New Hyundai Tucson vs Vauxhall Grandland X vs Volvo XC40
A hybrid family SUV is a great way of combining practicality with fuel efficiency – but which type should you choose? We compare the three main options...
NEW Hyundai Tucson 1.6 T-GDi 230 Hybrid Premium auto
List price £34,455
Target Price £32,520
New generation of Hyundai’s family SUV comes with full hybrid power and promises acres of space in a classy interior
Vauxhall Grandland X 1.6 225 Hybrid Business Edition Nav AT8
List price £32,390
Target Price £30,441
This plug-in hybrid can officially run on pure electric power for 34 miles on a full charge, promising low running costs
NEW Volvo XC40 B4 R-Design auto
List price £35,055
Target Price £32,863
Comfortable, practical and classy, the XC40 is our favourite family SUV; let’s see if this new mild hybrid version can maintain its impressive record
Hybrid power has been around for years in cars like the Toyota Prius, providing an economical but often flawed petrol-fuelled alternative to the diesels that many of us once drove. Now, however, with diesels increasingly being consigned to the history books, this once-niche technology has entered the mainstream, with many brands fielding contenders in all sorts of categories in their ongoing battle to reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. And it’s getting better all the time.
That’s excellent news if, for example, you’re looking for a practical yet parsimonious family SUV in the post-diesel world. The only problem is deciding which type of hybrid best suits your needs. Should you buy a mild hybrid, a ‘self-charging hybrid’ or a plug-in hybrid?
To help unmuddy the waters, we’ve lined up the three main types, with the newest contender being the Hyundai Tucson. This is what the car industry likes to call a 'self-charging hybrid', which means it has an electric motor and a battery big enough to provide extra power to help its petrol engine – thus improving performance and economy – while also allowing the car to run for short periods on electricity alone.
It does not, however, have the useful electric-only range of a plug-in hybrid such as the Vauxhall Grandland X. Unlike the Tucson, it can be plugged into the mains to recharge its battery. This gives the Grandland X an official electric range of 34 miles and very low CO2 emissions, making it, on paper, a tempting company car.
Our final contender is the Volvo XC40, our Family SUV of the Year, albeit with a new mild hybrid petrol engine. Mild hybrids don’t have any ability to travel solely on electric power, but they harvest energy under braking and deceleration that can be redeployed to boost performance and ease the load on the engine, in theory increasing efficiency.
Performance, ride, handling, refinement
As the most powerful of our trio, the 227bhp Tucson is, not surprisingly, the quickest in a straight line, taking just 6.9sec to accelerate from 0-60mph. A few years ago, that would have been considered a respectable time for a hot hatch, let alone a family SUV. However, with that much grunt going through just the front wheels, provoking a bit of wheelspin is all too easy when pulling away in cold or damp conditions.
Neither the Grandland X nor the XC40 is in the same league for acceleration, with both taking 7.8sec to reach 60mph – not all that surprising given that the Grandland X weighs more than its rivals due to its larger battery, while the XC40 is down on power by more than 20bhp. With their extra oomph, the Tucson and Grandland X make lighter work of motorway slip roads and B-road overtakes than the XC40, though.
Sadly, all three are hamstrung by rather dim-witted automatic gearboxes. When you ask for a sudden burst of acceleration on the move, the Tucson’s and Grandland X’s ’boxes need a good second or two to figure out which gear they need to be in before they respond. This is less of a problem in the XC40, especially if you select Dynamic mode, but its foibles materialise around town, where it tends to dither momentarily when you’re pulling out of junctions.
The Tucson and Grandland X have an inherent advantage over the XC40 in that they can run quietly on electric power around town. In our hands, the Grandland X achieved 23 miles of pure electric running – not bad when you consider the temperature was just 2deg C on the day of our test. When the petrol engine kicks in, it does so relatively smoothly, although it’s a shame that it becomes boomy and uncouth at high revs.
The Tucson can only do short bursts in electric mode. After a mile or so, you’ll notice the engine cutting in and out as the car swaps between power sources, but it does so smoothly. The engine is pretty quiet at a cruise, too, but it can sound gruff if you rev it hard and some vibrations filter up through the steering wheel. The XC40’s engine isn’t exactly whisper-quiet, but it’s undoubtedly the smoothest in both feel and tone.
The XC40 leads the way in other aspects of refinement, too. It suffers from the least wind and tyre noise at 70mph, while the Grandland X is the noisiest.
Both the Tucson and Grandland X suffer from an unsettled low-speed ride, but at least the latter starts to settle down a little at motorway speeds. This can’t be said for the Tucson; it’s not only fidgety over rough sections of bitumen but also twangs and pings off of expansion joints and larger road scars.
Conversely, the XC40 copes brilliantly with undulations at speed, while also isolating you well from potholes in town. And it manages this without the suspension thudding noisily beneath you, as it does in the others. This, along with the smoothest brakes (the Grandland X’s are vague and the Tucson’s grabby), makes the XC40 the most relaxing urban companion.
None of our trio is going to have you grabbing the keys for an early morning Sunday drive, but the XC40 is the most composed and confidence-inspiring on a country road. Its steering, while light, is accurate, helping you to place the car where you want it, plus it leans the least through corners and grips the hardest.
The Tucson isn’t too far behind and is perfectly pleasant to guide down a B-road at a gentle pace, but push on and you’ll find it doesn’t grip as hard or as evenly front to rear as the XC40 and its steering is a little over-eager, so being smooth on the way into corners isn’t always easy.
That said, it’s preferable to the Grandland X’s vague steering, which fails to inspire confidence at faster speeds. The Grandland X also has the least grip and feels rather top-heavy through quick direction changes.
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