In the year when Vauxhall was consumed by its French rival PSA Peugeot Citroën, it produces two of its best cars in ages.
While the dinky Adam and the Viva seem to have missed the mark with buyers, the new Insignia Grand Sport and the Grandland X arrive with superb styling which could lift Vauxhall half a rung higher in aspirations.
Selling is now the problem. Vauxhall sales this year dropped by a fifth in the first nine months, with a fall of a quarter in September. It’s not alone but is well beyond the industry average 3.9 per cent fall for the nine months and 9.3 per cent for September.
News that the Ellesmere Port Astra factory is cutting 400 jobs and moving to a single shift next year shows that PSA is not sitting on its hands. It is blaming uncertainty over Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union for falling sales. Others point out that PSA has to reduce costs to make the purchase of Vauxhall and its German partner, Opel, viable.
Toyota, Seat, Nissan, Kia, Hyundai and Volkswagen, which are in the same market sector as Vauxhall, have seen sales increase this year. It is a mixed picture. Others, like Ford, Fiat and – tellingly – Citroën and Peugeot, have lost sales.
It’s into this uncertainty that Vauxhall brings out the Grandland X, a mid-size SUV, based on the mechanicals of a Peugeot 3008 and built in eastern France by Peugeot alongside the 3008. The pair were a joint project before PSA’s takeover of Vauxhall and Opel from GM (aka General Motors). Another joint project is the Vauxhall Crossland X and Citroën C3 Aircross, built at a GM factory in Saragossa, Spain. Once again, PSA provides the underpinnings and mechanicals, retuned by Vauxhall Opel.
The Grandland X name suggests some all-road ability and this is achieved using Peugeot’s Grip Control front-wheel-drive traction device, called IntelliGrip by Vauxhall. It monitors wheel slippage and helps the car maintain traction on slippery surfaces, aided by special all-weather tyres – which play a major part in this extra grip. You can specify these tyres or something similar on any car.
The Grandland X ride height is not raised but you do get a front skid pan and protectors along the lower edge and wheel arches. There’s a choice of Peugeot running gear – currently a 1.2 130ps petrol or a 1.6 120ps diesel, either with manual or automatic gears. Other engines arrive next year.
Grandland X gives Vauxhall a trio of smaller SUV-type cars: in size these are the Crossland X, the Mokka X and the Grandland X. The Mokka X is the only one offered with pukka 4x4 traction and is often a Top Ten seller in Britain.
This SUV/Crossover design is the booming sector, giving drivers something other than a regular saloon or hatch without the looming bulk and cost of a real 4x4 which most owners don’t really need. Peugeot and Citroën are both wading in. The chubby C3 Aircross is here soon, with a simultaneous debut in China for the larger C5 Aircross – which will be with us later next year.
The Grandland looks nothing like its Peugeot twin.
Richard Shaw, head of design at Opel Vauxhall, has created a stunning shape, good enough to carry a prestige German badge. Richard is a graduate from Coventry University’s vehicle design course, now working at Opel HQ in Germany. He was aiming at a “dynamic, robust, sporting” shape. Inside the rear seats are higher to improve the view forwards.
The PR input is that it looks robust and rugged. Make your own mind up on that. I think they are unnecessarily beefing up its image. It looks elegant. The kindred Peugeot is the one that looks rugged.
Vauxhall Opel fits out the car to its own plans, so there’s a conventional instrument display instead of the high-level Peugeot display. It also re-tunes the suspension. This can be a Vauxhall strength (eg Astra, Insignia) but on these X models it’s a dog’s dinner. The Mokka has had several revisions in its short life and is still not brilliant. The Grandland wallows and pitches. You’ll probably get used to it. Prices open at £22,310 and deliveries start in December. Add £500 for IntelliGrip with 18-inch wheels and specific tyres. On test the 130ps petrol model averaged 40mpg.
And so to the second beauty, the Country Tourer version of the Insignia Grand Sport (which replaced the Insignia this year). It is a lovely, graceful development of the estate.
The core is a toughened exterior protected by front and rear skid plates and lower external cladding on a 25mm raised chassis with one engine at launch, a 170ps 2-litre diesel with manual or eight-speed automatic gears. A 210ps twin turbo diesel follows next year. Petrol engines are not in the plan, says Vauxhall. A 4x4 system is offered with manual gears. At five metres (197 inches) it is 18 inches longer than the Grandland.
Unlike the Grandland, which has numerous rivals, the only class contenders for the Cross Country are the VW Passat Alltrack, the powerful Audi A6 Allroad or the shorter Audi A4 Allroad, respectively priced from £32,000, £37,800 and £47,480.
The Vauxhall is much cheaper, from £25,635 with front wheel drive or £27,235 with 4x4 traction. It’s a nicer drive than the Grandland. Deliveries are starting now, with the 210ps model here in December.
On test the 170ps two-wheel-drive version recorded 43mpg.
Verdict: A pair of fine contenders from Vauxhall.