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Vauxhall beats the pack to the plug-in crossover niche. How much does it stand to gain?

The Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid4 is, its maker claims, the company’s very first hybrid vehicle.

It’s an assertion that you can only consider true if you’re prepared to discount the ill-fated Vauxhall Ampera – a car that deserved greater commercial success than it got.

The car gets a 3.7kW on-board charger as standard via which it will charge in three and a half hours from a mains wallbox. A 7kW charger (a £500 option) cuts the charging time by half.

Whatever its significance, though, the electrified mid-sized crossover SUV that we’re putting under the scrutiny of the road test this week looks like an uncharacteristically well-timed new model for a brand that could do with a commercial win.

With the latest UK company car tax rules massively incentivising ultra low-carbon plug-in hybrid options, fleet operators countrywide are currently looking to replace petrol- and diesel-engined company cars with modern plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) that will allow them to maintain their operating budgets and also allow their employees to maximise the contents of their pay packets.

The Grandland X Hybrid4 is one of a gaggle of incoming fleet-special modern crossovers and compact SUVs that will allow exactly that. Moreover, it’s one of the very first to undertake an Autocar road test in a queue in which the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV must be acknowledged as first-comer – but where its sibling rivals from Peugeot and DS are both further back, as are alternatives from BMW, Toyota, Mercedes-Benz and Renault.

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What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Vauxhall Grandland X

DESIGN & STYLING

Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid4 2020 road test review - hero side

The Grandland X is the biggest of three X-suffixed Vauxhall crossover SUVs, its siblings being the Crossland and Mokka. It takes the PSA Group’s EMP2 platform as its basis, which it shares with cars as different as the Citroën Berlingo and Peugeot 508. It’s the Peugeot 3008 that the car is most closely related to, though, and also shares a production line with in Sochaux, eastern France.

There will, predictably enough, be a sibling 3008 Hybrid4 model to this, with both cars adopting the same petrol-electric powertrain. That powertrain consists primarily of a 197bhp 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine mounted crossways in the Grandland X’s nose, and two electric motors integrated in support of it, both of which produce just over 100 horsepower (a front-drive version of the car with one electric motor will arrive in due course).

Blade-like D-pillar, running up towards a contrasting roof, is quite striking – although more so, admittedly, in a light body colour.

The 111bhp motor on the rear axle drives those rear wheels directly, while the 108bhp one up front is sandwiched between the piston engine and eight-speed automatic gearbox and can act as a starter motor, current generator and drive provider when the need arises. Vauxhall quotes combined ‘total system output’ power as a very healthy-sounding 296bhp and peak torque as a faintly whopping 383lb ft.

This configuration of engine, gearbox and electric motors is very much like the four-wheel-drive hybrid options brought to us already by Toyota, Lexus, Mitsubishi, BMW and Volvo. It allows the space freed up by the deletion of a mechanical four-wheel drive system to be redeployed for battery storage, of which the Grandland X offers a ‘gross’ 13.2kWh from a pack of lithium ion cells.

Where other versions of the Grandland X combine strut-type front suspension with a ‘compound crank’ torsion beam rear suspension, this four-wheel-drive one adopts multilink rear suspension for the better wheel location it offers. Vauxhall’s kerb weight claim is 1800kg: hefty for any 4.5m car, but not so by the standards of other PHEV SUVs.

INTERIOR

Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid4 2020 road test review - cabin

The Grandland X could serve reasonably comfortably as transport for a family of four, but it’s really only averagely spacious by the standards of mid-sized crossover hatchbacks such as Nissan’s Nissan Qashqai. Viewed against the slightly larger SUVs that can be had for the same money – cars such as the Toyota RAV4 (a PHEV version of which is in the pipeline) and Outlander – it would represent a pretty clear compromise on outright practicality, providing scant more passenger space than a biggish five-door hatchback.

Boot volume, which is greater in other engine derivatives, tumbles to just under 400 litres in the case of the Hybrid4, which is again only what you might find in an average C-segment hatchback. Losing the car’s under-floor boot storage to make room for that new rear axle and electric motor assembly, just when it would have come in handy as a place to keep a potentially grimy charging cable, is also a shame.

PSA origins mean glovebox space on right-hand drive cars is halved to accommodate the fuse box.

And while outright space isn’t the greatest selling point for the car, the richness and style of the interior don’t do a great deal to recommend it, either. The primary mouldings are uniformly dark and quite plain and the majority are hard to the touch, causing the car to fall short of what private buyers used to spending £40,000 on a premium-branded option may be expecting. Fleet drivers trading out of mid-range hatchbacks may not object quite so much, but that doesn’t mean the shortcoming can be entirely excused.

Also, even our near-£50,000 top-of-the-range test car did without many of the technological frills you might expect for the money, such as fully digital and configurable instruments or a head-up display.

Still, a smallish colour display between the instruments, in tandem with the 8.0in central infotainment system, allows you to manage the car’s various drive modes and power management settings fairly easily.

Drive modes are selected via a toggle switch adjacent to the gear selector, which might have been relocated to the right-hand side of the centre console for better accessibility for right-hand drive, but which, like much else remaining in PSA Group cars even today, still isn’t.

Grandland X infotainment and sat-nav

Vauxhall’s Grandland X Hybrid4 has an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system as standard with a connected navigation system that offers live traffic updates. You get smartphone mirroring for Apple and Android phones as standard, too, although some functionality – a DAB radio and a parking camera, for example – is fitted to upper trim levels only.

The screen is a bit small compared with the kind featuring on premium-brand offerings, but if you prefer to use your smartphone for in-car entertainment, the lack of display real estate shouldn’t concern you. There’s a row of physical shortcut menu buttons and a fixed volume knob, both of which improve usability, and although the graphics are a little plain and ordinary, responsiveness is decent and mapping is pretty clear and easy to configure.

The audio quality in our top-spec Ultimate Nav test car was fairly strong, although it did have a premium audio system that lower-order models don’t get.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid4 2020 road test review - engine

Although it’s fast in outright terms and can also be pleasingly brisk when picking up from low speeds in high gears, the Grandland X Hybrid4 is at its best in everyday contexts such as when simply punting around town or through heavy traffic. At those moments, it’s responsive, refined, drivable and very agreeable – but the more you ask of it, the less assured and convincing the powertrain seems.

You can believe, for a start, that Vauxhall’s 5.9sec 0-60mph claim for standing-start acceleration is accurate. Selecting Sport keeps the combustion engine running all of the time and lets you tap into all three sources of drive power from rest. It doesn’t launch from standing with particularly surprising urgency but finds plenty of strength within a matter of a few yards and thus the car’s driving experience is lifted, if only fleetingly and in one sense, out of the ordinary.

The car could stand to be 10-20% slower if that helped to make it 50% slicker to operate.

Unlike in some hybrids, whether you’re in a hurry or not, you do feel the gearchanges of the eight-speed transmission when they come; and if you want the most complete kind of dominion over what’s going on, you’ll want to use the gearbox’s paddle-shift manual mode, which delivers its gearchanges a little ponderously but does at least allow you to choose, somewhat approximately but effectively enough, how and when they come.

However, it’s regrettable that if you want a quicker turn of speed and simply leave the gearbox to shift by itself, it can feel clumsy and confused, taking quite a long time to respond fully to big pedal inputs, even though the electric motors answer smaller requests more quickly.

Brake pedal progression and feel are, like much else, adequate for simply mooching about at everyday speeds but don’t allow for the close, precise control and reassuring predictability you’d want in a performance car.

RIDE & HANDLING

Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid4 2020 road test review - cornering front

The chassis and suspension cope adequately well with the extra demands placed on them by the heavy hybrid powertrain and its four-wheel-drive layout. The car’s mass is probably a slightly less obstructive barrier to the palatability of the driving experience, then, than the apparent complexity of the propulsion system is to the enjoyment of it. But this Vauxhall is still a long way short of where it would need to be, in terms of handling precision, body control and all-round dynamic deportment, to convince as a driver’s car even of the vaguest kind.

A light, medium-paced steering rack does at least cover for the car’s sheer heft, and it effectively filters out most of the traction forces that impact, at various unpredictable times, on the front axle. The car’s springing feels medium firm and makes for a ride that’s comfortable enough, albeit slightly stiff-legged, around town, getting noisier and more fidgety on the motorway but neither objectionably so.

Fleet drivers may be one thing – but as a private buyer with a £45,000 budget, there’s absolutely no way I’d be happy with the cabin quality, on-board technology or passenger space on offer here.

Lateral body control remains adequate in outright terms as you pick up speed on a country road, but the way the car tackles both faster sweeping bends and tighter corners makes you very aware that it has a high centre of gravity and plenty of weight carried outside of its wheelbase. It rolls quite suddenly and a little alarmingly onto its outside wheels (albeit not to any lurid angle) and then leans on its traction control like a crutch as you try to accelerate away from the apex.

Both tendencies make it clear that more could have been done to prepare this car for the extra weight and speed that come associated with its powertrain – and neither honestly inspires you to maintain an enthusiastic pace once you’ve experimented with one.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid4 2020 road test review - hero front

We know by now to treat the 204mpg real-world economy claim made for the Grandland X Hybrid4 with plenty of circumspection, because how much fossil fuel these PHEV options use depends much more on how they’re used, how far they’re driven and how often they’re charged from the mains than how they are configured.

This is a car that could certainly better day-to-day 100mpg for someone with a short commute and the ability to charge both at home and at the office. The car has a 35-mile WLTP-claimed zero-emissions range, which in our test experience turned out to be more like 25 miles in mixed real-world use. On a longer run, after the drive battery is depleted, it will cover motorway distance returning only about 35mpg, though, which is less economical than some of its rivals.

There’s definitely a ‘basic hygiene’ long-distance fuel economy return for a plug-in hybrid like this, applicable after the battery’s flat, and I wonder if 35mpg may be below it.

Our test car’s £46,650 list price does make it look expensive, but it’s critical to note that, as a fleet car, to fleet operators and company car drivers and at a more modest trim level, the Grandland X Hybrid4 is actually pretty decent value. In Business Edition trim and over a typical fleet ownership period, its total ‘whole life’ cost to both fleet operator and driver would be £2000 less than the equivalent BMW X1 PHEV, nearly £6000 less than the equivalent Volvo XC40 Recharge and £9000 less than for an Outlander PHEV.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Vauxhall Grandland X

VERDICT

Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid4 2020 road test review - static front

The Vauxhall Grandland X Hybrid4 may well turn out to be its own worst enemy in so many ways. Its 200mpg billing is likely to be matched by only a very small minority of owners; the performance of its near-300-horsepower powertrain is a deal more alluring in prospect than in practice; and its SUV-aping profile is suggestive of practicality and versatility that the car struggles to deliver.

But this is also an ultra-modern, low-emissions fleet car with plenty of on-paper appeal to company car drivers and it would be unfair to pronounce on it in trumped-up, pseudo-performance terms. Most owners adopting one in replacement of a mid-range diesel Nissan Qashqai or Seat Ateca ought to be pretty happy with its dynamic competence in most driving situations and also, broadly, with what happens when you dig into the right-hand pedal.

Inspires big expectations, delivers few; but interesting fleet option

It may be regrettable that the car’s dynamic execution wasn’t really carried out with keener drivers in mind but, for us, it’s the lack of careful polish about the car’s drivability that leaves the more lasting aftertaste. It wouldn’t drain all of the appeal out of an interesting, if imperfect, company car, but it would certainly disappoint at times.

What Car? New car buyer marketplace - Vauxhall Grandland X

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.