Wednesday, 21 October 2020

I haven't talked about stuff for a long time.

 Stuff? Cars 'n tech and that sort. Y'know, stuff.

All you avid followers of this blog - the ones I imagine are out there - will know I had to replace the Mini Countryman that I'd been driving since 2014, and that we bought a Skoda Karoq 4X4 SUV. There was a time when Skoda was the car of last resort - what you'd choose if there was NOTHING else affordable (they had a model optimistically called the Rapide 130) - if you didn't mind the wheels falling off. Eventually bought by VW group, they became the 'sensible' part of VAG's output (VW badges indicated tech & sophistication, Seat indicated sporty) and although many versions have been intentionally hit with the ugly stick (Skoda Labia anyone?) the most recent releases have been a lot better.

Enough beating about the bush - is it OK?

Yes. It's softly sprung although a bit bouncy, a little vague in handling but OK, otherwise comfy and acceptably economical for a vehicle of this size. Performance is a bit Jekyll & Hyde, with a lazy, sluggish engine until the turbo spins up, at which point there's quite a lot of power. Overtaking needs planning and it's necessary to hold a lower gear for a few seconds before starting to accelerate in order to spin that turbo. This was all fine, since I'd wanted something more relaxing and laid back than the mini to drive, mostly so I'd drive more slowly and hopefully be a bit nicer to people because I couldn't be in a hurry (and I still don't really have my confidence back yet).

Last week Chris's car had to go in for a service, and the courtesy car was a 'new' Mini Countryman. This was an interesting comparison to make, because it felt MUCH larger than the model I'd previously had, and because the bonnet was flat across most of it's length it made the car feel very long in the nose. On top of that the steering was more heavily weighted and both that and the very well controlled ride worked together to give a feeling of far higher driving precision. Suddenly I missed my old mini! Picking the car up in the morning, it felt great to drive, far better handling and much more planted on the road. However on the return journey after a busy day & lots of stress it felt like harder work, being more demanding and less comfy. 

Perhaps this choice was the correct one after all.

Other things I miss from the mini is the well designed control system. My previous mini had a screen in the centre dial with the control operated from a joystick set between the seats. Changing settings, selecting music etc could be done blind, with just the briefest of glances to see what was displayed on screen. The Skoda (and other VW group cars) has a touch screen with pretty graphics and awkward, multi-layered menus that require significant concentration and a lot of reaching across from the drivers seat to operate. Other annoyances include a cruise control that's slow to adapt to road conditions and a stop-start system that stops and restarts the engine in the last few moments before the vehicle stops moving, only to stop the engine a second time. Also the reversing sensors don't stop warning when the car is no longer in reverse and the electronic handbrake that sometimes won't let go when starting forwards uphill (made worse by the laggy turbo that prevents the engine delivering power at low revs). On the motorway it's quiet and smooth, but the engine is quite growly & noisy at lower speeds.

This all sounds like grumbling, and to a small extent it is, however overall I'm pleased with the car, and it's doing what we wanted/needed.

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