Posted on Friday, 6th July 2018 by

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I frequently talk about what is happening in my life as it relates to retirement. For example, when I signed up for Medicare and Social Security I outlined the process for others to follow. Recently I began searching for a small car for my wife, a car that would easily fit in the garage and that’s suitable for seniors. Can’t believe I referred to my wife and I as “Seniors!”

I started the hunt in late April after receiving the 2018 Consumer Reports (CR) annual auto issue. Each Year I look forward to their “Best & Worst Cars, SUVs and Trucks” issue and digest it front to back. I was motivated this year. We have two large vehicles, a SUV and sedan, that my wife drives reluctantly. She wanted a smaller easier to handle car that would fit into the garage with room left over for my workshop and for general storage. I was also concerned that if anything would happen to me I wanted Mary to have a car that she was comfortable driving.

 

Finding the Right Fit

I started on the project this past winter by reorganizing the garage and installing a wall storage unit. Our empty stall isn’t as deep as the others. We limited our search to cars under 178 inches long, the shorter the better. We wanted a quiet comfortable riding reliable car that’s easy on gas. Plus, we wanted one with a little style, desirable amenities, and a sensible media console. A tall order for small cars today. Many of the media consoles are overly complex and it is difficult to access even basic car functions like the radio and climate control!

CR helped narrow the field with their article titled “Best New Cars for Seniors.” I test drove 16 cars over a six-week period starting in early May. The car dealers were helpful and accommodating issuing me a Dealer Registration Plate Permit for all but one of the top 7 contenders. I was able to take 6 of the cars home for the day to try them out and show my wife. I initially looked at both new and used cars. Car Sense, a national used car dealer network, is easy to work with. They simply let you test drive any car of your choosing and they don’t tag along! I drove a used Hyundai Accent to our home for my first test drive for my wife to evaluate.

When new car dealers offer incentives and rebates new car prices are often close to the cost of 2 and 3-year-old used cars with 20 to 30 thousand miles or more. We focused on new cars and were fortunate, I was able to negotiate anywhere from 15 to 23 percent off MSRP with several of the ones I tested. That’s a lot for a small car. Most of the time I’ve negotiated up to 20% or more off MSRP on midsize or large cars. Last December I was able to get my daughter 33% off MSRP for a fully equipped Ford Fusion she purchased!

The smallest car I tested was the Chevy Spark at 143 inches and the largest was the Chevy Equinox at 183 inches. I test drove the following vehicles:

• Chevy Equinox, Cruze, Sonic and Spark
• Ford Focus and Fiesta
• Honda HRV
• Hyundai Accent
• Kia Forte, Kia Forte5, and Soul
• Subaru Forester and Impreza
• Toyota Corolla iM, Prius and Yaris iA

The Chevy Cruze, Chevy Equinox, and Subaru Forester were too big although they road well and our Chevy dealer was offering 20% off MSRP on the Cruze model. If I had more room in the garage the Cruze would have been a contender. For a small sedan the Cruze had sufficient power, was well appointed and comfortable to drive with less road noise than most. That same Chevy dealer was only offering $1,500 off the much smaller Sonic and Spark models making them only a few thousand less than the discounted Cruze.

The Chevy Spark was a perfect fit for our garage and overall provided 33 miles per gallon (mpg). However, most of the small cars produced a high level of road noise and were under powered from my perspective.

Ford gave us the best deals. They offered us a 21% discount on the Fiesta and we could have purchased it for just $13,848 NEW plus tax and fees and they offered us 23% off a Focus dropping the MSRP from $21,514 to $16,500! Great deals. The standard Focus was a little too long at 179 inches and the Fiesta was just 5 inches shorter. I did drive both models home. The two Subaru models were both larger than our garage would accommodate. They had a good feel providing a controlled and comfortable ride and good gas mileage ratings. Their rebates were limited which made them higher priced overall.

None of the small cars that met our criteria created the desire to make a purchase. Then I test drove the Toyota Prius. I personally loved the car, it was well appointed handled well, and is rated at 50 mpg! It was too low to the ground for us and difficult getting in and out of. Plus, the information system and controls are unique to hybrids which we are unfamiliar with. It was also at the top end for acceptable car length and higher priced compared to similar sized vehicles.

I also tested the Toyota Yaris iA and the Corolla iM. The Corolla iM was an excellent car and it had all the bells and whistles as they say including standard forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking. It handled the road well with acceptable road noise and has a 31-mpg average rating. Toyota did offer 14% below MSRP for the iM however they don’t offer veterans a military discount, only active duty members. Other dealers extended the military discount to active duty and veterans that could provide a copy of their DD-214 discharge paperwork. The Corolla iM hatchback would have been a finalist if they offered the military discount to veterans. The downside to the iM for us was its limited storage, lower ground clearance, and the selling price was higher than the other models we tested.

Towards the end of my search I discovered the Kia. CR ranks Kia #6 on a list of 34 as the best brands for predicted reliability and owner satisfaction. I test drove the Kia Forte. The Forte handled surprisingly well with a rating of 32 MPG plus it looked luxurious inside with options and interior details like much higher priced vehicles. They only had the base LX model in stock and the Forte was too long for our garage. We decided to wait for the shorter Forte5 EX hatchback to arrive that included 16-inch alloy wheels and other amenities. Michael Fehl, our sales associate at #1 Cochran Kia, suggested I test drive the Kia Soul and I said flat out no, it was too unusual and didn’t think my wife would like it.

When the Forte 5s arrived they only received a shipment of LX models with the smaller wheels and less options. Michael again suggested that I test drive the Soul. I agreed to give it a try and took it home to my wife and it fit in the garage like it belonged there. The ride was pleasant and road noise was muted compared to other small cars. The inside was spacious and comfortable. It had most of what we wanted in a car and the information system is intuitive, logical and easy to learn and use! The gas mpg rating is 27 mpg average and everything else exceeded our expectations including their 10-year drive train warranty.

The Kia Soul is downright roomy and deceiving to the casual observer. Open either of the 5 doors and find a pleasant welcoming environment from the comfortable adjustable high front seats to the well-appointed interior details, two tone dash and seating, easy to use information system, and options. The winner from our perspective plus they offered us 17% below MSRP including a $400 military discount, added a spare tire with jack kit, pin stripping and mud flaps at no additional cost. With discounts like these you can buy a new Soul from the mid to high teens plus taxes and plates.

 

A Perfect Fit For A New Soul

Another pleasant surprise was the attention to detail and care we received from #1 Cochran Kia and Michael Fehl, our Kia sales associate. Michael spent a half hour in the car with us explaining every detail, paring our iPhone through Apply Play to the display, setting up GPS, activating other apps and much more.  The customer service was exceptional and they followed up several times after the sale to ensure we were satisfied and wanted to know if we had any questions or concerns.

If you consider any of the smaller cars make sure they have a functional spare tire included. Manufacturers are substituting an inflation kit instead of a spare. Have them include the spare to close the deal and ask for winter matts, mud flaps, and a cargo net if not included. I forgot to ask for winter matts.

 

Our 2018 Kia Soul

Buying the Kia Soul served two purposes, first it is my wife’s primary car that she enjoys driving, and when my 2009 SUV goes the Soul will replace it and we will be down to 2 cars again. According to CR, “Though fundamentally a hatchback, the Soul can function as an SUV alternative.” It fits in a small garage or parking space at 163 inches long and 71 inches wide. The back seats are comfortable, not cramped like many small cars, and they fold almost flat so you can haul large items with ease. The soul has all the options available you would want in a car. They may look strange when you first see them but after owning it for several weeks I think it’s an attractive, functional, and fun to drive alternative for seniors that want a clear view of the road and surroundings, easy access and egress, space for their grandkids, and want a fun car to drive. CR goes on to say, “It packs abundant interior space, with chair like seats and big windows providing an excellent view out.” It is also rated above average by CR for reliability and satisfaction and has an overall 5 STAR Safety rating!

Depending on your needs and desires you may find other vehicles preferable. However, it will be difficult finding a car of this caliber anywhere near the prices that we paid for our Kia Soul last month.

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Disclaimer: Opinions expressed herein by the author are not an investment or benefit recommendation and are not meant to be relied upon in investment or benefit decisions. The author is not acting in an investment, tax, legal, benefit, or any other advisory capacity. This is not an investment or benefit research report. The author’s opinions expressed herein address only select aspects of various federal benefits and potential investment in securities of the TSP and companies mentioned and cannot be a substitute for comprehensive investment analysis. Any analysis presented herein is illustrative in nature, limited in scope, based on an incomplete set of information, and has limitations to its accuracy. The author recommends that retirees, potential and existing investors conduct thorough investment and benefit research of their own, including detailed review of OPM guidance for benefit issues and for investments the companies’ SEC filings, and consult a qualified investment adviser. The information upon which this material is based was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but has not been independently verified. Therefore, the author cannot guarantee its accuracy. Any opinions or estimates constitute the author’s best judgment as of the date of publication, and are subject to change without notice. The author explicitly disclaims any liability that may arise from the use of this material.

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