IAIN ROBERTSON 

Sharing its blend of technology with PSA Group, states Iain Robertson, is an economy of scale exercise, although Vauxhall believes that brand differentiation is vital, which leads to a most comprehensive specification for its biggest SUV.

Seemingly a remit of the German car industry, I can recall a situation that has recurred persistently since the early-1990s, from which the car firms of other nationalities have learnt and adopted to suit their own product marketing exercises. It has become the practice of many consumer concerns and, while personalisation, or customising, has engaged with the public psyche, it might be described by its alternative definition of ‘up-selling’.

In the days when a new car price was a fixed component, it was so much easier to ‘do a deal’ based on a simple discount off its net value. While vehicle customisation took a hold in America of the mid-1950s, it was another 15 years before the mindset entered the UK scene, although we tended not to follow the surfing, or outdoor leisure sets, as motorsport-related upgrades were significantly more appropriate and converting a car became a popular pastime, rather than the window-vans inherent to the Cal-Custom market.

The European motoring scene was traditionally conservative in its outlook but, with motor manufacturers’ profit margins being squeezed, mainly by the corporate sector that demanded more for its investment, a host of accessories could bolster a new car invoice by a considerable amount. In the final decade of the 20th Century, the premium brands, notably Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz offered their base models, to which extra-cost items of either practical, or higher status, could be attached, and a fresh stream of income developed. These days, it is not unusual for ‘value added’ packages to appear, grouped as comfort, performance, style, or equipment enhancements.

In fact, it is unusual to find a car with wind-up windows these days, as almost all bar the most basic models feature electric winders and the carmakers know that scarcely anyone would specify a new car without an electronics package that often incorporates a tilt and slide roof, door mirrors and central-locking. In some respects, it has made the focus on a specific model even more complex to achieve, which leads to customers selecting the most up-market version, especially of mainstream cars, to relieve the frustration of multiple choice.

On the other hand, when that mainstreamer, as in the case of the Vauxhall and its Grandland X, is already well-specified, achieving the commensurate model balance and price-tagging accordingly can present a nightmare to the manufacturer. The Ultimate version of the Grandland carries a price tag of £34,040 on-the-road (in the case of the test example, with a further £725 charge for tri-coat premium paint, to take it to £34,765). This might seem like a hefty price for a 5-seat crossover but, when you drill a little deeper, it can be justified readily.

Bear in mind that all of the following items are standard on this 2.0-litre turbo-diesel model: Vauxhall OnStar (the company’s one-touch concierge service), the sat-nav system with IntelliLink, an excellent Denon hi-fi system, induction charger (for mobile handsets), dual-zone climate control and heated, leather-clad seats front and rear (outer pair). Distance cruise control, 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive headlamps, heated windscreen, power tailgate and a 360-degree camera complete a comprehensive package. Grandland occupants are well supported with ‘toys’.

Built at the Vauxhall-PSA Group shared production facility in Spain, while the Vauxhall elements are evident on the Grandland, the bulk of the car is PSA sourced and based on the first-rate Peugeot 3008 model. As such, it is a roomy, 4.48m long family car, offering a decent 514-litres of boot capacity, aided by a variable height floor and the 60:40-split rear seats that, when folded forwards, can more than treble the available space (1,652-litres).

Yet, while putting the car through its paces, in a mix of cross-country and main route motoring, I was very disappointed by the low-speed ‘confusion’ being experienced by its gearbox, which hunted between first and second gears, sometimes quite raucously. It was exacerbated by very poor light throttle responses that caused occasional surging.

The last time I experienced similar issues was when PSA supplied its small capacity diesel engines to Ford Group products of the period. They reared their unwelcome heads on a Mazda3, a Volvo C30 and even a Ford Focus, although the larger 2.7-litre V6 turbo-diesel was not immune from misbehaviour in a Jaguar S-Type installation. In all cases, low-speed shunt would result in a complete shutdown and adoption of ‘limp-home’ mode, which could only be resolved by carrying out a ‘Ctrl-Alt-Del’ manoeuvre…switching off, parking-up, partaking of a coffee and waiting for the system to ‘reboot’. I hope sincerely that the cause of the problems (an inability of French electronic architecture to communicate with its mostly German counterparts) is not being delivered to Vauxhall-Opel. Time and product recalls will tell all.

The 2.0-litre diesel engine is Vauxhall’s latest oil-burner that develops a solid 174bhp and a superb 295lbs ft of torque, which lends the car a fine towing ability. However, without a caravan attached, its delivery is determinedly punchy and it is capable of despatching the 0-60mph sprint in a zesty 9.1s, driving through an 8-speed fully automatic transmission. Its top speed is given as 133mph, which actually makes for truly relaxed cruising at UK motorway speeds. Leggy overall gearing allows the Official Combined fuel consumption to peak at an impressive 57.6mpg, while CO2 emissions are rated at 128g/km. This translates into a first-year road tax of £205 but you will need to check for subsequent annual charges, which stand at £140 annually in the current regime.

While diesel fuel has been demonised by both government and media in the UK, the performance advantages remain solid and I would still recommend a diesel, rather than petrol-powered, variant of this car, even with an increased taxation levy, as AdBlue injection, which is replenished at dealer level, ensures that NOx emissions are exceptionally low.

A well-suspended and structurally rigid platform underpins the Grandland X, which offers an ingenious IntelliGrip electronic differential (at extra cost), with five selectable terrain settings, for optimised traction on different surfaces. It is a worthy alternative to four-wheel-drive, because of its light weight, and it possesses neither the complexity, nor additional service requirements of such a system. Compliant suspension and lightly weighted power steering ensure that manoeuvring and making progress away from main roads is seldom less than a pleasant experience.

The enhanced specification ensures that most Grandland X drivers and their passengers will want for very little. Security and safety features are abundant, while driver assist programmes include both parallel and perpendicular parking services that relieve most of the frustrations related to parking-up, while the OnStar subscription service can also be used to locate available parking spaces. It is very convenient.

Conclusion:    The Grandland X is the second product to emerge (following the Crossland X) from the PSA ownership of Vauxhall. Fortunately, it is packed with enough Vauxhall components to separate the brands. As a well-equipped and practical family car, it has a valuable role to play in Vauxhall’s line-up of crossover models, although a 4×4 option is available only in the slightly more compact Mokka X, as neither Crossland, nor Grandland, are available with it.