COAL: An Interlude — Part 2

2014 Kia Soul Plus

In Part 1 of my interlude, I talked about the 2006 Cadillac STS-V and 1993 Mercedes-Benz 500 SL. Here’s Part 2:

2014 Kia Soul Plus

This isn’t our car, but ours looks identical to it.

This is the first time I ever remember my family buying a brand-new car, and it was purchased by and for my grandmother, Mema. She’d had a stroke in 2010 and had more or less quit driving. When she moved to Oklahoma and in with us that same year, my mother or (after I got her license) I would take her where she needed to go. But Mema sold her house in mid-2014 and had some bucks kicking around, so—after convincing us she still had enough of her faculties to drive safely—she decided she wanted a new car.

Mema initially tried to get a Camaro 1LE, since she’d had Camaros when my mom and uncle were little, but one attempt at crawling in and out of it was enough to disabuse her of the notion that this was a good idea. So then it came down to crossovers, in particular subcompact ones. The finalists were the Nissan Juke and the Kia Soul. While I thought the Juke’s styling was vomit-inducing, Mema liked it and we both thought it was pleasingly athletic to drive. But the triangular cargo hold did not fit her walker without one of the rear seats folded down, and that was a non-starter.

So, the Soul it was, and fortunately the Soul had just been redesigned and moved into a second generation for 2014. Mema test-drove a fully loaded Exclaim model with all the bells and whistles, but balked at the $27,500 sticker. The salesman asked her if she needed the leather or the sunroof. She said no, and that she only wanted the navigation and the sound package. So, that’s what we got, a Plus model with those options. The choice was between Shadow Black and Alien II (Green). She asked me what I thought, and I told her “You gotta go with the green, Mema.”

2014 Kia Soul with walker
The very helpful Kia salesman showing us how to fit Mema’s walker in the back without folding the seats down

Mema loved the Soul, and it had only put 15,000 miles on it when she passed away in early 2019. She didn’t leave a will or codify it in writing, but she’d made it abundantly clear that the car was to go to my little sister when she passed. Everyone agreed not to contest that, so my adult sister hurried up and got her license, then I took the car to her in Houston.

In the meantime, it was in my care. I hadn’t driven it too much beforehand, but I quickly found it not to my liking. The 2.0-liter N/A I4 (which was actually the mid-spec engine; base models came with a 1.6-liter N/A I4) needed to stay at high RPMs on the highway, and it had to work extra hard to combat the Soul’s boxy silhouette. I suspect the engine would have been more tolerable in something more aerodynamic, like the contemporary Forte, but not much. The highway trip I took to deliver the car to Little Sister had me gritting my teeth each time it downshifted twice in order for me to make a passing maneuver. The short wheelbase also didn’t do the car any favors for comfort. It was still a good car for most people, I thought; it’s just that my standards had risen above what it could provide. Maybe the Turbo model would’ve been better.

Minus the leather and a couple of other things, this is basically what ours looks like inside. Note the generous navigation screen for a car of this class and the single-zone automatic climate control.

The Soul served Little Sister well enough until early 2022, when—with just under 60K miles—it began stuttering every so often and eventually threw a rod straight through the block. Turns out it was part of the Hyundai and Kia 2.0-liter issue, and an extended campaign meant that we would receive a replacement engine at no cost to us. That said, it was a tough process to work with the dealership and make that happen, and they were so behind, it took three months. In the meantime, the Kia dealerships had all sold off their loaner fleets during the shortage, so we rented cars for Little Sister for a bit, running up at least a couple grand in rental fees.

The newly-inoperable Kia Soul on a tow truck, having thrown a rod. This was in early 2022.

Now, she has the car back, replete with a new engine. It seems to work as fine as it ever did.  Still, there’s the fact that the engine failed in the first place, Kia Corporate’s nonchalance about my sister having transportation, and the dealerships’ horrid treatment of my sister. A year earlier, my mother’s 2012 Hyundai Sonata 2.4 Limited engine failed in much the same manner, and we went through something similar, though at least she got a loaner for two months. Still, I’m beginning to see why Hyundai and Kia products are perhaps scary propositions long-term. That mess, combined with the recent news that certain US-market Hyundais and Kias lack immobilizers, including my Little Sister’s Soul, means we won’t be buying another of their vehicles anytime soon. A shame, because they’re really nice.

2005 Lincoln Town Car Signature Limited

Not ours, but identical
Not ours, but identical

This one ended up in my driveway because it was my now-ex’s car. When he moved in, it became part of my fleet. As you’re probably all aware, the Lincoln Town Car—along with its Panther-platform Ford Crown Victoria and Mercury Grand Marquis/Marauder siblings—was the last gasp of the traditional perimeter-frame large American sedan. Well, it was more of a long, protracted last breath, really, since the final Panthers lasted from 1998 to 2011. In that time, it seemed like the materials continued to get worse and worse as Ford continued to neglect these cars.

And so it was that I wasn’t particularly enamored with the Town Car. I don’t even think I ever took pictures of it, but it was gold. I hated the seats, which were flat and unsupportive. I hated the cheap wood that didn’t even pretend it wasn’t plastic, and I hated the leather, which was no better than you’d have gotten on a contemporary Taurus or even a nice Focus. And the handling? Woof. That said, I was always fascinated with my ex’s ability to drive the Town Car like a bat out of hell, flooring the accelerator from a dead stop and going around corners at speed, one hand draped lazily over the wheel and shoulder leaned to one side. My ex’s tastes were certainly more Civic Si or Subaru WRX than Town Car, but circumstances had caused that car to fall into his possession. He must have tricked himself into pretending it was a livelier, sportier car, and he took it to the limits of its handling capabilities, perhaps out of protest.

Not ours, but identical

I avoided driving it, but it remained my ex’s daily for a while after he moved in. He was a sort of home-health therapist, a job that sent him all over town, including to sketchier places. There, the Town Car blended in effortlessly and didn’t attract much attention. When I acquired a second car that was rather new and that could serve as a better daily for him, the Town Car got relegated to a car he drove only to the scariest parts of town…an ignominious demotion for what was supposed to be a fancy car.

As to what was wrong with the Town Car…quite a bit, actually. For one thing, any heavy rain would have the rear floorboard soaked. We checked and cleared all of the seals and drains, including the sunroof (this one was equipped with that rare option), and the windshield scuttle, and couldn’t find the place of water ingress. We thought that prior accident damage wasn’t repaired properly, and was letting water in. It also had a leak somewhere in the air suspension lines, so the compressor for the rear air suspension was constantly cycling on and off; I’m surprised it didn’t burn out. According to my ex, he had this looked at a number of times and no one could figure it out. Finally, toward the end of its tenure in my ex’s possession, one or more of the blend doors in the dashboard failed, and so the climate control didn’t really work.

Frankly, all of the other could have been fixed (I myself could have done it), but I just found it such a detestable car that I never bothered, and my ex just treated it like an appliance. I do remember replacing the hazed headlamps, because an aftermarket OEM-copy set was $90 on eBay. But that was about it for repairs or attention. The only thing it ever did that was a true showstopper was the time it shot out a spark plug, a common issue with the 2V Ford Modular engines, but we had it back on the road a couple of days later. From what I understand, my ex sold it shortly after we split up and now drives a 2011 Lexus GS 450h with a recently replaced high-voltage battery.

I wanted to like the Town Car, but I couldn’t. It was just too…crude, especially after having owned an example of its replacement. If they had maybe tightened up the handling, and put better seats and better materials in it, I’d have been a fan.

I will say that the Town Car was an interesting counterpart to the other contemporary, large luxury FoMoCo sedan we had in the driveway, which you’ll hear about very soon.