May 30th, 2010

Memorial Day weekend task

Hope your holiday weekend is going well.

It’s beautiful here, and I’m doing a traditional American thing: going out to test drive cars. I’m in the market for a new one, having decided that my 1998 Totyota Corolla is a bit too small and a bit too uncomfortable for my compromised back.

I’m looking at cars that are a little bit bigger and heavier, with seats that are a little bit taller and more chair-like and have a tilt mechanism for the part you actually sit on. I’ve narrowed it down so far to the Scion xB and the Kia Soul, two cars I’d never even heard of till a couple of weeks ago. Anybody here got any advice?

[ADDENDUM: Looking at the comments I see that I probably should have explained that I've already tried (that is, sat in) at least 20 different types of car, including the newer Corollas. I have a very bad back and almost all cars are very uncomfortable for me, and I generally need to use a cushion or two to make them more comfy. I've discovered, however, that the higher-up seats of the Scion xB and certain other cars seem to be better for me, especially because they have a tilt mechanism for the bottom of the seat. That's something I'm looking for, so if a car doesn't have that option I'm not considering it.]

63 Responses to “Memorial Day weekend task”

  1. Brenda Giguere,CA, USA Says:

    My strongest advice is to buy a car just coming off of a lease. You’ll save many thousands of dollars.

    More to your question, I rented a Kia not long ago, and I did find it was comfortable (and also roomy). But the vehicle itself didn’t seem all that heavy and sturdy to me.

    Best of luck!
    brenda g.

  2. Ray Says:

    I was in Korea in the 1980′s when the Kia and Hyundai autos were first introduced. At the time we made jokes about them. Today nobody is making jokes because they produce high quality autos. Of course, in a small car they make the sheet metal as thin as possible.

  3. Sergey Says:

    My advice is to check carefully amortisation system: shock absorbers and such things. Nothing is worse for troubled vertebra than vibration. Heavy cars are always better in this respect, but this is the only general rule, and specific models can be very different in supressing vibrations. On a test drive, try a bad road.

  4. M J R Says:

    Toyota Camry, despite the recent negative publicity [yes, there was evidence of a hoax there]. Larger than the Corolla (but more costly).

    M J R

  5. JohnRS Says:

    No-one in their right mind would buy a car called the “key arsehole” – or maybe that is only a problem this side of the pond (two nations separated by a common tongue and all that stuff).

  6. vanderleun Says:

    I have a great deal of trouble driving or riding in a car whose naming letters say K.I.A.

  7. vanderleun Says:

    But if one must I suppose the “Soul” model would be best.

  8. vanderleun Says:

    Then again, given the Korean situation, it might become depressing to drive about in a KIA Seoul.

  9. Curtis Says:

    For Nor’easters, get yourself the biggest, baddest, fourwheel, SUV possible. One, if forward momentum is no longer possible, that can be converted into a house for a few days. And a bumper sticker that is a big green footprint that says, “I’m helping clean up the Gulf.”

  10. David Aitken Says:

    I bought a Toyota Yaris 2007 2 years ago and have been real happy with it. 38mpg, $16k incl tax. Don’t know how it compares with what you’re looking at. Economy was real important to me, so I compared purchase price plus 100,000 miles of gas at $3/gal based on epa mileage ratings.

  11. CV Says:

    I bought a new Kia Rondo about a month ago after going through the same process, Neo. Did my research (mostly Edmunds and Kelley Blue Book), narrowed down the options (to Mazda 5 and Kia Rondo), then took the test spins. (I wanted a “mini-minivan” because I have three kids who are getting older yet still have lots of activities and gear to haul, however I am past the stage where I need a big van.

    All I can say is, I absolutely love the Kia. It feels very solid and well-made and has lots of cool little details (17″ Michelin tires, electronic stability control, side curtain airbags, map lights, sunglass holder and takeout dinner holder, etc!) Has a very extensive warranty. Gets decent mileage so far, but I did splurge and get a V-6 engine this time around).

    I was a devoted Honda owner before this but I think I’ve been converted (last month Kia was offering some great rebates…I picked up about $3,000 in rebates on my car).

    My only other piece of advice is to try to find out who handles internet (or fleet) sales at the dealership that has the car you want and try to hammer out a deal via email. That saved us a lot of money and time. Here’s an article that explains why:

    Good luck and happy driving. There is nothing like that new car smell…

  12. rickl Says:

    No advice on car purchases, as I tend to do that as rarely as possible. I’m currently driving a 1991 Corolla that I bought in 1999. It’s the best car I’ve ever owned, although it has developed some rust issues.

    The car I had before that was a 1981 Chevette, which I also bought used and kept for 12 years. It’s been suggested that that may be some kind of record for Chevette ownership.

    So much time passed between purchases that I was seriously shocked at the prices when I looked through the used car ads in 1999.

  13. jon baker Says:

    Well im more of a pickup guy myself, but without weight in the backend they dont do so well in the rain and snow. Maybe 4 wheel or front wheel drive is better though…..But it does have bucket seats.

    On the other hand, my boss at work had some giant old car from the late 70′s or early eighties partially restored. I drove that thing into the shop the other day and felt like i was driving a super tanker. So smooth though-like it was floating.

    Ive come to the point where I intend to keep my old 94 model S-10 pickup for as long as possible, and just get a new or rebuilt engine put in it when this one conks out. (Im at 265,000 miles or so right now) The new vehicles are just too complicated, too many whistles and bells, imo.

  14. Curtis Says:

    Cars are schizophrenic. Just like a 17 year old girl deciding which dress is best for the Prom, so any decision for a car cannot be right or wrong . . . until the event, so pick one already.

  15. Mel Williams Says:

    Corollas have come a long way in 12-13 years. Why not at least try another one?

  16. holmes Says:

    Mazda3. Zippy, bigger than a Corolla.

  17. Tom Says:

    I am sure you are not considering leettle Korean thingies aka vehicles without a reason. What is/are your reason(s) ? In my neck of the woods, no one older than 25 drives those thingies.

    My son in Boston drove a Corolla. As it whithered, he thought Subaru Forester for snow-go, but its still v. small for his family. That, I suspect, was based on peer pressure favoring foreign, small and 4WD. Subarus sell best in NE and Pacific NW, and we know how they think and vote!
    I gave him my 4y.o. GMC Envoy, with 4WD, lotsa room for road trips, and heated reclining seats. He’s no longer pc in his car but they love it. If you got a few bucks and don’t drive 50K+ miles/yr, the gas cost difference is paltry, but the better vision, crash survivability, and comforts are not.

    Look on eBay for 2y.o. cars being sold by dealers; avoid private parties. I do not trust Consumer Reports ratings-won’t detail the reasons now.

  18. neo-neocon Says:

    holmes, Tom, et al: Take a look at the addendum I’ve added to the post.

    The reason I’m looking at the cars I’m looking at is, first and foremost, the seat. I’ve already tried tons of other cars.

    For example, I got into a Mazda3 and almost immediately got out. The seat was bad for me. That eliminates a car right off the bat, whatever other stellar characteristics it might have.

    That’s been true of tons of cars. And larger SUVs have a couple of drawbacks: I don’t like the mileage, I don’t like their top-heavy feeling, and I have chronic arm injuries that make the heavy door of the trunk (or cargo area, or whatever you call it) very difficult for me to operate.

    I’m like the princess and the pea with cars, I’m afraid.

  19. Matthew M Says:

    The Mazda3 has an excellent reputation for handling and quality. You should at least sit in one, although its sporting orientation may translate to discomfort for your purposes. VW Golf or Jetta seats have height adjustment and are also worth a try. Honda Element is another small-but-tall vehicle that might be comfortable. Nissan Cube is in the same realm but I have heard reviews that damn its performace and NVH.

  20. neo-neocon Says:

    Matthew M: take a look at my comment right above yours for what I have to say about the Mazda3 and for other relevant facts.

    The Jetta and Golf have trunks that are very resistant to closing—they need arm strength. Most people wouldn’t notice or care, but with my arm injuries I do. In general, Japanese and American cars tend to be best in that regard, and German and Scandinavian cars not good.

  21. Perfected democrat Says:

    I still love my 2000 Mazda Protege, going strong at 88,000 miles with very little maintenance in ten years; the only new car I’ve ever bought in my life (pressing 63, in August)… You should at least visit Mazda, and I have the impression that as two others have commented here, the Mazda 3 is a significant step up from my now old Protege….

  22. Strobe Says:

    Have you looked into a driving seat from a specialist replacement seat supplier?
    Many years ago when I sufffered from a slipped disk, that worked perfectly on my little Ford Mexico.

  23. Perfected democrat Says:

    Hmm, I hit send on the above, and then your latest remark about the Mazda 3 showed up…. maybe try a new Ford?

  24. Steve G Says:

    I bought a Mini with leather seats in 2006. The leather seats come with adjustable back support. I, too, have a bad back. Surprisingly, the Mini is roomier in regards the front seats than it’s big brother, the BMW. I bought a hardtop turbo charged S model in 2009 so now I own two. I find the seats comfortable even in long drives. Of course, the back seat is a joke but there is a trunk. Of the two the convertible is more fun to drive, even though it is not turbocharged. It’s the top down thing.

  25. Tom Says:

    As to your back, Neo, there are 2 key considerations: 1) off-ground seat height; I expect heaving yourself out of a low-slung car will not work for you. 2) Fancy adjustable power seats—to set height, seat and back angles, variable lumbar support. Some lumbar heat will serve you well too. Got all that in my GMC.

    Don’t ignore steering column adjustability for length and wheel position.

    SUVs have a higher center of mass. But worrying about rollovers is one of those CU-generated needless anxieties, unless one is a driving fool in taking curves.

  26. Tom Says:

    Almost forgot: my SUV back door is power-operated, for both open and close.

  27. Chris Hall Says:

    I have had a Hyundai Santa Fe as a rental car several times, and I have been impressed with its comfort and quietness, as well as with its reasonable performance, economy, and quality fit and finish. I’d definitely buy one if I were looking at small-to-midsized SUVs.

  28. csimon Says:

    Neo — Another idea: my stepmother (ex- now) has horrendous back problems + fibromyalgia and must choose cars accordingly much like you. She even has a portable inflatable pillow that she carries almost everywhere she goes to allow her to sit relatively comfortably in any chair.

    About a year and a half ago, they bought a Nissan Sentra which she loved (note: pre-Madoff, she drove nothing but ultra-luxury cars). It is a solid car like a mini- minivan – i.e. has plenty of room for storage. It’s also 4-wheel drive, which is good for inclement weather in the Northeast. She needed that for use at their N.Carolina home in Fall or Winters. I’ve driven it, and it’s comfortable and supportive.
    They’ve been thrilled with it.

    So, just another idea — with consideration of your back accounted for.

  29. Tatyana Says:

    Neo, speaking of “princess and a pea” and your post about choices below – aren’t you glad they make so many different cars to choose from?

  30. Omnibus Driver Says:

    I had a Kia Sportage, and loved it. They’ve got the best warranty out there, and really stand by their vehicles.

  31. neo-neocon Says:

    Tatyana: yes!

    csimon: I thought the Sentra didn’t have a tilt mechanism for the seat. That’s especially important for my particular back. Do you recall whether it does? It doesn’t matter if it’s power or manually operated, but the actual seat part that you sit on (not just the seat back, but the seat itself) has to be able to tilt so that it’s as flat and chairlike as possible. Most smallish cars—the ones I like, and the ones that are in my price range—do not have tilt mechanisms (sigh). The unusual thing about the Scion xB and Kia Soul is that they are rather small and inexpensive, but they have the tilt thingee I need.

    As I said, princess and pea.

  32. Ohmyachingback Says:

    Strobe at 5:12 pm had the best idea IMHO. Here’s a link for more information on buying replacement seats:

    Why buy a car just for the seats? Buy a car for its purpose… such as reliability, safety, gas mileage, features, etc. You could still buy a new car and have the seat replaced. Maybe the replacement seat company will accept trade-ins or you can sell the seat from the new car yourself and cover some of the replacement cost.

  33. neo-neocon Says:

    Ohmyachingback: I’ll take a look at the link you gave—thanks. But the last time I bought a car I looked into replacement seats in some detail and discovered they were an iffy proposition for me.

    Of course, things may have changed, but one of the problems is that I absolutely must sit in the seat for at least an hour before I know whether it’s going to be okay (I know if it has no chance of being okay right off the bat, however). So I really need to try the seat out. I’m not sure how you could do that with replacement seats. Another thing is the car’s headroom. The third issue is getting into and out of the car—the car can’t be too low or that’s a problem, too. So I’ve found it easier to start only with cars that have seats that work for me, and then buy the one with the best other features.

  34. neo-neocon Says:

    Ohmyachingback: a swift glance at one of the links (Recaro) shows they have quite a few types of seats. One of them, the “orthoped,” has the flat seat I’m looking for. Interesting.

  35. neo-neocon Says:

    Ohmyachingback: I just found a site that gives a price for that seat. Uninstalled: $2500. Wow. Just wow.

  36. Tatyana Says:

    Neo: maybe your insurance could pay for replacement seat.
    They will pay for orthopedic devices, right? The seat serves the same purpose.

  37. Cappy Says:

    I’d go with the Camry. Just traded in my 99 Corolla for one under some pressure of commuting across the state. Much easier on the back.

  38. Stan from Sugar Land Says:

    Ford 150/GMC/Chev 1500 Pick Up, Great, easy in/easy out. My wife has back issues, she loves my GMC 1500 PU. And you can carry everything and be safe in a crash. These last forever, mine is 12 years old, 170,000 miles, currently driving Houston-Denver in it. Get the Cowboy Cadillac version, has everything you’ll ever want and it will PO all the Liberals in CA.

  39. John in Dublin CA Says:

    I also have a bad back, 9 surgeries over 11 years, a triple fusion with 10 rods and 12 screws holding my lower back together. Believe it or not, after the last three surgeries in June of 09, I’m actually out of pain for the first time in ten years (found a wonderful surgeon who fixed me). I have a 2005 Kia Amanti with THE most comfortable seating I’ve ever found. All around seating adjustment, up, down, tilt forward, back up, back down, just wonderful for me to drive. So take another look at that Kia Soul. If it has a seat as ajustable as mine, you will be in heavan.

  40. Mr. Frank Says:

    The Honda CRV might be worth a look. It’s easy to get in and out of, and the seats are very supportive. It’s available in 4WD if you need it.

  41. holmes Says:

    Hmm…luxury cars have the best seats. A small luxury vehicle then….Audi A3?

  42. Daniel Says:

    Whatever you decide, I would suggest either a van or mini-van. I have back trouble as well especially on long trips. A mini-van has a more square setting seat and I found it to be a god-send. If you choose well for mileage and so on, it gives you capacity to carry large purchases and you will really appreciate it on a long drive.

  43. JR Dogman Says:


    How about this one? I always liked the look of it seeing it around on the street, and it’s pretty high up:

    Good luck, and happy hunting.

  44. CGHill Says:

    The third member of the Refrigerator Boxes on Wheels club is Nissan’s Cube, which is configured similarly and costs about the same. (Strictly manual adjustments, but presumably you’d only have to set them once.) I suspect Honda’s Element will do similarly, but it’s half a size class larger and a bit more expensive.

  45. graysha Says:

    I still love my 2000 Avalon! the seat has three options for moving it; a lumbar support, forward and backward, and the vertical tilt for the back. It gets 29 mpg, it is a large solid car, and I’ve had nothing extraordinary to repair. It is good in snow. I got it new when I had lots of back problems, and the comfort and support of this car with a variety of other remedies and I find myself 10 yrs. later with no back problems. I would get another one.

  46. Sam Says:

    Hyundai and Kia are the same company and often have cars built on the same platform (though finished quite differently). They started a major refresh of their lineup last year; the new models have been generating a lot of interest. Kia is styled for a “hipper” audience, while Hyundai is more mainstream.

    The Kia Soul is a heavily modified Rio. Ride is supposed to be not very good at highway speeds. While the Soul is new for 2010, I don’t think the Rio itself has had its update yet. On the Hyundai side, you might want to check out the Elantra Touring (new in 2009 based on a European model) and Tucson (redesigned for 2010).

  47. TmjUtah Says:

    Mrs. Utah and I are a week back from Houston – round trip 3K miles in one week. Our 2000 Dodge Grand Caravan has 176K miles on it, still gets 26 mpg, and I have to believe that recent models have to offer full dress/full adjustable front seats if you want them.

    Most, if not all the secondary doors are powered now, from what i understand.

    We live in Utah and the front wheel drive has been more than sufficient for any around – town/ highway travel we’ve had to do in any snow.

    Excellent truck. That’s right, TRUCK, and I’d recommend them to anyone.

    I regret not being able to buy a recently lease returned example as a replacement, as I am no longer in the market for anything with a government owned name plate.

  48. Gordon Scott Says:

    Why not take a look around and see where the profits made on your purchase go. I suggest some consideration be given to “Buy American” and send a message that you support America not Korea or Japan in these tough economic times.

  49. JR Dogman Says:

    Gordon Scott:

    Many foreign auto companies assemble their vehicles in the US. Also, Ford and GM build a number of their vehicles in Mexico and Canada. So in today’s global economy, what does “buying American” really mean? Does buying a Ford assembled in Mexico trump buying a Toyota built in Tennessee?

    Also, so long as GM and Chrysler are surviving on US taxpayer dollars, I won’t even look at their cars. I’ll never help support the UAW.

    Besides, I love Korea and Japan.

  50. Ripley Says:

    My husband and I have had a Scion xB (stick shift) for about five years and have been very happy with it. What impressed us was how roomy the interior feels and how comfortable the seating is. Safety features were also a big selling point…specifically, the stability control. We drove a Volvo 240 (which we bought used) for about 13 years (300,000+ miles) before buying the Scion XB. Good luck with your decision.

  51. Nolanimrod Says:

    Doesn’t Aston-Martin make something with a tilt seat?

  52. stu Says:

    You should consider a used Lexus. Even one with 100,000 miles is going to last at least another 100,000 miles with routine maintenance. Seats and steering columns can be adjusted as you like and the suspension makes for an extremely comfortable ride. You can buy a warranty to cover major repairs. I’ve owned them for years and am not likely to change brands.

  53. br549 Says:

    I feel for you. I broke my back (automobile accident) in 1993. I cannot find an automobile, couch, chair, computer chair, bed, etc. that allows me comfort for an extended amount of time. I cannot drive more than an hour without having to pull over, get out, straighten out, and move around. I have to sit for a while, lay for a while, and stand for a while – every day, all the time.

    Good luck, Neo.

  54. Tom Smith Says:

    Buy the best selling vehicle in America with the power seat option to alleviate the back pain (the seat bottom tilts)…. the Ford F-150 pickup truck.

  55. Gary Says:

    You don’t need a new car you need a full time masseuse

  56. neo-neocon Says:

    Gary: if you hear of any for sale, just let me know :-).

  57. Charley Says:

    My family owned five different Toyota Camrys of the 1987-1991 series. All had three adjustments for each front seat – seat tilt, seat back angle and lumbar. If that capability existed then, where is it now? Was it too expensive. All of them died of brake line rot after 325,000 miles.
    I agree with TmjUtah – I haven’t bought a new car since we got a 2000 Grand Caravan w/3.8 V-6. 154,000 miles and still does 20 mpg around town.

  58. Sloan Says:

    Bought a Buick Enclave last year. It’s great, although I do miss my heavier, V-8 Yukon. The Enclave has power seats with lumbar support and all sorts of tilting adjustments for the seat and the seat back. The “trunk/cargo” door has power lift so the weight is no problem. Of course that comes with a price. We buy a car every 10-12 years, and save up for one that is 4 Wheel or all wheel drive, relatively heavy, with enough power to get out of a jam, and safety considerations. Hang the expense. It’s better than hospital or funeral expenses.

  59. Cap'n Rusty Says:

    Honda Accord. Word.

  60. Tom Says:

    RE the F-150: She lives in Boston and Neo isn’t Scott Brown!
    The majority of responses favor small, gas-sipping Jap/Korean vehicles. What does this say about Neo’s readership? Green (agh) neocons?

  61. Cap'n Rusty Says:

    A follow-up thought. For the forseeable future, I’d be a bit reluctant to buy a car from a Korean company, at least until the strategic situation on that sub-continent stabilizes.

    As to Hondas, I’ve owned 2 Accords. The 1996 had 180,000 miles on it when I sold it to my daughter. She sold it with 310,000 miles on it. My 2003 Accord has 225,000 miles on it; no rust, tight as a drum, 34 mpg highway. Made in America. However, the lastest version of the Accord does seem “bloated.”

    The current Honda Civic is about the size of earlier Accords. And the new, small Honda “Fit” is a “city” car, but was very well-liked by the afficionados at Car & Driver magazine because it was also a real “driver’s” car.

    Second choice: VW Golf.

  62. LisaM Says:

    Cap’n Rusty – I’m a Honda fan too. I had an Accord that lasted for over 20 years. My current vehicle is a 2001 Odyssey, that has the tilt seat Neo is looking for. Not that I’m recommending a mini van for Neo, but maybe the Honda SUVs or even the Accord might have the same seat.

  63. JFM Says:


    Check out the various Hyundai offerings.

    I own a 2008 Elantra and it’s been remarkably trouble-free in 32,000 miles of driving.

    I suggest that you try a Sonata. It’s a larger, heavier car than an Elantra and will give you a smoother, quieter ride.

    Way back, Hyundai made cheap cars that weren’t very good; now Hyundai is making cheap cars that are good, and in the future Hyundai will be making good cars that aren’t cheap.

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