Our Sundays tend to the predictable. Set the car up for the dog, drive for a coffee, head for the hills, go for a decent walk, more often than not pop into Avoca, and make our way back to north city Dublin, winding through Dalkey, Dun Laoghaire and Dublin city centre.
In the final part of the journey, we usually go around Merrion Square.
Last Sunday, Mother’s Day, was no exception and after the bad weather weekends it was good to see Merrion Square festooned with art for sale from good artists.
One particular group of paintings caught my eye. They featured impressionistic beach and pastoral scenes, some including my great favourite – poppies.
I hadn’t paid attention to the name above the paintings but should have. As I loitered before one display, an attractive lady of a certain age descended from an equally imposing SUV which seemed about 10 years old.
It was none other than the one-time great TV personality Thelma Mansfield, who for years had presented the RTE afternoon show with Derek Davis, and who is now an artist of repute.
We introduced each other and Thelma remembered that many years ago I had asked her to write a motoring column. It’s a pity she didn’t as she would have brought real artistic flair to these plodding words. But then with my impressionistic daubings on this page, I may be trying to emulate her style!
Seeing Thelma and her stylish SUV and her artistic son with his coupe, which again was an iconic car, brought back to mind the car I was testing that day, the keenly awaited Skoda Karoq, the smaller sibling of the acclaimed Kodiaq SUV.
On the way back across the square to the car, we couldn’t but help hear a man exchanging Mothering Sunday greetings: “OK mum, I’ll f***ing do it, I’ll f***ing do it. I’ll buy you a f***ing card if you f***ng want.”
There are so many new small and medium-sized SUVs being launched at the moment that it is hard to differentiate between them. So much so that when I came out of the Insomnia on Navan road with our coffees that morning I nearly went to the wrong car.
I had mixed up the Volkswagen Tiguan with the smaller Karoq. But then looking at them side by side, it seemed as the VW designer had merely shrunk his template for the Tiguan before passing it to his Czech colleagues. And, unfortunately, the blandness of design didn’t reflect well on either of them.
I might be overstating the case, but the Karoq’s predecessor was the Yeti, which was one of my favourite cars and had distinctive and nicely rugged looks, which suited its name especially with its first-generation model. I suppose it was a bit of a Marmite car, but I loved it.
The rather boring look of my Karoq on test was not helped by it being dressed in a Business Grey Metallic colour. If anything is going to bore you, that is.
However, inside the Karoq it is a different matter. While again there is a certain bland black look, it is exceptionally roomy, functional and family friendly. I can see how it will attract young families in droves. It claims the biggest boot space in its class and a VarioFlex seats option increases that by 300pc.
It is also good to see that the range starts off with two good petrol engines, one 115bhp and the other 150bhp, while the former can be matched to a 7-speed automatic DSG box.
The 4×4 versions only come in diesel and add more than €5.4k to the lowest priced petrol Style 2WD drive versions at €30,315 (manual) and €32,315 (DSG). You will also need to factor in another €600 p&p.
My test model was the 150bhp petrol manual at €32,915 on the road.
The many options included leather interior, panoramic sunroof, metallic paint, wireless phone charger, lane assist and adaptive cruise control, which put on nearly another €6k.
Now that is getting pricey although you are getting a very complete, sturdy, well-built car which will do big holidays as well as the school run.
Away from the VW group, there are also some good rivals – slightly off the radar like the Kia Niro PHEV – which are stacked with extras and a lot cheaper.
Skodas aren’t the cheap and cheerful marque they once were – in fact quite the opposite – and quality does now shine through in build, dependability and driving ability.Anyone who won’t consider them because of a reputation generations ago shouldn’t be on the pitch. Just look at how many Skoda Octavias and Superbs are used in the taxi business.
The ride, steering and road presence of the Karoq is excellent and safety is all first class. The reliability should be good, although I always have a caveat about buying the first models of any new car.
The 150bhp petrol will take you effortlessly to 100kmh in less than nine seconds and is probably the best buy for all-round driving. It gives quiet and effortless driving; never really sporty but responsible. At the end of the day I did like the Karoq.
It has everything you want and last Sunday it would have been the ideal car for ferrying your mother and loved ones around.
It could be the best of the latest slew of small SUVs, although I have still to test the VW T-Roc. It’s just a pity that it looks so boring. It doesn’t stand out at all.
But maybe my head was turned by the Yeti many years ago and the art of Thelma Mansfield had that lovely impressionist feel about it which made me want more than being in a car painted in Business Grey Metallic.
€35,900 - €40,990The RAV4 is a spacious, practical and robust crossover.