If Vauxhall has an issue it is that, far more often than not, it has been too keen to go with the popular flow. Instead of blazing a trail itself, it’s been happy simply putting its own take on concepts and classes that already exist.
Rarely, if ever, does a Vauxhall place you at the cutting edge of engineering endeavour, bringing you cars that do things that, in their category, have never been done before. And the only problem with this is that making your cars really stand out on grounds other than financial can be resultantly quite tricky.
This new Grandland X is just such an example. It brings Vauxhall to the mid-sized crossover SUV class fully ten years after the Nissan Qashqai turned it into a core category. It sits on the same platform as the Peugeot 3008 thanks to a joint venture agreed long before Peugeot’s PSA parent bought Vauxhall and Opel, is powered by PSA engines and is built, you guessed it, in a PSA factory in France.
Looking beyond the Grandland X’s origins
Actually, Vauxhall has done very well to disguise the Grandland’s origins. It may not look as distinctive as the 3008, but its lines are well proportioned, inoffensive and cleaner than most in this class.
Some may find grating the way the car’s stance, brightwork and cladding hint at an adventuring, off-road capability the car absolutely does not have – there is not even an all-wheel drive model and nor does Vauxhall talk of one to come – but it’s a game played to some extent or another by all its rivals and it is the Vauxhall way to join in.
As for trim levels, there are four to choose from – SE, Tech Line Nav, Sport Nav and Elite Nav.
SE models get 17in alloy wheels, auto lights and wipers, front foglights, lane departure warning and rear parking sensors as standard. Inside there is dual-zone climate control, cruise control and Vauxhall’s IntelliLink infotainment system complete with a 7.0in touchscreen system, OnStar assistance and concierge, DAB radio, Bluetooth and USB connectivity.
Tech Line Nav models get 18in alloys, a powered tailgate, front parking sensors, keyless entry and start, flexible boot floor, ambient lighting, sat nav and an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system. It also comes with Vauxhall’s Safety Pack, which includes blind spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking and forward collision alert.
Upgrade to Sport Nav and the Grandland X gains sportier details, such as alloy-effect front and rear skid plates, and 18in alloy wheels. Topping the range is the Elite Nav model which gets adaptive LED headlights, 19in alloy wheels, a 360-degree camera system, front heated sports seats, a leather upholstery and an electrically adjustable driver’s seat.
Inside, the Peugeot’s flawed but funky i-Cockpit has been replaced by something altogether more sober and Astra-esque. In here and obligatory raised driving position aside, there is nothing to suggest you’re in any kind of SUV at all.
Its proportions continue to follow the class norm. I’d say its boot was perhaps a little larger than average and rear room maybe a touch tighter than the norm, but no one shopping in this class will find one a game changer any more than they will the other a deal breaker. Here, as is in so many other areas, it’s there or thereabouts.
That said, the car feels very solid and the choice of interior materials is determinedly plush so long as you don’t spend too much time scratching and prodding around below your natural eye line. It’s also conspicuously well equipped with a full suite of active safety measures including lane departure and driver drowsiness warnings, plus forward collision, pedestrian protection and autonomous braking features. When you’re not avoiding an accident, there’s Vauxhall’s OnStar concierge service, Apple and Android players and an eight-inch colour touchscreen for your children to cover in grubby paw prints.
Right now, there are just two engines from which to choose, each with a single power output, though Vauxhall is already making noises about a more powerful diesel. For now, your choice is a 1.2-litre three-cylinder petrol motor turbo-boosted to 128bhp, or a 1.6-litre diesel with ten fewer horses but a slug more torque and, on paper, far better fuel consumption and commensurately lower emissions. Model for model, the diesel is £1355 more expensive to buy.
Testing the Grandland X’s overall composure
Lay no great demands on the 1.2 and all will be well in your Grandland, and given that’s how we imagine the vast majority will be driven for the vast majority of the time, it is a relevant comment to make. The interior functions predictably, as does Vauxhall’s touchscreen, once a little time has been invested learning its ways. The driving position is sound, the seats quite excellent, all round visibility every bit as good as you might hope.
Moreover, the little motor is very quiet and what noises it does make are entirely easy on the ear. Families who load up their Grandlands and head off on holiday can do so with confidence that their wheels will be safe, comfortable, dependable and in all ways an easy thing with which to live.
Is that enough? Even for a car in this most underachieving of categories, we don’t think so especially for an audience such as that reading this. And the problem is that the moment you ask the Grandland if you might have some more, you suddenly find yourself playing Twist to its Bumble.
To be clear, we are not talking about scraping paint off the door handles here. But if you even want to extend the engine into the upper reaches of the rev range or simply change gear a little quicker, the Grandland will not be shy about showing its disapproval. The motor’s sluggish throttle response reveals the limitations of having such a small, relatively highly tuned engine in so large a car, and the age it takes for the revs to fall when you lift off the accelerator renders fast, smooth shifting of the unlovely six-speed manual gearbox almost impossible.
I am hesitant about being too critical of the Grandland’s ride because the test car was a left-hand drive Opel (with a Vauxhall grille affixed to its front), which places the driver above the gutter with predictably deleterious effects on perceived comfort - but, like the rest of the car’s dynamics, it seems good enough until presented with a proper challenge, which come with inconvenient frequency on British back roads.
Its handling is easier to judge. Without one mote of enthusiasm it does what it’s asked until it can do so no longer, at which stage it relies on the electronics to save you from yourself. The steering is largely devoid of feel, though surprisingly direct and commendably accurate in normal use. This, however, cannot disguise the essential truth that anyone hoping for a properly rewarding driving experience in a mid-sized crossover should get themselves without delay behind the wheel of an Ateca, because they won’t find it here.
The Grandland X – a worthy investment?
To be clear, for those not looking to place any great dynamic demands on their crossover – and they will be in the majority – the Grandland X offers a secure, quiet, well-built and comprehensively equipped space in which to travel. For many, that will be enough.
For us, however, this is a Vauxhall that, above all, fails to rise above the increasingly crowded market into which it now belatedly seeks to insinuate itself. And, yes, we have been here before. All cars must contain at least one reason why they make more sense to a certain sort of person than any other on the market, a distinguishing factor to make it stand out, and in this re-skinned Peugeot 3008, it is hard to see.
Perhaps some of its connectivity solutions will tip the balance, or maybe those who like the idea of the 3008 but find the reality a little too wacky will seek solace in its arms. But we find that the Grandland, while entirely inoffensive, comes to the party not only late but with too little.