Oh, the joy. Packing up the car, settling in the dogs and taking to the open road with Donegal as our destination; it was magnificent. Only to be trumped by arriving in Rathmullan, the dogs running down to the beach, and a bottle of Scraggy Bay before dinner. It was everything we had promised ourselves for our first break since March.
Four days in the Rathmullan House Hotel lifted our spirits and provided great memories. After months of pottering around, the trip was also a chance for real motoring and an excellent opportunity to get to grips with the plug-in hybrid concept, fast becoming a good option for people not yet ready to commit to going 100pc electric. This is often due to range anxiety and definitely would be on the 270 kilometres from Phibsborough to the banks of Lough Swilly.
Unfortunately, we knew the hotel hadn't managed to have an e-charger fitted yet and the nearest one was in Letterkenny, 22km away. A plug-in hybrid seemed the best option for the journey. We could use only EV power for the couple of days before we went and then let the petrol engine take over for the main trip.
The Kia XCeed PHEV we were driving claims that you get more than 50km in EV mode. I reckon you would be lucky to get 80pc of that before you needed to top up the battery.
It is an attractive car which manages to look capable and modern without lots of sharp edges and over-aggressive features.
Unlike the rest of the XCeed range, there is only one trim version of the PHEV which sees the price after grants and rebates pegged to a competitive €28,945. Some of the comfort and safety features are good, with 18in alloys, dual zone auto aircon, 8in Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, rear privacy glass, rain sensors, a pretty aggressive lane keep assist, and forward collision avoidance.
However, there were others I missed, such as front parking sensors and a spare tyre rather than inflation kit. But these are niggles; the overall package is good.
The new powertrain combines an 8.9 kWh lithium-polymer battery pack, a 44.5 kW electric motor and an efficient 1.6-litre 'Kappa' four-cylinder GDI (petrol direct injection) engine. Total power and torque output is 141ps and 265Nm, enabling the Kia XCeed to accelerate from 0-to-100kmh in 11 seconds.
Now this is not fast, and on the road north I would have liked a bit more power for safe and quick overtaking. But the car is a compromise between economy, price and power, and most people will be happy.
Whichever way we go, we never get our journey time to Rathmullan or back much under four hours. It was suggested that we could even go back by crossing over to Buncrana on the Lough Swilly ferry and then going south via Derry, but that seemed unduly complicated. After going north by the MI, A2 and then A5, we came back slightly more relaxed through Donegal Town, Enniskillen and then the M3.
It was a great break and the friendliness of the Donegal people is extraordinary. On our first morning we walked down to the centre of Rathmullan and were immediately hailed by one of the McAteer sisters from the wonderful and friendly White Harte pub overlooking the pier, which unfortunately is still closed through Covid restrictions.
She referenced a recent column and asked if I had got a decent breakfast roll in the hotel to rival the one from the Phoenix Park Visitor Centre's cafe. She introduced me to another sister, who by a massive coincidence was visiting from Drumcondra and works just a hundred yards from us at St Peter's School, which, like our house, backs on to Dalymount Park. She and her husband are fellow aficionados of the Phoenix Park breakfast roll… "but not every week, it wouldn't be such a treat". I agree. Talking of treats, the coffee kiosk on the pier had wonderful fresh baking.
As we walked the dogs on the beautiful beach, everyone smiled and said hello. It was the same when we got into the XCeed to head for Ardara, a takeaway lunch from the famed Nancy's Bar and shopping in nearby tweed and wool shops.
The extra height of the Xceed was good for when we wanted to go off the road a bit but added to the body roll which had my wife holding on to the grab handle and telling me to slow down.
After Ardara, we headed north to take our rescue dog Dooey to a beach with which she shares a name. It was stunning - picture perfect, and I plunged into the breakers alongside her and a small groups of surfers.
Pure happiness for both of us, Dooey just loved the sea, playing with abandon next to Ziggy. And if you had been chained up for the first 18 months of your life, you would too. Total freedom.
With a wall-box in your garage or drive, the Kia XCeed PHEV would be easy to live with and makes perfect sense for the urban motorist who also wants the ability to make longer journeys with no anxieties. It's nearly there as an excellent package which also includes a seven-year warranty and help with getting the wall-box installed. It is one of the best PHEVs I have tried. It made a good trip very easy.
A reader sent me an email putting the other side of the spare tyre debate. He writes: "I read with bemusement your column in last week's Sunday Independent about the Mercedes owners complaining about the absence of a spare tyre.
"I have a Mercedes C Class 180 which I purchased in 2018, it came with the inflation kit which to date I had not had to use. Wednesday last I got into the car, turned on the ignition and was informed by the onboard computer that the right hand rear tyre had lost 5lb of pressure.
"I completed my journey and the following day with the message still registering brought the vehicle to my tyre repair people who checked out the pressure on the tyre in question for a slow puncture, which they confirmed, and then repaired it, and within 10 minutes I was driving away. The onboard computer cancelled the message and reverted to normal. Happy days. Best regards, Tony B."