The SUV Explosion

It’s hard to realise that the first SUV as we now know it was the Nissan Qashqai, launched way back in 2006 …

Almost certainly, Nissan took something of a gamble when they launched their first SUV on to the market. The model effectively replaced their Primera and Almera models, sitting somewhere in between the two in terms of size. At the time, the car market was primarily still dominated by the traditional hatchback, saloon and estate although the so-called people carrier, more correctly known as a Multi Purpose Vehicle (MPV), was making inroads. Eleven years later, and the SUV is now accounting for about 25% of total new car sales throughout most of Europe, with the Qashqai still very much in demand.

In the last two to three years, there has been a plethora of new SUV models launched by mainstream manufacturers. Things have now started to become silly with prestige marques such as Bentley offering an extremely ungainly Bentayga SUV with rumours of a smaller model to follow. Rolls Royce will be launching a competitor to the Bentley and Jaguar has launched two SUV models recently with a range-topper planned before 2020. Believe it or not Lamborghini are also rumoured to be entering the fray! Seeing as the basic purpose of a Sport Utility Vehicle is some off-road capability, it is highly unlikely that owners of such prestige models would ever take them off the main highway for fear of causing damage.

Manufacturers such as Audi and BMW already offer a full SUV model range catering for all segments of the market. Other mainstream manufacturers have more limited ranges but are quickly catching up as they all want a slice of the action. One such new model which will appear on roads in early 2018 is the newly-launched Volkswagen T-Roc and something of a variant from the design normally offered by this company. In appearance, it does have similarities to the Q2 from its sister company Audi, so in keeping with my penchant for models from the VW Group, this blog is going to compare the two vehicles.

For those in the know, Volkswagen already offer two SUVs in their model line-up, namely the Tiguan and the upmarket Touareg. Depending upon which motoring press you read, the Tiguan is described as both a medium and small model when compared with SUVs from other manufacturers. The same can be said of other makes too so the marketplace becomes rather confusing to the buyer of such models. Personally, I think it’s fair to describe the Tiguan as a medium-sized model, especially in light of the new T-Roc but doubts may well arise in the foreseeable future if a rumoured SUV based on the VW Polo sees the light of day. However one chooses to look at things, there is no doubt whatsoever that most vehicle manufacturers now want to cover every segment of the market with SUV derivatives of their model ranges. When I was growing up, most car makers offered four or five different models at most so it was relatively easy to make a choice. Today, selecting the right vehicle at the right price is bamboozling to say the least!

Looking at the T-Roc, it’s obvious that VW are deviating from their generic style. The car is somewhat avant-garde in appearance although nothing like the questionable styling cues of the Nissan Juke or Toyota C-HR, both of which are direct competitors. The T-Roc embraces new design emotion for the brand sporting a more aggressive stance, offering many personalisation options and shares its wheelbase and VW Group modular MQB platform with the Audi Q2. As its appearance suggests, the T-Roc is a fun car to drive with responsive, reactionary steering and precision road holding. It will be offered with a popular range of engines in due course although the precise selection of units will depend upon the country in which the car is sourced. Trim levels will also vary but there should be sufficient options to meet the demands of most buyers. Subject to availability, it is envisaged that the new 1.5 150PS petrol engine will be pick of the bunch especially as diesel engines are fast losing popularity but the proven 1.6 115PS and 2.0 150PS diesels will be offered.

The sporty-looking body will be offered in eleven colours and four contrasting roof colours as part of the personalisation options. Some of the exterior colours can be carried across to the interior dashboard and seat trimmings adding a little pizzazz to proceedings. The infotainment system is dominated by an 8 inch touch sensitive display featuring Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth, DAB radio and USB connectivity. Satellite navigation will be included in higher spec models. As is to be expected from VW Group cars, everything is extremely well put together and overall exudes an element of quality. However, a surprising factor is the hard plastic used across the top of the dashboard which also resonates when tapped. This is one negative aspect of the vehicle and it seems strange that VW should try and cut costs in what is hardly a budget level model.

The T-Roc is of a similar size to the VW Golf, albeit slightly wider and higher, but offers more interior space. The raised seating position offers excellent all round visibility plus there is increased headroom for driver and up to four passengers. With 445 litres of luggage space, this far exceeds the Golf and the square shape of the boot with its level lip makes loading easy. Rear seats are configured 60:40 for practicality and convenience. Overall, it’s another vehicle that will serve a typical family well but with premium prices above the Golf and other competitors, it remains to be seen whether it will lose to its sister cars or gain from competitors.

Cue the Audi Q2 if you’ll pardon the pun. In my eyes, the Audi, which has been on the market for over a year, is the car on which the T-Roc has been modelled as there are numerous design similarities. This is currently the smallest SUV from the Audi stable but offered at a premium price for its size, and for the same money, one could buy a larger SEAT Ateca, Skoda Karoq or Nissan Qashqai. The Q2 shares the same MQB platform on which the A3, Golf, Leon and Octavia are built. This gives the car good roadholding characteristics although the suspension settings mean the ride is somewhat firmer than the A3 hatchback. Engine wise, expect to find the 1.0 115PS petrol and other engines that feature in the T-Roc, subject to individual country specifications.

The dashboard will be familiar to A3 aficionados but that is no bad thing as Audi has a reputation for first class build quality giving an air of opulence. Colour customisation strips to the dashboard are also available. Infotainment is by means of a smaller 7 inch display with Bluetooth, USB, DAB radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. Higher spec models also come equipped with sat nav. Unlike the T-Roc, the upper dashboard is finished in soft material which adds to the premium feel. Front head and legroom are perfectly adequate but the sloping roofline and rear seat layout mean conditions are cramped for taller passengers. The rear seats have a 60:40 split and the boot is relatively square and lacking a load lip as in the T-Roc. The model is being offered in twelve exterior colours plus

Prices for the base Q2 start at around €22250 (£20230) to €33670 (£30610) for the S-line model. Strangely, the T-Roc has a slightly higher starting price of circa €22470 (£20425), no doubt representing better basic spec, rising to €34630 (£31480) for a sport derivative. If a small SUV is your cup of tea, there is now an array of options available, but between these two very similar products, I would opt for the T-Roc as it has the edge on design and looks more SUV-like than the Audi..

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Škoda Wins Once Again

There can be little doubt that SUV’s are becoming increasingly popular on European roads with a host of new models coming on to the market.

Last year, Škoda launched the first of a new generation of SUV called the Kodiaq. This has been admired by motoring journalists for its space, practicality, value and no-nonsense approach to motoring. It is the second SUV in the Škoda model line-up, as the manufacturer has been producing the Yeti for over eight years. The Yeti has stood out from competitors for its rather quirky, rugged, Tonka-toy looks, but offering more space and perceived value than rivals. However, after a facelift four years ago, the model is being replaced in late 2017 and will no longer bear the Yeti name. Queue the Karoq …

This new model aligns itself with its larger sibling, the Kodiaq, and signals the latest design approach by Škoda. The SUV will be both longer and wider than the vehicle it replaces, and also have a more conventional appearance that may disappoint some diehard Yeti fans. Its length is increased by 160mm to 4382mm and its width by 48mm. To give the vehicle a rugged look, lower bumpers and side panels are clad in black plastic. This will, of course, help protect body panels should one decide to take the vehicle off-road! Mechanically, the vehicle will feature current TSi petrol and TDi diesel engines from the current VW Group stable and some models will offer the option of 4-wheel drive. According to the motoring press, the Karoq appears to suffer from less body roll than the Yeti and is surefooted with responsive steering, and benefits from a 58mm longer wheelbase.

Interior accommodation is first class as has come to be expected from the latest range of Škoda models. There will be the usual ‘Simply Clever’ features including practical door bins and other useful storage places. Rear head and legroom are not compromised despite the sloping roof line, and as an option, buyers can specify a VarioFlex rear seating arrangement whereby all three rear seats are separate. These can be configured individually and the middle seat removed completely to enable the outer seats to slide inwards by 150mm to increase shoulder room. Boot capacity with a standard rear seat configuration is an impressive 521 litres, increasing to 1630 litres with the 60:40 seats folded. With the VarioFlex system, basic space ranges from 479 to 588 litres, with a total 1810 litres with all the rear seats removed.

A 9.2 inch high resolution touchscreen infotainment system dominates the dashboard and comes with gesture control meaning that one can navigate menus with a wave of the hand. A 12.3 inch full digital instrument display will be offered which is similar to those available on some VW and Audi models, but will be customised for the Škoda brand. Of course, this display won’t be a standard offering, but one of many fairly costly options. Besides the current 1.6 and 2.0 TDi diesel engines in different power outputs, the Karoq will be offered with the relatively new 113PS 1.0-litre three-cylinder or a completely new 148PS 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder, which has just launched in the facelifted VW Golf. This 1.5-litre petrol engine is equipped with Active Cylinder Technology that shuts down two of the four cylinders at low speed and aids overall fuel consumption.

The Karoq will offer excellent passenger and luggage space with a simple, clean interior layout that will appeal to many buyers. Whilst it has to exceed the expectations of the Yeti within a more mainstream package, it has the pedigree to do so given advances in technology, design and practicality. Prices are still to be confirmed but it’s unlikely that Škoda will want to deviate far from the Yeti’s current starting price of £17700 (€20200). This model has every chance of becoming a best-seller at the expense of competitors’ offerings.

Finally, some readers may be asking the question: where have I seen the Karoq before? Technically, you haven’t although it does share the same platform and many body panels with its sister car, the highly-acclaimed SEAT Ateca, as shown above. In a time of rising development costs and the necessity to adopt economies of scale, it was to be expected that certain models would bear close resemblance to each other. However, each model has sufficient design and styling tweaks to differentiate them as well as completely different interiors meaning there is still real choice for the consumer. Just as Škoda is sharing the SEAT Ateca body, the same will apply when SEAT introduces a larger SUV akin to the Kodiaq!

The Rise Of SUVs And Crossovers

The last few years have seen a dramatic rise in the number of SUVs on our roads …

Sports Utility Vehicles, more commonly known as SUVs, are now a very familiar sight on the world’s roads. From humble beginnings in the hands of one or two manufacturers, almost all main carmakers now offer at least one SUV in their range. Many companies now make SUVs in all their model segments meaning that the buyer can choose according to size as well as budget.

So what exactly is a SUV? It’s a vehicle designed to carry passengers in a traditional front and back seat configuration, whilst also providing increased luggage capacity. The vehicle sits higher above the road affording both driver and passengers greater all round visibility. Some of the larger, upmarket models offer various seat configurations to either preference passenger-carrying or luggage holding. Vehicles may be adorned with more rugged outdoor embellishments and also offer the option of four wheel drive. Early models were very much of a traditional box design and based upon light commercial vehicle chassis but nowadays, most models are closely based on their related car brethren and often described as crossovers.

It will come as little surprise, therefore, that the modern day SUV and crossover is far more than a utility vehicle. One of their main attractions is their increased ground clearance for on and off-road ability, although few people are likely to avail themselves of the latter. They have fast become something of a status symbol as they command greater road presence whilst still retaining the styling cues of a traditional car. Manufactures such as BMW and Audi offer an almost complete range of SUV models to meet the needs of most buyers whilst others provide a more limited choice or are only just entering what has become a very lucrative market.

A complete newcomer to the marketplace is SEAT who have just launched their first SUV to be called the Ateca. This will be a direct competitor to the revised Volkswagen Tiguan from their sister company. Currently, Škoda only make the Yeti which has been a success for the company but is now showing its age. In a few months time, Škoda will be unveiling their new model, the Kodiaq, which will sit at the upper end of the model spectrum both in size and price. A new Yeti is due within about eighteen months plus a small SUV based upon the Fabia. As their only existing SUV does not directly compete, this article is comparing the SEAT Ateca and VW Tiguan as both share the same MQB platform architecture.

As one would expect from SEAT, the new Ateca offers Spanish design flair. The car is derived from the current Leon, a model that is undoubtedly one of the best looking hatchbacks on the road. Delays in this car seeing the light of day mean that the company has been able to study the competition and, hopefully, get the product right from launch. First and foremost, the entry level model undercuts almost everything else on the market, and even the top specification models undercut the likes of the Renault Kadjar and Kia Sportage. Modifications to the proven VW 1.4TSI petrol engine enable two cylinders to shut down when driving at lower speeds although this is undetectable by the driver. The dashboard closely resembled that of the Leon, albeit with some improvements, one of which is an increased infotainment display. In SE trim, the car boasts 17″ alloy wheels, climate control air conditioning, rear parking sensors, cruise control and a driver profile select system. Whilst sharing the same wheelbase as the Leon, the Ateca is taller, wider and longer than its sibling, meaning there is more space all round for  passengers and 510 litres of luggage capacity with the rear seats in place.

The VW Tiguan has been around for several years and the previous model underwent a midlife face lift. The new model more closely resembles the family image and has sharper styling, better performance and efficiency than its predecessor. As with the Ateca, it sits on the ubiquitous MQB platform so offering similar accommodation to its cousin. Overall, the car is longer and this translates into boot capacity of 615 litres with the seats in place. In SE trim, expect to find 18″ alloys, an 8″ infotainment display, DAB, Bluetooth, climate and cruise control. The dashboard is typical of cars from VW, being exceptionally well assembled using soft plastics and ergonomically designed. It shares a broad range of petrol and diesel engines with its stablemates but compared with rivals is on the pricey side and lacks the special design flair making it appear rather anonymous.

There is a considerable price differential between the SEAT Ateca and VW Tiguan. In almost identical SE trim level, the Ateca costs around £21015 (€25300) whilst the Tiguan commands £25260 (€30320). Neither model comes with satnav as standard so expect to pay £525 (€640) and £725 (€880) respectively for that convenience. Whilst VW are always more expensive, reflecting their image and refinery, an additional £4200 is a lot to pay for what is essentially increased luggage capacity. The Ateca has been priced to sell, and with its more aggressive styling, is the preferred choice … that is until the all-new Škoda Yeti arrives in 2018. The battle may then begin!,