Vauxhall does a great job with its latest crossover; pity the name is unadventurous
Fully aware of the PSA-Vauxhall buy-out situation, Iain Robertson revels in the ‘all-new’ (to Vauxhall, anyway) Grandland X model that grows its SUV portfolio to three models, including the Daewoo-related Mokka X and the PSA-related Crossland X.
Model naming, to the motor industry, is a minefield of potentially disastrous proportions. Not for the first time has a car company decided to apply a brand-new name to its latest model, only to receive a lawsuit demanding telephone-number damages, because somebody else owns it. Such are the powers of litigation, notably in copyright circles.
I can recall when Volvo, prior to its takeover by the Chinese Geely Corporation, was so excited about the launch of its all-new S4 and V4 models. Designed to replace previous DAF-developed cars, it had laid out its marketing plans, the launch programme, the dealership brochures (in several languages) and all manner of advertising materials and TV slot bookings. The cars looked splendid on the Birmingham NEC Motor Show stand, when, at the appropriate unveiling moment, the legal team from Audi arrived and put an instant stop to proceedings. Audi had already registered both S4 and V4 logo-styles but this had clearly slipped Volvo’s legal net. The cars were launched, a few million Swedish Krone later, with S40 and V40 designations…and lots of freshly printed new brochures.
Of course, it can work the other way, when it comes to placing product names on rivals’ motorcars. Take the case of Ford, when it launched the Sierra. The company performed its customary giant-killer display, only to receive a legal letter at its Detroit HQ, from a small and fairly insignificant British manufacturer of glassfibre kit-cars; Dutton. The teensy British firm was taking on the multi-national leviathan. Ford pulled a few ‘force majeure’ manoeuvres but to no avail. Dutton won considerable damages and continued to build his Sierra kit-car, having established a brand name licensing arrangement with Ford Motor Company.
If spoken speedily enough, the all-new Grandland could become corrupted readily to ‘Grand Lad’, a fine Yorkshire appellation, except that the car’s appeal needs to be somewhat greater than that, if it is to become the second-best seller in the company’s line-up…a clear and stated aim for Vauxhall. Yet, I do understand the complexities related to model nomenclature, not least in that all the ‘good’ names have been snaffled up already (probably with pre-prepared legal suits in despatch-ready form). To be frank, I think that Grandland is a non-entity of a name that smacks of laziness on the part of that Vauxhall/Opel department. I can imagine the persons involved, scratching their heads to come up with a moderate name, only to give up, expletive-deleted, to head for lunch.
Therefore, it is my intention to help Vauxhall with its endeavours by rechristening the Grandland creatively, oops, I nearly forgot the ‘X’, as Phuket (rhymes with bucket), a name that carries as much disdain as I can muster for an SUV that is only available in 2WD form, with PSA’s well-promoted ‘tricky differential’, which Vauxhall calls ‘IntelliGrip’, providing an electronic means to anti-slip and thus a modicum of off-road capability. After all, the Far Eastern resort of that name is certainly an intriguing place.
With its hardware based heavily on the Peugeot 3008 platform, a model that I believe is very good for the French carmaker, the artful pen of Richard Shaw, the Russelsheim, Opel-based head of design, has re-scripted the styling in a more Teutonic manner and, in the process, produced a truly excellent family car that possesses first-class interior ergonomics and an on-road presence that is not just impressive but also very attractive. By avoiding the ‘bling-fest’ of the Peugeot, an altogether more conservative but timeless design (it will age well) results. By the way, both cars are built on adjoining lines at the same Sochaux PSA factory, in NE France.
As a C-segment SUV, which is its market-place definition, it sits above the Crossland X 2WD model (based on the 2008) and the only true SUV in Vauxhall’s line-up, the marginally smaller but taller and more capable 4×4 Mokka X. As such, Phuket is pitched into the middle of the most hectic slice of that market, alongside models that include the Nissan Qashqai, Seat Ateca and Toyota RAV4. Priced from £22,310, rising to £28,035, and better equipped than its direct rivals, it does offer a value-for-money benefit.
The interior is packed with what are now regarded as Vauxhall ‘convenience touches’, such as the small ledge below the centre-of-dashboard sat-nav screen, which enables a steadier adjustment, because the operator has something to rest upon. Of course, the screen is right-hand dominant, which is understandable for a product made primarily for a left-hand-drive market, but I appreciate the sentiment.
Just as the exterior lines possess a taut dynamism, the welcoming interior reflects it with a full-width soft-touch dashboard moulding that mirrors the Astra. Vauxhall is very keen to retain rotary controls for the heating and ventilation system and also for the main on/off and volume control for the stereo system. Its reasoning is typically logical, because turning down the fan speed, or sound, is much safer and faster than dabbing at the touch-screen and pulling up an array of pages instead.
Both steering column and the driver’s seat are adjustable through an excellent range that ensures a safe, supportive and comfortable driving position. The line-up starts in SE trim, while Tech Line factors-in sat-nav and is aimed at the fleet sector, with Sport Nav afterwards, the range being topped by Elite Nav trim. It is anticipated that businesses will be drawn to the three upper levels, while the SE will find more private sales and each model can be identified externally by increasing diameter alloy wheels, as you move up the range.
Space in the rear seats that split-fold 60:40 to enable a greater carrying capacity is excellent, with around 1,600-litres of space, when the rear seats are flipped forwards. In people-moving mode, there is plenty of room for a family-of-four’s luggage.
The two engines and both 6-speed manual and automatic gearboxes are PSA items. The petrol option is the excellent, 127bhp 1.2-litre ‘triple’, while the diesel variant is the familiar and quite long-in-the-tooth, 117bhp 1.6-litre, four-cylinder HDi unit. The latter remains exceptionally refined in use and rewardingly frugal, returning between 61.4 and 70.6mpg on the Official Combined cycle, while emitting 104g/km CO2. I took the petrol alternative, which I figure to be more retail customer orientated (55.4mpg; 117g/km CO2), for a brisk drive along the Oxfordshire lanes.
While it does develop more power than the diesel, it is a unit that needs to be revved to take advantage of its more peaky torque curve. Yet, it emits a pleasant, off-beat thrum and sprints from 0-60mph in around 9.6 seconds, topping out at around 123mph (the diesel is only fractionally slower). However, it cruises very easily at around 2,000rpm in top gear (equates to around 58mph), the sweet-shifting 6-speed manual transmission providing moderate legginess in the intermediate ratios, which aids the car’s overtaking abilities.
Its handling on the optional 18-inch alloy wheels and low-profile tyres is satisfyingly crisp, with a precise turn-in quality to the steering, which is also geared to reduce excess twirling. The ride quality was more resilient than I expected it to be and the car rides out the worst of road surface imperfections and manages to avoid the crashiness expected from the tyres, which have a wide footprint and provided fantastic grip in the dry weather of the test. The brakes are pleasantly weighted and the balanced with the other two foot-pedals, which results in a greater sense of driver well-being…would that all cars in this class were thus endowed.
There were a couple of minor issues with one or two of the test cars available for the driving exercise, which made me worry slightly about the cultural differences that exist between two, formerly rival brands. When Ford owned Mazda and Volvo, the use of PSA diesel engines (produced at Dagenham these days) did cause some reliability issues, with the chassis architecture of the German and Swedish developed products not relating consistently with the engine/electronic architecture of the French manufacturer. It led to a series of recalls and problems that I experienced with the test cars. I hope sincerely that the companies resolve these potential pitfalls.
Conclusion: Vauxhall should feel as though it is riding the crest of a wave with its current product line-up, which is one of the best in its modern history. Despite my subversive name-calling, the current new car scene is SUV crazy and the Grandland X fits into the sector with consummate ease. The packaging is excellent and there will be a trim level to meet most requirements. Keen pricing will help the car to find its place and I reckon that Vauxhall’s claim to make it one of the most popular of the class contenders will be achieved.