Sunday 21 December 2014

Two rival bodies, one Soul

That motoring writers are honest and fair should be the only thing that matters, argues Campbell Spray

Published 01/06/2014 | 02:30

NEW SHAPE: The Kia Soul has been described as looking like a ‘four-wheeled Mr Potato Head’. Photo: Paddy McGrath

COME the hour, come the man; or perhaps it is cometh the search, cometh the Soul. For there could have hardly been any better named car to be driving last week than the Kia Soul. This was not so much because the Korean compact MPV has grown up, lost some of its down-right quirkiness and is trying to become a fun but very respectable – if rather square looking – offering for families at around €25K.

Rather, as in many small organisations, the split was on the agenda again for motoring writers and I had to consider my options by looking deep – many would say that's not very far – into the part of my being dealing with conscience.

Of course, for most people it is a story of the "small earthquake in Chile, nobody dead" variety. Yet when the main organisation for motoring writers sheds a fair percentage of its members, it should matter. That it hasn't and doesn't is part of the problem.

In brief, the Irish Motoring Writers Association, of which I have been a member, off and on, for nearly 30 years, and which organises the Continental Irish Car of the Year Awards, has lost its focus and became more bothered with protectionism over its members' reviewing functions than with wider motoring issues like safety and education.

I have also written in the past about the way members were given trips, 'test' weekends away with partners, lavish dinners and some rather nice presents by manufacturers trying to curry favour. Thankfully much of that has gone. That some members – demanding cars weekly to review and vote on – wrote for publications or websites with little following was an issue but they were side-by-side with members who wrote articles that could compete internationally.

The IMWA members, who broke away to form the Association of Professional Motoring Press, includes writers such as Geraldine Herbert, this column's contributing editor, and Shane O'Donoghue, the previous one, for whom I have the greatest respect both professionally and personally. That the membership of the new organisation is likely to be mainly younger people, more vibrant and mostly with a national profile, stands in their favour. I'll return to this later.

Meanwhile the second generation Kia Soul does give oodles of space for passengers but the boot suffers badly and is probably the worst of its competitors which include the Peugeot 2008, Renault Captur and Nissan Juke. The rather plodding 1.6 diesel I was driving also suffered from not having a stop-start system which meant emissions are high in its category and even higher than many of the big premium cars being launched by Mercedes and BMW. This puts up both the retail price and the road tax, in this case €270 which may not be high by historical standards but isn't appealing in this penny-counting time.

Other than that, it does have a very high spec, although the car might not be good-looking enough for many. One of my British colleagues compared the rather aggressive bull-like nose to the appearance of a "four-wheeled Mr Potato Head". The handling is a bit potato-like too, nowhere near as precise as some of its rivals and doesn't have the feel that its targeted audience of young, hungry and funky people might like.

Comparing it to the Skoda Yeti – one of my favourite cars – does it no favours either. It might match on finish and overall quality but there isn't the same character or utility. However, Kia's trump card is often its seven-year warranty. I really wanted to like this Kia – and I loved its predecessor for its wackiness – but there were too many drawbacks.

So Kia won't get much comfort for the Soul from this quarter. As for the motoring writers, I believe both organisations are too concerned with the 'industry' than with you, the consumer.

It is a shame on all of us.

So after searching the soul and travelling in the Soul, I am left with the thought that nobody really cares about organisations of motoring writers as long as the people themselves are honest, entertaining and fair. Is that too much to ask?

The country isn't really big enough to have two rival groups at loggerheads. It's all a bit silly and a distraction.

Far more important than all that I have just written is road safety this bank holiday weekend. Slow down, ignore the mobile, pay attention and don't drink or drug drive.

Take responsibility. Please.

Sunday Independent

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