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A friend of mine bought a new car a few months ago, and says that even now just getting back into it after a tough day at the office is enough to lift her spirits. Unfortunately, this is not something I can say about our Grandland X.
It is not that the interior is nasty at all - considering we are testing the cheapest, fleet-focused Tech Line Nav equipment grade the quality of the materials used is perfectly fine. But it does look rather dull. The colours used are a blend of blacks and mostly greys, and even where the designers have tried to inject some interest with swooping plastic trim on the doors and around the central touchscreen this is only finished in a slightly lighter shade than the trim surrounding it, meaning you are left with a grey-on-grey effect that is not likely to be a top fashion trend any time soon.
Things get a bit better after dark when tasteful ambient lighting picks out lines on the inside of the doors, but overall it is not exactly an environment to bring much joy to a driver.
At least the aforementioned touchscreen is good. OK, there are no physical shortcut buttons or rotary controls, meaning you have to glance away from the road to operate it, but it is highly responsive to touches, meaning it is very rare you have to press things more than once before it will register (unlike with some other systems). And although the sat-nav it comes with is, disappointingly, far less responsive when it comes to picking up and avoiding traffic jams, standard Apple Carplay and Android Auto connectivity means it is easy to substitute more effective smartphone navigation instead.
During the first few months I was running our Grandland X, my schedule didn't feature too many of the long-distance motorway runs my cars normally become accustomed to. However, that changed recently, when I had to travel from my home in Kent to Cheshire for a car launch, followed by a trip to visit family in Devon - a total of around 900 miles in five days, mostly at 70mph (although not as much as I would like due to mile-after-mile of 50mph average speed roadworks currently afflicting the M1 and M6). Therefore, I now feel well placed to pass verdict on the Grandland X as a long-distance mile-muncher.
First observation: the 130hp diesel engine was fine, most of the time. I had been worried that having it instead of the range-topping 177hp diesel might leave our Grandland X down on power, but the only effect of this is that when caught behind a lorry or other slow-moving traffic, before pulling out to overtake I often have to change down a gear to get back up to 70mph without delaying cars approaching behind.
But as long as I remember to do this it is no great hardship, and once at 70 it has enough grunt to sit in top gear all day without any issues. The engine is quiet too, contributing to impresive overall cruising refinement, with a comfortable ride and seats that carried me for hours on end without any aches or pains to report. The only other niggle is the cruise control, which for some reason has an annoying habit of sitting at 69 when it has been set to 70.
Efficiency? Well, I only had to refuel once, with around a tank-and-a-half of diesel used overall, which I greatly appreciated after previously facing frequent trips to the pumps with petrol long-termers. And calculations showed fuel economy of 66.7mpg for the trip - a pretty impressive figure. Put it all together, and for long motorway slogs the Grandland X gets a thumbs up.
With recent weeks producing unseasonably warm weather, I imagine I wasn't alone in retrieving my bicycle from its winter hibernation earlier than planned. Unfortunately, there is not much good riding to be had outside my front door, so to get away from the busy town centre to more appealing countryside trails, using the car makes sense. But since I don't have a cycle rack, the bike needs to go in the boot.
Experts advise that when carrying a bicycle in a car you should take at least the front wheel off, but if, like me, the quick-release levers on your 15-year-old bike are in such a bad way they literally can't be refastened without hitting them with a hammer, this isn't really an option. Happily, though, the Grandland X has me covered - fold the back seats down and there is enough room to take the bike with all the wheels in place. It is a quick job too - a couple of buttons drop the back seats easily and they fold flat, making the loading operation itself a doddle. The parcel shelf has to be shifted too, but there is room to store this behind the front seats.
For those whose leisure pursuits are chillier than mine, our Grandland X also comes with a ski flap as part of the standard Versatility Pack, allowing long items to be loaded through the rear centre armrest area without folding down the seats either side (also potentially useful when shopping for things like DIY and gardening supplies).
It is easy to get into the boot as well, thanks to the powered tailgate. It is a feature of modern cars that can divide opinion, with some resenting having to stand and wait while the electric motors do their thing, but for me, the option to blip it open with the key remote while approaching so it is ready to load when I get there is a time-saver that doesn't get old.
The only snag is that while this was standard when our car was ordered, it is now an option bundled with keyless entry and start for £710 in total, which seems a bit steep for the sake of a minor convenience.
Some carmakers have had more success than others responding to the SUV boom that has transformed the industry during the past decade or so. For Vauxhall, it has been a bit of a mixed bag. It achieved success with its supermini-sized Mokka X, which has made regular appearances in the UK top ten bestsellers list, but it took a long time to respond properly with the all-conquering Nissan Qashqai when it came to providing a larger vehicle for families.
It eventually addressed this by teaming up with Peugeot - a deal agreed before the two brands became fully united with PSA Group's takeover of Vauxhall - and using the underpinnings of its 3008 to create the Grandland X (the smaller 2008 and Crossland X are similarly related). Now, we are running one for six months to see whether, for company car drivers, it is a case of 'worth the wait' or 'too little too late'.
I am particularly interested to run the Grandland X having reviewed the model for Business Car when it was launched. Commenting on the model I drove then, I was impressed by its gutsy 2.0-litre, 177hp diesel engine, but felt that at nearly £34,000 the asking price of the range-topping Ultimate equipment grade was far too high. With that in mind, looking at the spec of our car, there is good news and bad news. The positive is that in Tech Line Nav grade - a fleet-focused spec that is actually cheaper to buy than the entry-level SE, but with extra equipment at the expense of offers aimed at private buyers - the cost before options of this car is far more reasonable at less than £25k. On the negative side, instead of the 177hp engine, this car has a 1.5-litre 130hp diesel. This engine joined the range a few months ago, replacing a 120hp unit I had also previously driven and found a bit sluggish, so I'm hoping at least for an improvement on that score. The obvious appeal of the 1.5-litre over the 2.0-litre should be in running costs, and indeed its official combined fuel economy and CO2 emissions figures are better by 9.6mpg and 18g/km respectively, the latter meaning the smaller-engined car sits three BIK bands lower. I will be interested to see how close I can get to that economy figure, and whether drivers may resent sacrificing the power of the larger motor to pursue those savings. With long motorway slogs to car launches and fleet industry events an ever-present part of life on the Business Car fleet, there'll be no hiding place for the Grandland X on that score.
If that reads like a forbidding assessment, rest assured that a glance at our car's spec sheet reveals cause for optimism. In line with the Tech Line Nav grade's company car aspirations, there is all the standard kit that a business driver could reasonably expect, including climate control, cruise control, and an 8in touchscreen with sat-nav and smartphone connectivity. Any fears about manoeuvring an SUV (especially after the Mini I ran previously) are assuaged by front and rear parking sensors and a reversing camera (the latter fitted with the Park and Go Pack Two, the only cost option on our Grandland X besides metallic paint). Safety systems include autonomous emergency braking, driver drowsiness alert, lane assist, lane departure warning, and a personal favourite, blind spot alert, which I always find especially useful when driving home from the office on busy, gloomy motorways. Other impressive features at first glance include the spacious 514-litre boot, with neat electronic tailgate, and the interior trim, which includes a good amount of leather and other soft-touch materials, despite the Tech Line Nav's low price point. On the minus side, I haven't been immediately wowed by the exterior styling - it looks a little dumpy to me, putting me almost as much in mind of an MPV as a rough-and-tumble off-roader.
And on that last note, one thing the Grandland X probably won't be offering is any special aptitude for inclement weather. Of course it's not unusual for crossover SUVs of this type to do without four-wheel drive, but our car also comes without Intelligrip, the multi-surface traction control system Vauxhall offers as a substitute. Having taken delivery in the depths of winter, I'm hoping this isn't an omission I might come to regret.