The march of the SUV goes on, carving out an ever larger part of the vehicle market. But within that surge, and acting like the cavalry, are what were once small family hatchback cars which have now been pumped and pimped up as though they need to crash through forests.
Cars such as the Hyundai Kona – transport minister Shane Ross is one of the latest owners of the very successful EV version – Nissan Juke, Renault Captur and Peugeot 2008 have been common sights on our roads for some time, but recently the Volkswagen group has been making a massive assault to take a major share of the segment. First came the Seat Arona, then earlier this year the VW T-Cross and now the Skoda Kamiq has been unveiled and will start appearing in Irish showrooms in the last couple of months of the year. The three, all based around the same platform, follow larger family SUVs, respectively the Ateca, T-Roc and Karoq.
Seat’s fortunes have been massively changed by its excellent trio of SUVs, which is topped off by the seven-seater Tarraco; where once it was mainly selling cars like the Ibiza at around €16-17k, its most popular models are now in the middle €20ks onwards.
Likewise, Skoda now has three cars – the Kodiaq is its well-established large model – to further cement its position as one of the five top players in the Irish market.
The Kamiq is a very likeable and attractive car, which claims to have the highest road clearance of the small SUV sector and also the largest internal dimensions and luggage space.
It certainly makes a good case for this and as three of us drove recently from Basle on the Swiss/French border to Strasbourg, along very windy mountain roads, we were impressed with the room, ride quality and comfort. I particularly liked the flexibility of the seven-speed DSG automatic box, wedded to a very willing three-cylinder 115bph engine. It made the passage very easy and, as I have said before, the rush to automatic is unstoppable, fuelled by the growth of hybrids, EVs and some much better technology. Manual boxes will be even rarer in five years’ time. There are other Kamiq engines, including a diesel but my choice would be that 115bhp.
Although prices for the Kamiq haven’t been set yet, it will be above that of the Arona, which looks smaller, and below the T-Cross, which can be quite pricey, although starting at €22.5k. I was recently driving a very highly specced R-Line version of that small VW and the on-the-road cost was €33,413. This is getting very near Mercedes-Benz A-Class territory, as well as being not far off some excellent EVs like the previously mentioned Kona and the very funky Kia Soul which have real world ranges in excess of 400km. The new car market could face many challenges next year but expect to see about 600-800 Kamiqs with 201 or 202 plates.
The new Skoda Scala starts at €23,650, I expect the Kamiq – Inuit for something like “second skin” – would need to be less. However, the cost could rise quite fast as many of the rather tasty features we saw on the cars at the launch were options. Yet there is no doubt that for the moment such cars are the future; between 2017 and 2018, overall SUV demand increased 6.8pc, but the booming city segment went up 13pc. There will be a lot of choices next year for that urban jungle.