Wednesday, 8 March 2017

COLUMN – March 2017

Here is another chance to catch my column from the March editions of The Local Herald and The Clitheroe Local. 2017 is already disappearing and it's going to be a monumental year. This month I have another two cars to feature, and with my wife and I expecting our first child it seemed only apt to take a 'family man' approach. So first up we have the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross; a car which promises tru 4x4 capability in a family crossover. Then we have the leviathan which is the Kia Optima Sportswagon; Kia's executive limousine is now available in estate form. But how would they cope with my new found love of family-friendly practicality? Let's see, shall we...

As we find ourselves in March, I can’t help but wonder where 2017 is going. Nevertheless, another month passes and I’ve been kept busy with another two cars. First up this month is the Suzuki SX4 S-Cross. It’s had a facelift and the front end is, erm, striking to say the least. It’s gone from being bulbous to looking like an angry bulldog; flat-faced and bearing big, chrome teeth.

Inside there is a noticeable lack of finesse; the seats may be leather but there are some scratchy plastics knocking about. And it’s not just looks either; once I got going there were a fair few squeaks and rattles which became a nuisance after a while.

The engine in my test car was the 1.4-litre turbocharged ‘Boosterjet’ unit, and it’s an absolute gem. On paper it doesn’t grab your attention: 140PS, 220Nm of torque, 0-62mph in 10.2 seconds and a top speed of 124mph. However, this is a lively engine that feels pretty nippy around town. The 6-speed automatic gearbox has a tall 6th to keep revs down on the motorway, and as a result the SX4 cruises rather well.

The SZ5 model I tested is very well equipped; including heated front seats, satellite navigation, keyless entry and go, reversing camera and adaptive cruise control. The panoramic roof looks great and lets plenty of light into the cabin, but unfortunately it takes up some headroom; something which is (surprisingly) lacking in the back. The boot is plenty big enough, and leg room is generous. The SX4 also has Suzuki’s ALLGRIP 4WD system, making it a capable crossover.

As tested, my test car was £25,349. For the standard equipment you get, that’s good value for money. However the SX4 lacks that touch of quality. Without those finishing touches, it struggles to win your heart; at which point £25,000 is a lot of money. Tough one this; I wanted to like the Suzuki, but small details let it down.

Next up is the Kia Optima, and this is the new Sportswagon; the estate version of Kia’s executive saloon. We are often told that size doesn’t matter, but with the Optima it does; the Sportswagon is gargantuan. At 4,855mm long, you will often find yourself poking out of the end of a parking space. Thankfully the GT Line S comes with a full 360-degree parking view camera to compensate.

The engine is still the same 1.7-litre diesel engine producing 139PS and 340Nm of torque, but it is now available with a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT). On paper that sounds underpowered, but the Optima never feels it. In fact you often find yourself having to reign it in; if you’re not careful on the motorway you will find yourself going the wrong side of 80mph. The gearbox is good; changing smoothly and utilising the torque of the engine. It isn’t as slick as the Volkswagen-Audi offerings, but it’s still the gearbox to choose in the Optima.

As you would expect from Kia, the GT Line S is fully loaded. Heated and air-conditioned front seats, heated outer rear seats, heated steering wheel, panoramic roof, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, Harmon Kardon stereo, keyless entry and go, driver’s seat memory function and LED headlights are all standard. The styling on the exterior is sporty, and the inside looks and feels very premium.

Through town the Kia feels too big. But on the motorway it eats up the miles with ease. You can fit an immense amount of luggage in the boot, and all passengers will be comfortable. At £30,595 on the road you certainly get a lot of car for your money.

Full reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

Dan

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