Airy Kia makes life a picnic
There was plenty of room for Sam's ramp and two adult children for my birthday outing, says Campbell Spray
It was fitting that the first car I saw driving with 171 plates was a Kia Sportage, as the Korean marque and particularly its sister brand Hyundai, have been the biggest winners in the battle for the hearts, minds and wallets of Irish motorists over the past seven years.
Since 2010, when it had 3.40pc of the market, until 2016, when it achieved 10.53pc, in part down to the massive success of the Tucson, Hyundai sales have increased by a share of 210pc. In the same period, Kia, trading well on its seven-year warranty, has gone from 2.92pc to a high of 4.57pc, a share increase of 57pc. No other importer in the top 10 of car sales last year comes anywhere near, although Nissan and Audi, in the mid-20s, and Skoda, with a 15pc share, at least show positive figures.
Most of the hitherto big players are in very big negative territory, with Volkswagen losing 11pc between 2010 and 2016, Toyota 16pc, Ford 22pc, Opel worse at 28pc, while Renault is down 49pc, although in the past few years it has begun to turn things around.
My partner went over to Hyundai in 2009, many of my colleagues have followed since to either it or Kia, and the two marques are making conquest sales every day for the breadth of their range, the long warranties (Hyundai's is five years) and the fact they have at last managed to totally blend style with functionality and reliability. This should only continue but equally the previous big players will do all they can to win back market share, so the consumer should be the winner.
In fact, it was in a Kia that I did my most of my driving over Christmas and the New Year. I went from the absolute luxury of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class Estate to the Kia Optima SW, which was as big and practical but around half the price at €29,950 for the EX and €31,195 for the EXS.
The people at Kia were keen that our dog Sam would have comfortable motoring and had suggested that the Optima, which eschews the word estate for the more prosaic SW or Sportswagon, would be ideal. And so it proved. Poor arthritic Sam now has a ramp to get in and out of the back seat and the Kia's rear door opening a full 90 degrees made all that so easy.
But what about the humans? It was my birthday on St Stephen's Day so my partner, Sam and I picked up my son, back from England, and daughter, with a rare day off from her retail job, for an excursion in Wicklow which would entail a walk in the hills, a picnic and a drive back home around the coast.
The car was extremely roomy, masses of luggage space and gutsy enough. Everybody admired the looks, spec and comfort. I don't think my son realised it was a different car from the Merc that picked him up at the airport. I did, though, especially missing the E-Class's lovely automatic gearbox. I'd want it in the Optima. Once again, diesel foolishly rules the roost for Optima sales here, although elsewhere a rather potent GT Turbo petrol engine is sold.
The Optima SW is, as we proved, a fine family car with a lot of space and practicality. I'd love to see more cars like it on our roads instead of all the SUVs. Next time I'm going to Ikea, I'll probably try to borrow it. It's a good car, not a great one, but Kia's long warranty and high level of specification make the SW an attractive proposition yet the sooner people get hold of the fact that diesel must not be the default choice, the better.
SOME BOUQUETS AND A BRICKBAT: Seasonal thanks to Volkswagen Commercials for a lovely wood pen which brought back happy memories of Donegal; to the crew at Citroen and DS for a massive box of Lily O’Brien’s chocolates — I and the office had a wonderful time; and to Ford for making a donation on my behalf to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
I also enjoyed a splendid dinner with BMW in the crypt of Christ Church Cathedral.
On the other hand, Toyota wasn’t in a festive mood when it tried to wrest the No 1 sales spot from Hyundai by pre-registering a gross of cars a couple of days before Christmas.
Nobody is well-served by such antics.
— CAMPBELL SPRAY