Thursday 29 September 2016

Fifty shades of grey but Opel's KARL manages to shine

Strong colours vital for Opel's city car

Published 06/09/2015 | 02:30

Roomy cabin: Opel KARL
Roomy cabin: Opel KARL

Car reviews are often as subjective as objective. A bit like your taste in food: the ingredients may be excellent, fresh and exciting in their own right, but you may not relish how they are combined.

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I have a hangup about colours (in cars, not necessarily in food because I usually bolt it while others are still admiring).

I love the vibrancy that strong colours can bring out in a car. Not to mention how they can give you a little lift on dull, cloudy mornings.

Opel's KARL is the auto maker's newest city motor and I chose the picture above because it shows it in better light.

The one I had on test was the polar opposite. It was in what Opel call Titanium Grey and I think it made a potentially smart little number look quite ordinary.

And that's before I got into it. The cabin wasn't a major improvement with the shiniest, grey fascia and dash I've come across in a long time.

Okay, at this stage and after a lot of reflection, I'm prepared to admit I might be missing something here.

This is a small car, suitable for younger drivers (among others) starting out and maybe grey is cool at the moment.

But not for me it isn't. It's okay for big, luxury saloons, maybe. No, small cars - especially those without mould-breaking design such as the KARL - need eye-catching palettes.

So that was that as far as I was concerned. I gritted my teeth, set aside my misgivings and drove the car.

Before reporting on that, a brief recap.

KARL, named after one of the Opel family, is powered by one of the best little 3-cyl 1-litre engines around.

It is 3.68m long, has five doors (decently large), a deceptively roomy cabin and three seats across the back.

Prices start from €11,995 but you don't feel three grand or so going on to that as you move up the spec sheet (to a ludicrous heated-steering wheel option).

The boot is small, as expected, but the rear seats split and fold.

And we were pleasantly surprised with the amount of space in the back.

There was a sense of room in the cabin that made it feel a good deal larger than it is.

And so to the drive. For me - and this is totally subjective - I immediately found one of the best driving positions I've had this year. It took me five seconds to get the seat height and steering wheel tilt just as I wanted it.

From there on I grew to really like this little number. It's not a mould-breaker and I still think the Hyundai i10 is the one to beat (and sales figures would suggest that, for once, I'm not too far wrong).

While that is a fine little engine, I didn't push it too hard on a long country run. I didn't feel I needed to. Around town it was quick and lively.

By the same token there was a fair bit of tyre and road noise.

The 5spd manual gearbox was comfortably easy to change around in and I had good visibility out the back which is more than can be said for a couple of competitors.

Strange, isn't it, that at a time when everyone is talking about downsizing engines that smaller cars are not far more popular? Especially with urban travel and parking likely to become even more restricted.

It's not like there is a shortage of models: the likes of the Peugeot 108, Toyota Aygo, Citroen C1, VW up!, Skoda Citigo, SEAT Mii etc are all out there.

And they have, in the main, all become more spacious even if overall dimensions haven't changed that much, making them an alternative to larger superminis.

The KARL scores well on that attribute while staying tidy and compact - it was so easy to park in tiny little spots.

But I would never buy it in the colour of my test car.

Not when rivals have some of the most vibrant exteriors in motoring.

There are 50 shades of grey cars on our roads. We don't need another. I think the KARL deserves to be seen as well as driven.

Facts & figures

Opel KARL, 5dr city car, 3cyl, 1-litre petrol (75bhp, 4.5l/100km/62mpg, 104g/km, €190 road tax).

Prices from €11,995. SE version tested: €14,695. Options add: €16,065.

SE spec included: electronic climate control, 15ins alloys, Hill start Assist, six airbags, Bluetooth, stereo radio/aux-in, six speakers, electric front windows.

Options: heated front seats/steering wheel (€200), space-saver spare wheel instead of emergency tyre inflation kit (€150), rear parking sensors (€360), electric glass sunroof (€660).

My side of the road

The next thing we want is a Phone-Down day. The Slow Down exercise recently concentrated minds with the high visibility of speed detection. Well done. But I'm seeing hugely increased use of mobile phones every day, everywhere. The worst was where both front seat occupiers were happily nattering away on their phones. We need another wake-up call on this. What do you think?

ecunningham@independent.ie

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