Vauxhall Grandland X: Does X mark the spot?
Vauxhall has added another SUV to its range. William Scholes tests the Grandland X
IF you are a car manufacturer, there are few dead certs left these days, though a shiny new SUV must come pretty close, writes William Scholes.
Punters cannot get enough of them. We love their raised driving positions and the impression of space and practicality, never mind their sheer usefulness.
And it helps that they drive, for the most part, at least as well as the hatchback in which you used to transport the family, and that they cost about the same to run.
Across Europe, family buyers are deserting in their droves the familiar shapes of hatchbacks, people carriers, estates and saloons for the chunky solidity, whether perceived or otherwise, of the SUV.
Last year, SUVs saw their market share jump almost 20 per cent, from 2016's quarter share to within touching distance of 30 per cent of total registrations.
In Northern Ireland, we seem to have a particular affinity for this style of vehicle. Hyundai's Tucson is our favourite - it's also the number one seller in the Republic - with the Nissan Qashqai, Kia Sportage and Ford Kuga also fixtures in the top 10 registration charts.
Manufacturers share their customers' enthusiasm for the SUV, or crossover as it is sometimes called in reference to how many of these vehicles are 'cross between' a traditional hatch or estate and a full-blown Land Rover-style 4x4.
Giving your already-bought-and-paid-for family hatch platform a new lease of life by dressing its mechanicals in different clothes means profit margins can be higher, doubly so when you can usually charge extra for something that is a little bigger than the car it is based on.
In a generally declining market - Northern Ireland registrations were down 5.2 per cent last year, a performance marginally better than the overall UK slide of 5.7 per cent - the inexorable growth of the SUV isn't just a glimmer of hope for squeezed car-makers, but as bright and reassuring as a lighthouse beam to a ship's captain in a storm.
As quiet, comfortable, well-equipped and thoroughly competent family transport, the Grandland X is a persuasive addition to the burgeoning ranks of SUVs
No wonder barely a week goes by without a new SUV being announced.
For a purveyor of family cars, Vauxhall was a little slow into the showroom with its SUVs.
But, in double-quick time, it has served up a much-improved Mokka X - the original version being truly one of the most dismally disappointing cars to tread tarmac - and the brand new family-friendly Crossland X.
They've now been joined by a third, larger model, dubbed the Grandland X; the 'X' suffix, as you may have guessed, is Vauxhall's way of denoting its crossovers.
The Grandland gets off to a flying start by being essentially a Vauxhall-ified Peugeot 3008.
This arrangement pre-dates Peugeot's takeover of Vauxhall and Opel, and could be an encouraging sign of things to come from the new group.
The 3008, winner of the Car of the Year title in 2017, is one of the very best of the latest family SUVs you can buy. Nice to drive, spacious, loaded with the latest safety kit, well built and stylish, it ticks all the boxes.
But it isn't without its quirks; the striking design won't be to everyone's taste, for example, and elements of the interior - all main features controlled from a touchscreen, Peugeot's now-trademark tiny steering wheel - will grate on some.
The Grandland X, then, could be thought of as a de-Frenched 3008. The exterior lacks the flamboyance of the Peugeot but its handsome restraint will be just as appealing to others.
The Vauxhall's more straightforward dashboard features a properly-sized steering wheel and - hallelujah - heating controls with proper dials and switches.
There's the same big boot and roomy back seats as the 3008, so the practicality remains intact, as several family outings and runs to the dump over the Christmas holidays helped establish.
The Grandland further benefits from Vauxhall's super-comfortable front seats and the optional availability of its adaptive LED headlamps - at £1,100, it's not the cheapest extra, but in view of the safety benefits and reassurance they offer I would regard it as money well spent.
Another option fitted to the test car was a heated windscreen, which made light work of the frost and ice - why do more manufacturers not offer these?
Vauxhall OnStar 'concierge' service, which can also phone the emergency services in the event of an accident, is also on board.
The test car was in mid-range Sport Nav trim, which comes complete with an electrically-operated tailgate.
The Grandland X has one of those features which allows you to open the boot by waving your foot at the back bumper; these are generally frustratingly hit-and-miss, but the Vauxhall's is a notably effective and reliable affair. It's a small thing, but suggests that a bit of thought has gone into making the Grandland easy to live with.
Vauxhall has kept the engine choice simple, for now at least.
You can take your pick from a 1.6-litre diesel with 118bhp and 221lb.ft of torque or a little 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol with 128bhp and 169lb.ft.
The Grandland X gets off to a flying start by being essentially Vauxhall-ified Peugeot 3008
The test car had the little petrol triple, sourced from Peugeot and Citroen; don't be put off by its tiny capacity, for this is a cracking engine. Smooth and characterful, and with enough vim that even in a car as big and roomy as the Grandland, it never feels overwhelmed.
Unless big mileages are your thing, the 1.2-litre is probably the pick of the pair; the diesel commands a £1,335 premium.
Both engines come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, though they can also be paired with a six-speed automatic.
The Grandland, like the 3008, is resolutely front-wheel-drive - there's no 4x4 option as with some rivals - though Peugeot's trick traction control system can be specified. This, to be honest, is probably all the go-anywhere ability most owners of cars like this are likely to need.
To drive, the Grandland X is not the last word in handling precision or dynamic feedback, but it is comfortable, which with this style of vehicle is of more importance than screaming round corners with the door handles scraping the ground.
As quiet, comfortable, well-equipped and thoroughly competent family transport, the Grandland X is a persuasive addition to the burgeoning ranks of SUVs.
It might not be especially outstanding in any one area, but the Vauxhall's broad and even range of talents and easy liveability means it deserves to win a slot on your next SUV checklist. X, on this occasion, does mark the spot.
AT A GLANCE
Vauxhall Grandland X Sport Nav 1.2 130PS Turbo
Price: £24,595. As tested £27,645. Options included wireless phone charging £160, LED headlamps £1,100, heated windscreen £100, all road pack £200, spare wheel £110, winter pack £555, roof rails £100, premium paint £725
Engine and transmission: 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol turbo, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 128bhp, 170lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 117mph, 0-60mph in 11.1 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 55.4mpg (EU combined), 36.7mpg (real world), 117g/km
Car tax: £160 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 22 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (84/87/63/60), 2017