economy, etc., access 911 Connect or Enhanced Roadside Assistance, and check any maintenance requirements through Vehicle Diagnostics, all on the touch screen. What sweetens the UVO pot is the fact that there are no suscription fees for the first 10 years of access to the UVO system! It’s also Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible!

It’s also got a suite of safety features, some available and some standard. You can get a rearview camera, a forward collision warning system, a lane departure warning system, and one of the more appreciated features is the blind-spot detection with rear cross-traffic alert. It’s especially helpful when you have to back out into traffic.

This is a picture of the backseat of a Soul EV, but it's the same thing for all essential purposes.
This is a picture of the backseat of a Soul EV, but it’s the same thing for all essential purposes.

Now, onto how it drives. As I said previously, it drives well for something in it’s class. It won’t keep up with a Porsche 911 by any means, but you can have some fun with it, too. You can also change drive modes on the fly with the Drive Mode Select System, which has a button conveniently located on the perfectly sized steering wheel. There’s an Eco mode, which works well in heavier traffic, and a Sport Mode, which is great for merging onto a freeway, or just having some fun. Yeah, the engine gets buzzy at higher rpms, but it’s not a high performance engine. The transmission is smooth; maybe even a bit too smooth for me. It does what you ask of it, but it won’t ever be as quick as a dual-clutch transmission. There’s even a nice EV model that is supposed to drive even better (I didn’t drive it, so I can’t say).

Kia offers industry-leading warranties. You get a 10-year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty, a 5-year/60,000 mile basic warranty, a 5-year/100,000 mile anti-perforation warranty, and a 5-year/60,000 mile 24-hour roadside assistance warranty.

Here’s my takeaway:

Now, would I recommend it? Absolutely, no questions asked. I would even consider buying one for myself. Plus, they’re inexpensive, very reliable, safe, and pretty darn fun cars. Yeah, they would be pretty impractical for somebody who has kids in booster seats, but you could absolutely make it work. They have a lot of space, are safe, and last forever. Oh, and they look neat, especially in white. Kia has some pretty wild colors, which some people like (makes it easier for cops to spot them!).

VW Refuses to Offer Dieselgate Compensation Program in Europe

Volkswagen agreed to a hugely expensive compensation plan for their TDI diesel car owners here in the U.S., but it looks like that compensation plan won’t be making it across the pond.

According to Reuters, VW CEO Matthias Mueller recently told a German newspaper that they can’t easily afford a similar payout plan for European owners. “You don’t have to be a mathematician to realize that compensation at arbitrarily high levels would overwhelm Volkswagen.”

That’s a massive problem for VW, but they do have something to use in their defense – European emissions regulations are much more relaxed than the laws in the U.S. “In the U.S. the [emission] limits are stricter, which makes the fix more complicated. And taking part in the buyback is voluntary [for customers], which is note the case in Germany, for example,” Mueller said.

Even though there might be different emissions regulations, the Industry Commissioner of Europe, Elzbieta Bienkowska, has told VW to drain their coffers and pay European owners, saying it would be unfair to treat them differently than U.S. customers.

VW has already set aside at least $10 billion to settle it’s so-called “Dieselgate” scandal Stateside. Owners can choose to have their TDI vehicles repaired, or sell them back to VW. Most owners will receive anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 as compensation. VW has agreed to put $2.7 billion into an environmental trust to offset their excess diesel emissions, and they will also invest $2 billion to bolster the United States’ EV (electric vehicle) charging infrastructure and promote other clean vehicle programs.

What’s my two cents on VW’s refusal? I certainly see their point, and I get that they want to save money. However, they are a gigantic market player in Europe, and are gaining traction here in the U.S. But, owner satisfaction should always come first, and treating European owners differently just because European emissions laws aren’t as stringent as U.S. emissions laws is straight-up foolish. If they want to lose customers, owners, and more importantly, their reputation, then going forward with this plan is a great idea. In the light of Brexit, the European Union is going to go through massive economic changes in the months to come, and to me, it seems like Bienkowska won’t back down from her position on forcing VW to pay European owners as well. VW is already facing massive scrutiny and pressure from both the U.S. government, as well as U.S. owners. It should come as no surprise that the European Union is going to come after them as well. It’s only going to be a matter of time before European owners jump on this bandwagon also.

2015 Volkswagen Jetta TDI

The First Recorded Crash Involving Tesla’s Autopilot Feature and Why It Is So Important

While I know that this crash has been highly publicized in the past few days, I find it only fitting that I should publish a blog post on this.

On May 7, in Williston, Florida, a fatal accident occurred. While this shouldn’t come as a surprise to many, it should It doesn’t matter that the deceased driver of a Tesla Model S became one of the 3,287 daily deaths from automotive crashes every day. It certainly doesn’t make it any easier to digest.

This incident was the first self-driving car death on record. Between Tesla’s extensive testing of the semi-autonomous Autopilot feature, and owners’ use of the feature, there are 130 million miles of Autopilot being used.

The fatal accident occurred when a tractor-trailer made a left turn at an intersection without a traffic light in front of the Tesla. The driver, Joshua Brown, died of injuries sustained in the wreck.

Tesla published a blog post saying that the Model S was travelling on a divided highway with Autopilot engaged when the tractor-trailer crossed its path.

“Neither Autopilot nor the driver noticed the white side of the tractor trailer against a brightly lit sky, so the brake was not applied. The high ride height of the trailer combined with its positioning across the road and the extremely rare circumstances of the impact caused the Model S to pass under the trailer, with the bottom of the trailer impacting the windshield of the Model S. Had the Model S impacted the front or rear of the trailer, even at high speed, its advanced crash safety system would likely have prevented serious injury as it has in numerous other similar incidents.”

Tesla went onto say that they were saddened by the loss of Brown, who was a “friend to Tesla and the broader EV community,” as well as stating that the risk of injury will decrease as Autopilot gets better over time, as it is currently in a public beta stage. Whenever Autopilot is engaged, a warning is displayed to remind the driver that the technology is in public beta and that the driver should have both hands on the wheel at all times, in the event of an emergency such as this.

Per company policy, Tesla notified the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration when they heard of the incident. NHTSA has since launched an investigation into the crash and Autopilot.

The AP (Associated Press) reports that the driver of the truck, Frank Baressi, says that he heard a “Harry Potter” movie playing in the Tesla following the crash, however he was not able to see where it was coming from. NHTSA investigators do not believe it was playing on the massive infotainment screen in the Tesla (which would require hacking into the operating system of the car). However, the report does state that a portable DVD player was found in the car following the crash, but it is unclear whether it was playing at the time of the crash.

Baressi could face charges for making an unsafe maneuver, but he claims that he was unable to see the Model S, as it was travelling at a high rate of speed. It appears that Baressi failed to yield to the right-of-way when making a left turn, especially in something large and heavy enough that he could not accelerate quickly enough to get out of the way.

It is understandable to me why Tesla, ever the perfectionist, would not want to release Autopilot as a final product just yet. To me, Tesla should not have named Autopilot as such. It implies that the car can fully drive itself without ANY control from the driver (it can do about 75% of that).

The co-developer of the Autopilot technology used in the Model S, Mobileye, said that the technology was not designed for such circumstances. The automatic emergency braking feature built into Autopilot is specifically designed to avoid rear-end collisions, and the incident was one that it could not have prevented. Mobileye went onto say that by 2018, there will be a Lateral Turn Across Path detection capability in it’s systems, and said feature will be included as part of the Euro NCAP safety ratings in 2020.

While we will have to wait for the official NHTSA report to come out, we can only speculate. Here’s my two cents:

This was a clear case of user error. Whether Brown was watching Harry Potter at the time of the crash or not, he obviously did not see Baressi’s tractor-trailer pulling out in front of him. It doesn’t matter how fast he was going – the crash would have likely happened regardless. That’s not to say that speed wasn’t a factor in the crash. If Brown had been going slower (the speed he was travelling is not currently released to the public), he might be alive. Baressi clearly did not see the Model S, or he would not have made the turn.

2016 Tesla Model S