Friday 24 November 2017

I'm one of the Venga boys now

The shortlist for Continental Irish Car of the Year award has been whittled down to the final 10, but for Campbell Spray there is one stand-out candidate

The nominations for Continental Irish Car of the Year include the Kia Venga
The nominations for Continental Irish Car of the Year include the Kia Venga
The Opel Astra
The Skoda Yeti

LIKE 10 green bottles lining up on a wall, the vehicles on the shortlist for the Continental Irish Car of the Year Award presented themselves at the Springfield Hotel in Leixlip last Monday.

Two dozen members of the Irish Motoring Writers' Association (IMWA) attended the refresher day to put the cars through their paces before voting on the final award.

However, a mixture of car industry changes, challenging times, and personal circumstances conspired to ensure that not all the contenders had been subject to much previous testing. But on the day the IMWA did its best to compensate for this.

The final 10, in alphabetical order, were: the BMW 5-Series; Kia Venga; Nissan Juke; Nissan 370z; Opel Astra; Peugeot 5008; Peugeot RCZ; Renault Fluence; Saab 95 and Skoda Yeti.

That two sports cars -- the 370 and RCZ -- were on the final list to the detriment of some exceptionally good family cars, such as the Opel Meriva, Citroen C3 and the super-safe Volvo S60, is a peculiarity of the voting system which puts two cars of each of five categories through to the final 10.

We will park that issue for the moment after wondering whether a two-seater sports car -- the Nissan 370Z -- should ever be on the list. It might be amazingly fast and very attractive, but is an eco nightmare and would cost €2,100 in road tax each year.

We will take it out of this year's reckoning along with the extremely beautiful and much more economical Peugeot RCZ coupe, which will win its category but is in a very small market.

That leaves us with eight, but it comes down to seven very quickly when the attractive and large Saab 95 is also put aside. It's great having the company's future assured, but the 95 has too much of the old era's General Motors dead hand about it. The next Saabs will be far better.

The Peugeot 5008 is the seven-seater MPV big sister to last year's winner, the 3008. It's very practical, and surprisingly easy to drive and load, but doesn't add anything to the sector and looks very boxy compared to the award-winning sibling.

That leaves six.

The Nissan Juke could be a winner but this funky looking cousin of the incredibly successful Qashqai might be more style than substance. I haven't really driven it enough to conquer the niggles I feel about it.

It goes out alongside the Renault Fluence, which can already be hailed a success as part of the French company's massive onslaught on to the market through its double scrappage scheme. It is a well-specced, well-priced, very traditional and good-sized booted saloon. It ticks a lot of the boxes, but doesn't excite enough or have any really Gallic flair. It may do well.

People might wonder what the BMW 5-Series, the very darling of the corporate car park, is doing on the final list. Not so. Of course it made it from the initial 30 or so cars by coming, along with the Saab, in the top two of the executive sector. But it deserves its place on overall merit. It is an amazingly executed car, doing everything right in terms of power, economy, emissions and driving ability and, before the famous BMW extras are taken into account, at a much more competitive price.

It is sad to leave the BMW out of the final three, but the time isn't quite right to make it car of the year.

That leaves the Yeti, Astra and Venga still standing on the wall. The Yeti is probably the car I most enjoyed this year, as it is a good-sized fun and practical vehicle with the possibility of off-road capacity. People who have bought it are delighted, and in many ways I can't recommend it enough. Perhaps this may be the Czech's year.

My colleagues raved about the 1.4 turbo petrol engine in the Astra which was available on the test day. And, as a good-looking compact car for family use, it is exceptionally good. It has the looks and pedigree to be as winner and did very well in last year's European Car of the Year Award. The uncertainty over Opel's future earlier this year and the availability of the Astra -- along with the Meriva -- for testing may count against it.

Last year the Kia Soul was my choice for Car of the Year, and it came remarkably close to the 3008. The Venga, however, is a better car, although it sounds like it comes from outer space. Perhaps with its Tardis-like interior, it does. In these stringent times it is everything a small car should be: adaptable, roomy, safe, well built and, with its seven-year warranty, worry free.

The Kia is the last green bottle standing and, again, gets my vote.

Sunday Independent

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