Sunday 22 October 2017

A tale of beauty and beast

Some cars enhance the driver, others enhance the drive. Then there are cars that leave you with the one question. . . why, asks Campbell Spray

The new Kia Sportage
The new Kia Sportage
LOOKS MATTER: The aesthetic charm of the Peugeot RCZ versus the prosthetic clumsiness of the new Kia Sportage

There is nothing quite like 18-year-old daughters for -- often at the same time -- putting you firmly in your place, making you feel good and summing up a situation.

In some ways I think I should hand this column over to my daughter -- it's just a pity she hasn't done her driving test yet. Within minutes of me picking her up in a test car she has asked the right questions and then delivered a verdict, which can be as withering as the accent she puts on.

In some ways it isn't easy these days for a young woman to be driven around in a very strange assortment of new cars varying from the extremely flash, the grotesque and the miniscule. People have surmised that I'm a dealer (and I don't mean in cars), ageing roux, rich plonker or sad b******d. Perhaps all four.

The tongues were certainly wagging just as much as the eyes were swivelling when I dropped the daughter at school last week in the Peugeot RCZ, one of the most beautiful and curvaceous cars I have ever driven. This futuristic coupe with the bumps in all right the places has won design awards by the score including the 'Most Beautiful Car in the World Award'. It is a car for singletons or happy couples and I wouldn't be surprised if the pink pound flutters around it, too. There are two seats in the rear but unless you are small and very nimble it's a place best left for stretching out your leather coat. The boot, by contrast, is enormous. The car is very low -- perhaps too much so -- but drives and corners with great confidence.

There are both diesel and petrol models in the RCZ range but I was driving the diesel, which sells at €37,395 and comes into the B tax band. It has a gutsy, compliant 2.0 163bhp engine and a very full spec. Once I had got my creaking bones settled and not chopped off bits of me in closing the very heavy door, I could really enjoy myself. It is only when you are at traffic lights or in slow moving streets that you are reminded what a stunner this car is. Heads turn, people smile and the jealous mutter. Admiring teenage boys told my daughter of their love for the car. She told them it was her dad's Monday car, when she arrived at school on Tuesday her line was that he "bought two in slightly different colours".

Privately she told me it wasn't really the car for me, but it did make me look good. But for others it is and those who have the looks, the cash and the confidence are shelling out.By the first three weeks of the year Peugeot had registered 17 cars with a target of 100 for the year.

The new Kia Sportage was very different, though. "Why dad? That's the question. . . why would you want this rather big and ugly car?" asked the daughter.

She has a point, but the Sportage has been a massive success for Kia and the new model with its top of the class safety features will do even better. But really, these cars with their steroid-enhanced build and SUV pretensions prey on our insecurities in giving us bulk without improved ability. The second-generation Sportage was introduced in 2004 and achieved global sales of nearly 900,000 units and about 2,600 vehicles here.

The new model, which is sleeker, lighter and much more efficient in fuel and emissions terms, also benefits from Kia's ground-breaking seven-year warranty.

"Crossovers" like the Sportage are very much the business at the moment, especially since the Nissan Qashqai almost single-handedly rescued the Japanese manufacturer. I think, rather like my daughter, I'm getting bored with them. Give me a good estate like the new Volvo V60 any day or, if you want real ability, go down the Subaru or Land Rover route.

Yet our views won't take away from the success of the new Sportage; and Kia's MD James Brooks, is confident of selling 600 units this year.

A good package is available with prices starting at a competitive €25,600, rising to €31,995 for a very well-equipped all-wheel drive model. While the crossovers usually have an overall length much the same as a Ford Focus, they do have a much more substantial presence, which Kia has tried to make sleeker, with its "rakish windscreen angle which sweeps seamlessly into the low roofline. . . and a sports car-like ratio between sheet metal and glass". In other words, visibility suffers completely, which is a terrible pity for a car built to carry families.

The ride is no more than okay, and while it sits well on good roads it jumped around a lot even on the roads of the Phoenix Park. The previous model was a better drive.

In essence, the Sportage did nothing for me. Living in an urban environment you should ask why you would need it; if you live in the country it might not be good enough. Why dad? Why indeed?

Sunday Independent

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