That’s a criticism of the instruments of current UK and European government policy, though; and Vauxhall can’t really be blamed for designing a car for the current rules of the game, however misconceived they may be. Like several other manufacturers, it is introducing a plug-in hybrid compact SUV which could hardly be better configured to sell based on current market trends, tastes and influences. Much as it might make a problematic replacement for, say, a diesel-engined Insignia estate owned by a 30,000-mile-a-year photocopier sales rep then, the Grandland X Hybrid4 ought certainly to appeal to families who’ve long since switched the roles of the protagonists on their two-car driveways, and have a privately owned ‘family bus’ to be used and abused on errands great and small the week around, and a smaller, less traditional, more modern fleet option to compliment it.
Judged in that context, the Vauxhall’s slightly pokey second-row seating certainly seems less of a barrier to its success. It’s practical enough for smaller adults in the back at any rate, and has a reasonable-sized boot – although it isn’t the sort of car a family would ever consider taking on holiday.
The lack of the sort premium-brand appeal that you’ve a right to expect for the price remains a barrier, though, and a pretty sizable one at that; and while the car’s plain, dark and quite plasticky interior might be okay for the fleet market, it won’t endear it to private buyers any more than the price. The Grandland X’s infotaiment technology looks equally out of place at a premium-level price point as its perceived quality does.
The driving experience will have plenty more to recommend it to a fleet driver who’s swapped a pretty run-of-the-mill diesel-engined crossover hatchback for it than to a retail buyer who’s signed up to a surprisingly expensive PCP deal, but the good news is that the car has the refinement and drivability to make a strong first impression on anyone.
It starts on electric power by default except when the drive battery is flat and even if you’re using hybrid driving mode, and is driven primarily by its rearward, single-speed electric motor at low speeds. It feels responsive, smooth and powerful enough around town to come across, in many ways, just as a fully-fledged EV might. There’s a satisfying amount of urge that feels as if it’s just under your right foot; you rarely rouse the combustion engine unless you mean to; and there’s plenty of accessible speed available to you.
The slickness of the driving experience deteriorates somewhat as you leave town, though, as speeds increase and as you give the car’s chassis more to do. Here, the harmonisation of the car’s combustion engine and its electric motors leaves a bit to be desired; the former seems to answer slowly and reluctantly to big demands for power, and you end up with slightly odd, successive-stage responses to your right foot, with the piston engine and transmission needing a second or two longer to chime in with any urgency than the electric motors.
Drivability is not what it ought to be, needless to say, and the paddleshift manual mode for the transmission improves matters slightly, but can still feel slow and clunky. Although the car is certainly brisk both at full pace and feels very torquey from low speeds, then, it’s not blessed with the sort of powertrain you’ll stoke up too often for the fun of it. The engine doesn’t sound keen to work at high revs and isn’t particularly enticing in sport driving mode.
The Grandland X Hybrid4’s ride and handling both evidence the impact of the car’s 1.8-tonne kerbweight and its raised ride height. The car is tidy enough and dynamically competent at everyday speeds, but its body control is easily upset by vertical ridges and quick to shimmy laterally its axles are unevenly exercised.