I had made appointments to test drive the Nissan cube and Kia Soul back-to-back for Saturday afternoon. This time we test drove the cube first, then the Soul.
Our test drives were a bit longer this time (over 30 minutes for each vehicle), and we tried to focus our interrogation on some of the finer details of driving the vehicle in everyday situations. We made sure each vehicle encountered slower traffic situations as well as highway driving. We tried backing the vehicle out of parking stalls to check the type of blind spots we'd encounter. We also discussed the pros/cons of the interior features for each car.
The second test drive exposed some interesting additional information about each vehicle...
Inside, Looking Out
The Soul's C-bars (i.e. the rear corner vertical supports between the rear window and the side rear windows) introduces a seriously wide blind-spot. This is partially due to the fact that the rear window is not as wide in order to accommodate the nifty vertical tail-light configuration. When backing out towards the right, there was a spot where I could not see the traffic lane whatsoever. And the small rear cargo-area side windows are too small to see anything through them from the driver's point of view. Although the side mirrors are big, and I had them properly adjusted (to reduce blind-spots, you should have the mirrors set such that you can't see the side of the car, but rather more of the lane next to the car), I had to bob my head around from looking through the rear window to trying to see the traffic lane in the mirror. Needless to say, it was a bit unnerving not knowing whether I was backing into something or someone.
Those of you who own a cube already know this... the wrap around rear window is a facade. There is still a significant C-bar on the passenger side. It's not nearly as obstructive as the Soul, but it's more than I thought it would be. When checking over the shoulder, I could see a lot more out of the wide rear window, and could see through the rear passenger side cargo-area window.
We both felt the cube's sun visors are too big and flimsy. They were a bit difficult to flip down because you sit so far away from the windshield. They seemed useless when swung over to cover the side window because they don't actually cover the full width of the window with the portion of the window right next to you fully exposed. This is where Nissan needed to think of something a little more innovative and useful. As it stands, they're nothing more than a couple of useless cardboard flaps on hinges. Thank goodness I had my Serengeti sunglasses.
The Sound of Speed
When we hit highway speeds with the Soul, we noticed that the car was quite loud (despite the Kia sales rep telling us that the Soul was quieter than the Nissan cube's CVT at higher speeds). When we stomped on the pedal at 40km/h to speed up to 70km/h, the Soul would kick down a gear and would actually be quite noisy and whiney. We then noticed the "O/D OFF" light was on. Oh! An overdrive mode. So we turned on overdrive and found the car to be less noisy, but it loses that burst of acceleration. My commute in Calgary transitions a few times from 50-60km/h zones to 70-90km/h zones, so I'd have to be manually switching between O/D on/off modes a few times.
The cube's CVT transmission, despite the sales reps from Toyota and Kia mentioning that the Nissan CVT was noisy during acceleration and highway speeds, was actually not so noisy. When traveling at 100km/h, it felt as though we were traveling slower than that... The engine wasn't noisy and it didn't seem like it was labouring. Acceleration from 100km/h upwards was responsive and impressive for a 1.8-litre engine. However, we did notice some noticeable wind noise coming from the top corners of the windshield area at highway speeds... but I guess one should expect that from a box on wheels. Turning up the stereo seemed to resolve (hide) the problem.
Front and Center
We both thought the Soul's center dashboard area and center console between the front seats were nicer and more functional than the cube's. The cubby hole with a lid above the stereo was a definite plus, and the 2 open tray areas on the center console seemed more useful than the cube's open tray configuration.
Note to Kia: The button to open the lid on the cubby hole above the stereo is difficult to use, and probably more difficult in the winter when wearing gloves or mitts.
However, the cube's big cup holder opening at the back end of the center console is a definite plus and can be reached by the passengers in the rear seat. That's right... the poor sod who got the short straw and has to sit in the middle in the rear seat can have his own cup holder, too -- everyone in the Nissan cube gets a cup holder!
We found the cube's deep glovebox seemed more functional with 3 compartments, and it was easy to reach all the contents. The soul had a deep glovebox as well with 2 compartments, but it was difficult to see and reach contents farther back in the deep part of the glovebox. The glovebox door also hit my knees when I opened it.
Creatures of Comfort
The Soul offered headrests that could be raised higher than the cube's headrests, especially on the rear seats (I think the cube only offered 2 headrest positions on the rear seats). The Soul also had a headrest for the center rear seating position (albeit a little smaller and it couldn't be raised as high than the other headrests), while the cube doesn't offer a headrest for the center rear seat.
The rear seats on the Kia had less leg room than the cube. And when sitting in the center rear seat of the Kia, it was hard to find a spot to place the feet... if placed right in front, it was awkward because your toes were against the rear part of the center console. Placing your toes on either side of the center console ended up putting your toes against the front seat tracks, again awkward. The center rear seat is certainly for young'ins.
We definitely found the seats in the cube more comfortable than the Soul. The soft upholstery definitely gave it a nicer comfy feel, almost like a sofa. Ahhhh... fully reclining rear seats on the cube, with lots of leg room. On road trips, people are going to be yelling "back seat" instead of "shotgun".
On the Kia Soul, the driver's seat right-hand fold-up armrest obstructed my attempts to lock in the seat belt. I always had to lift the armrest to clip in the seatbelt. I didn't encounter this problem on the Nissan cube.
Bringing Up the Rear
Both the Soul and the cube offer very similar rear cargo space (when the rear bench seat on the cube is set all the way back), and offer similar cargo space when the rear seats are folded down.
The cube, however, offers the added ability to slide the rear bench forward to provide more rear cargo space, yet still offer the ability for people to sit in the seats. We tried moving the rear seat all the way forward, and as long as the front seats were not all the way back, it appears adults could still sit in the back seats, albeit a little cramped so it wouldn't be ideal on the long haul.
One big peeve that I have about most critics/reviewers statements regarding the cube's cargo space was their complaint about not having a flat cargo floor when the rear bench seats are folded down. If they actually read all the material, they would have known that adding the Cargo Area Organizer accessory, which includes a lockable compartment, would provide a flat cargo floor.
Although the cargo area organizer and flat cargo floor are standard on the Kia, they can't be removed without leaving the spare tire exposed and the space somewhat gawdy-looking and unusable. Nissan provides the option of adding that compartment accessory, and it can be easily removed if you need the extra height.
Indecisions in Decisions
When reviewing all this information in hindsight, it's a little more obvious which direction we should have headed. But when we had finished the last of the second test drives, we were experiencing information overload, emotional fatigue, and hunger (it was 5:05 PM, and our stomachs were starting to growl)... and we still couldn't decide which car to buy.
We were sitting in our car at the side of the road a couple of blocks from the Kia dealership after we had just finished negotiating a price on the possible purchase of a Kia Soul, but we didn't have a solid price from the Nissan dealership because we didn't discuss pricing after our second cube test drive. We needed a negotiated price from Nissan before we could make a decision, so we headed straight to the Nissan dealership.
We sat down with the sales rep and discussed a price on a cube SL with the Technology Package, Cargo Area Organizer, and the installation of aftermarket heated front seats. The heated seats was one feature that I've grown to really appreciate in my current daily driver in the winter, especially when you have to scrape the windows for 15 minutes on an icy cold winter's day. And it was one feature that was standard in the Kia Soul.
We batted a price around with the sales rep, but held firm at a somewhat low-ball price. Then we heard the words, "Will you purchase it today if I can get you that price?"
I'm sure I heard my jaw or my wife's jaw hit the floor as we looked at each other, "Could we please have a few minutes in private to discuss this?"
Ya, I know it seems like a typical sales tactic, but there was a good deal on the table, and it was the last Saturday of the month. I actually wasn't prepared to make a purchase until later in the week or until the following weekend. Everything was in order to make a purchase, and nothing was holding us back... except for our inability to decide which vehicle we really wanted.
The quick discussion between my wife and I had re-iterated the significant pros of each vehicle. Then the lack of a sunroof on the cube was brought up. This feature was low on my wife's priority list, but it was a feature high on my list of wanted items. The deal on the table was a good one and this whole ordeal and frustration could be done in one quick swoop... I could live without the sunroof.
The Final Showdown
We told the sales rep we would make the deal today if he could get us that price. Of course, we had our doubts about getting that price. The sales rep returned shortly to our cubicle with the sales manager in tow. Wow, usually there's a couple of rounds with the sales rep hopping off to the sales manager with slightly different negotiated prices before we'd see the sales manager, and often never seeing the sales manager at all as we would walk away from the whole deal.
It turned out that a cube SL with the Technology Package in the colour we liked had arrived on their lot the night before... protective coverings still on and the PDI not completed yet. The sales manager had an opportunity to do a quick turnaround on a car they had purchased for their inventory, thus saving themselves a little overhead/debt.
As expected, the sales manager presented us with a price much higher than our original offer. We held firm to an ideal price that was higher than our original offer, but one that we'd be very happy with. He then commented (paraphrased), "I have to talk to my boss about it, but if I could get you that price, would we have a deal done today?"
Hmmm... this one's a new one for me. I've never had the sales manager need to go to his boss on a negotiation before. And we had negotiated on a Nissan Altima Hybrid at this very dealership not too long ago and we never had that third level of negotiation then, either. This is getting interesting.
While the sales manager and his boss were in their discussion, the sales rep took us outside to the back of the lot to see the car (and to kill some time while they talked it out). You couldn't miss the Ocean Surf cube sitting at the end of the row of Nissan cars. But that wasn't the car... Our car, or hopefully soon-to-be our car, was the one buried a couple of rows deep... the metallic glimmers of burgundy emerging from the rich browns under the sun from the Espresso Bean cube SL.
After checking it out thoroughly, we went back inside to meet up with the sales manager again. He immediately commented that he had his sunglasses in hand and had called his wife to say he's on his way home... "You have yourself a deal!"
I don't think I've ever felt so much weight and frustration lifted when being notified that I'm about to spend over $20,000. But it was a big relief that this whole process was actually almost over... a process that initially started over 1.5 years ago... a process that is finally coming to a very satisfying end, as difficult and frustrating as it has been.
So after all the test drives, comparisons, changes in direction, more test drives, etc., we ended up with the Nissan cube... a vehicle that wasn't even targeted towards our demographic, yet seems to be the most practical choice at this point in our family's life.
By the way, the day that this last installment was published on my blog was the day we picked up our funky box on wheels.