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Two into four's an easy fit

Campbell Spray is impressed by an aid for commuters that keeps you fit. He is also quite struck by a Toyota crossover

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The Toyota C-HR

The Toyota C-HR

The Toyota C-HR

It was a timely case of "four wheels good, two wheels better". As the country opened up even more and the traffic outside our front door started to return to pre-Covid levels, I faced tricky journeys on the Luas or buses after dropping off test cars. But no more.

A solution came in the boot of a small car when a Skoda Stretchgo was dropped off at the house for testing. It might sound like a romper suit for a rather large child but in reality it's a useful folding bike.

It could be a boon for commuters who could leave their cars at the outskirts of cities and travel the last part of their journey on the bike, saving a fortune on parking cost, getting a bit fitter in the process and - most of all at the moment - staying away from public transport.

I first used it last Monday morning when returning the impressive Toyota C-HR in Dublin. It easily fitted into the luggage area of the car and unfolded in seconds on arrival at Toyota's Ballyfermot HQ.

Donning my helmet and fluorescent jacket, I set off for Phibsborough, doing the 8.5km journey at a leisurely pace in just over 30 minutes. I was mightily chuffed and felt the week had got off to a good start. I had dodged having to get on the Luas and had a bit of a work-out as well. Happy days.

Weighing just 12.5kg, the bike is light enough for anyone to use and really does only take a few seconds to fold or unfold. Most of all, I felt secure and the bike has a high and easily adjustable seating position, which I particularly liked.

I have tried other folding bikes but the Stretchgo seemed that bit more robust. OK, because of the small wheels you do have to work harder on hills but the seven-speed Shimano drive-train gets you there.

I couldn't wait to repeat much of the journey the next day when I was picking up a car from another manufacturer.

The Stretchgo costs €675 from Skoda dealers who should have them in stock but promise to get one in two weeks if they don't. I hope cycle shops also begin to stock them and if you bought one under the Cycle-to-Work scheme, you would be getting your money back in months.

Skoda has always been big into cycling and the Czech company which was founded 125 years ago started life as a bike manufacturer.

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While the bike was the star of the week, the Toyota C-HR did all it could to grab the limelight with its striking looks and Bi-tone Orange colour.

My daughter was amazed when I picked her up last Sunday. "Wow," she said, "what is that? It looks like something for real rugged driving."

Ah yes, my little precious, that's just what the clever car people want you to think and that's why so many people rush to buy Crossovers and SUVs which will never go - and should never try to go - over a bit of rough terrain.

But that said, and if you can discount the car's quite in-your-face looks, the C-HR is an appealing proposition. It is a long way from the bland looks that used to be the forte of Toyota.

This pure petrol hybrid gives great economy of about 55mpg in old money.

It is also clean and Toyota produces convincing charts that show it is better for C02 and massively so for the deadly NOX emissions than most of its diesel and petrol competitors.

I was in electric mode for much of the shorter journeys, courtesy of what the company likes to call its "self-charging" battery.

The test car was the top-of-the-range Launch edition at €38,515 which has a new 2.0-litre "dynamic force" engine and battery which does give more oomph than the normal 1.8 model which starts at €30,620.

Up front it is roomy and comfortable but rear passengers aren't so well served. It's darker and tighter than it should be and the luggage area is only that of a small car - although it did still take the Stretchgo with ease.

It has good road manners and there is a confidence about the drive that I liked. There has been some criticism of the CVT automatic gearbox, but I think that might be too picky.

Most models get a good array of safety equipment and parking assistance. The latter is needed as the car's design makes side and rear views a bit tricky at times.

I liked the car, although some competitors, such as the Peugeot 3008, have more overall room and general comfort.

The 3008 also now comes with a plug-in hybrid option. The C-HR design does make it stand-out and bodes well for future Toyotas.

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For the past few months, and especially while access to Phoenix Park was being strictly controlled for cars, we have been parking with many others at the Hole in the Wall pub as we took the dogs for a walk.

It was a credit to the owners that even in the early days of the lockdown they kept the car park and beer garden in beautiful condition with great tubs of flowers and plants.

Gradually they began to open for superb ice-cream, coffee and takeaway meals and drinks.

Now their restaurant has reopened, I hope that people will repay the effort in having such a welcoming place in dark times.

Ziggy and Dooey recommend the doggy ice-cream (and others, too!).

Sunday Independent