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Maserati Levante 2016

2016 Maserati Levante review: can Maserati really make an SUV?

Maserati Levante 2016The Maserati Levante is the first SUV from the famous Italian brand and thus, by its nature, a controversial one. Fans of sports cars swooned when Porsche said it would make an SUV yet the smash-hit success of the Cayenne has led every premium brand worth its salt to follow: now Jaguar’s made one, Lamborghini’s planning one and Maserati’s launching one.

The Levante is a large SUV, more than 5 metres long, so it competes with the Cayenne rather than the Porsche Macan. The five-seat model uses the same architecture as its turnaround Quattroporte and Ghibli, including the same engines: V6 turbo, either petrol or diesel.

Maserati Levante 2016

Prices will start at around £53,000 – £55,000 when ordering starts in the UK this summer. First deliveries will be in the autumn and Maserati reckons it will double its British volume, to around 3,000 units a year. The Levante is a big deal for the revered, revived and growing Italian premium brand.

Will this be the car that does a Cayenne for Maserati, giving it the financial strength to grow and launch beautiful new models such as the Alfieri concept? Is it a compelling new sports SUV that drives well enough and looks good enough to sway the naysayers? To Italy, to find out.

It does look good (but you probably won’t believe me)

Maserati Levante 2016

First thing, the styling. Social media’s first reaction hasn’t been convincing and we weren’t convinced when we saw it poorly lit in blocky white at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show. Cue the usual modern car excuse: you need to see it in the metal.

The Levante is a big car, with striking proportions – a long bonnet, a cab-back look. With its sleek roofline and bold rear haunches, it has attitude. It makes a Cayenne look a bit top-heavy and snub-nose. The grille looks enormous in images (it is enormous, intentionally), but proportionally works in the metal. Besides, modern Maserati likes big grilles.

The designer told us the front was created to make an impact, the sides to carry it off and the rear to be beautiful and elegant. The rear is the bit I kept coming back to. Its curvaceous tail and super-pumped haunches look terrific (hang the rear three-quarter visibility!) and, trident badge sitting proudly above, will sell the Levante in showrooms alone.

It’s roomy in the back and has a big boot

Maserati Levante 2016

The Ghibli is not a roomy car. Not compared to rivals the Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The Levante, which is derived from the same flexible architecture, could thus have stumbled here. It doesn’t, thanks to 5,003mm of length, 1,968mm of width and a 3,004mm wheelbase.

It’s still not particularly space efficient, not like a Jaguar F-Pace, but the sheer size liberates just enough room in the back for adults, plus a boot that’s as double-take big as the Ghibli is small. 580 litres is commodious and the beautifully finished trunk is long and wide, if not the deepest. Details like the delightful Alcantara parcel shelf compensate (and all have an electric tailgate).

Maserati Levante 2016

Front seats are firm and supportive, more like sports saloon than SUV seats (a theme, this…) and the two outer seats in the rear are semi-bolstered, which is a nice touch. You even get a decent view out around the front seats, and the same ‘stay-clean’ door openings as a Land Rover (and Jaguar F-Pace).

Cabin fit and finish is impressive and the luxury feel is everywhere

Maserati Levante 2016

Another potential hurdle for Maserati: quality. Porsche is a formidable rival. What must have been an immense effort has delivered a Levante up to standard.

You sit SUV-high in step-up interior but still feel like you’re sitting low, and Maserati cowled dials, steering wheel and pistol-grip gearshifter are further saloon cues. It has lots of depth, acres of beautiful leather (in the test cars at least) and a clear, contemporary modernity no other current Maserati matches.

There’s ergonomic attention to detail and, most significantly, the step-up material quality. It’s hard to find jarring low-rent plastics, impossible to find old Fiat hand-me-down switchgear. Maserati has stepped up its game here and it’s evident throughout.

Surprise: the diesel sounds good. No surprise: the Ferrari-built petrol sounds sublime

Maserati Levante 2016

The 275hp 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel is built by an Italian company called VM. In the Ghibli, it’s OK: in the Levante, it’s very good. It’s smooth, more than fast enough (0-62mph in 6.9 seconds) and responsive. It also sounds like a throbby V8, thanks to two Maserati Active Sound actuators on the exhaust tailpipes.

Ferrari co-developed and builds the Levante 3.0-litre petrol V6, offered in 350hp and 430hp guise. The 430hp version sounds sublime. It growls, wails, the exhausts bark and yowl at high revs, indecently and brilliantly loudly. It’s very Italian and very wonderful.

Don’t get caught at low revs in the diesel: it’s a single turbo and the 2,200kg kerbweight shows when it’s not spooling fast enough. The petrol is much better here: it’s parallel twin turbo so there’s less inertia to overcome at low revs: peak torque of 427lb-ft is from 1,750rpm, rather than 2,000rpm in the diesel. Clearly, every little helps.

It handles far better than you’d ever believe a 2.2-tonne SUV could

Maserati Levante 2016

Maserati hasn’t kept the weight down but it has kept the centre of gravity down, lower than any rival SUV, in fact. It has a 50:50 weight distribution, rear-biased four-wheel drive system, limited-slip differential, torque vectoring and on-demand Q4 AWD.

Roll is minimised and it’s both not so nose-heavy in corners and well balanced as you press on. Almost uniquely for a new-launch car, it also has hydraulic power steering, which is positive, well-weighted and nuanced enough to wish it didn’t use so much fuel.

The sportiness and fluidity of the big Levante is a surprise. It genuinely handles engagingly, confidently, accurately, with driver-pleasing dynamism and none of the soggy wallow you’d fear from an SUV. It certainly has much more integrity than we were expecting, this Maserati.

It can off-road

Maserati Levante 2016

Early in Levante development, Maserati sought advice from the SUV experts in the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles group – Jeep. There are worse 4×4 gurus to pick the brains of.

It then went and did its own thing, with its own technology. The combination has created an SUV able off-road, so long as it’s not too extreme: pretty much anything any Levante owner will ask of it, the Maserati SUV copes.

Traction is good, grip is good, the various systems and adjustable ride height are smart and the electronics are discreet, helpful, well-developed systems that show the finesse and expertise of presumably having Jeep’s watchful eye via a plane from Toledo, Ohio if they wanted it.

It has air springs and Skyhook dampers – as standard

Maserati Levante 2016

Key to it driving so well is the expensive standardisation of air springs and Skyhook active dampers. We didn’t want it to drive like a traditional SUV, the chief engineer told me: so we had to have them.

Air springs means a cushioned, absorbent ride at speed (despite the 20-inch wheels of the test car); Skyhook means it’s tied down and free from the float less sports-focused air-sprung cars exhibit. Air springs also means adjustable ride height, Skyhook means at-a-press suspension stiffening without the harshness that comes with it.

The system gives a special, premium feel to how the Levante rolls along, and the configurability, from two levels of sport to a full-travel off-road mode, may require a confusing combination of pressing buttons and toggling levers, but delivers in practice.

It has a fancy new infotainment system with Apple CarPlay

Existing Maserati infotainment systems are clunky and past-era. Not ideal when premium rivals are pushing ahead and buyers are increasingly buying cars based on smartphone-like gadgetry. Enter an all-new infotainment system that’s night and day better.

It looks classier, with crisper graphics and a nicer capacitive touchscreen; even better, it incorporates Apple CarPlay, which will be an instant win for anyone who’s ever tried it. Simply plug in your iPhone and you’re away.

It has fancier mapping, prettier logic and is backed up by a more comprehensive colour screen in between the analogue dials The work’s been worth it here, Maserati.

It’s a luxurious car to drive and be driven in

Maserati Levante 2016

The Levante has an appealing roll-along feel that’s luxurious, refined and together. Its body control is well bred, the ride is generally quiet and the engines, while usually audible (intentionally – it’s part of the sporty character), make a rich and premium range of noises.

It’s a car that has appeal and makes you feel good about yourself, while also proving adept on the road and, in the same way that SUVs from Porsche and Jaguar are genuine Porsches and Jaguars, justifies Maserati’s tagline that it’s the Maserati of SUVs.

Maserati Levante review: first verdict

Maserati Levante 2016

The Maserati Levante surprised us. It is a convincing luxury SUV with a sporty character and impressive driving manners. The interior is roomy enough, quality and tactility is high and Maserati has brought key areas such as infotainment and build quality up to scratch.

You may not be sure of the looks, but reserve judgement until you see the big Levante in the metal. A potentially well-priced large SUV that brings something new to the market, it shows that Maserati can make an SUV – an impressively rich and appealing one at that.

For

  • Good to drive; fun and comfortable
  • Charismatic engines
  • Unexpected quality and practicality

Against

  • Styling and concept are proving divisive
  • Roomy enough but not hugely space-efficient
  • Premium diesel thirst; good, no more

Maserati Levante: need to know

  • It’s a 5-metre long large premium SUV that competes with the Porsche Cayenne
  • Prices start from £53,000-£55,000
  • A 275hp V6 diesel engine is the only officially confirmed engine in the UK but the CEO says a 430hp Ferrari-built model “will be sold in right-hand drive”
  • Ordering opens in the summer and deliveries begin in the autumn
  • There are models that do 0-62mph in 5.2 seconds, reach 164mph, average 39.2mpg and emit 189g/km CO2

2016 Maserati Levante: specifications

Maserati Levante 2016

Model tested: 3.0 V6 diesel

Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel

Price: From £53,000 – £55,000 (est)

Power: 275hp

Torque: 442lb-ft

0-62mph: 6.9secs

Top speed: 143mph

Fuel economy: 39.2mpg

CO2 emissions: 189g/km

Length/width/height: 5,003/1,968/1,679mm

Boot space: 580 litres

Kerb weight: 2,205kg

Jaguar F-Pace (2016)

2016 Jaguar F-Pace review: right on pace

Jaguar F-Pace (2016)The new Jaguar F-Pace SUV would have caused controversy a decade or so back. Not today. The question has long been when will Jaguar make its first SUV, rather than should it make one at all. At the 2015 Frankfurt Motor Show, the F-Pace finally arrived: now, ahead of deliveries beginning in the spring, we’re driving it for the first time.

Porsche Macan, watch out: engineers admit that, after being surprised by how impressive it was, they targeted benchmarking focus on it. They tried a BMW X4 too, but soon dismissed it; the Audi Q5 is another alternative, simply because it sells so well, rather than because the ageing five-seater is a particularly standout benchmark standard.

Gallery: 2016 Jaguar F-Pace

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Can an SUV be beautiful? The F-Pace gives it a good go. This is an Ian Callum triumph, despite him never having done one before. “It’s a Jaguar that’s an SUV,” he says, “rather than an SUV that’s a Jaguar. It’s a subtle but important difference.”

So we have a well-proportioned, well-formed machine with a sleek roofline, elegantly formed bodysides and beautifully sculpted rear haunches. It’s a tall SUV, but not a square and boxy one. The detailing is terrific, not least the power bulge in the bonnet and the F-Type rear lights.

Callum’s secret? They were struggling early on, he admits, until he told them to put more F-Type into it. The cues from Jaguar’s sports car are no accident – the thinking behind them is why the F-Pace is such a success. “We know F-Type so well,” said Callum, “and can genuinely say some of it has gone into F-Pace.”

Jaguar F-Pace (2016)

Jaguar’s offering the F-Pace with a 180hp 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel that almost everyone will buy, plus a 300hp 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel and a 380hp 3.0-litre V6 supercharged petrol for top-10% bragging rights. There’s a rear-drive entry-level machine for tax-conscious fleets; the rest will be all-wheel drive.

It’s derived from the same aluminium-intensive architecture already used by the acclaimed Jaguar XE and Jaguar XF. The building blocks are good – and Jaguar created this scalable platform with an SUV in mind. It’s no compromised saloon-derived machine, this.

Prices are what puts the cat amongst the pigeons. Well, sort of. They start at an impressive £34,170 for the fleet-friendly Prestige diesel, although they then build: £2k for AWD, £1,750 for the default automatic gearbox, £2,500 for the sporty R Sport trim Brits so love.

It means the 2.0D 180 AWD R Sport diesel that’s the core of the range costs £40,360. A Macan diesel starts at £46,182, but admittedly has a 258hp 3.0-litre V6 – Jaguar’s 300hp twin-turbo V6 diesel costs £51,450. But then, an Audi Q5 2.0 TDI 190 S line Plus quattro S tronic costs £39,595; the F-Pace is part price star, part on-market par.

Jaguar is confident the F-Pace will become its best-selling car ever. It’s almost as if the Jaguar revolution was warmed up with the XE and XF saloons it knows how to do so well, before the big bang of the Jaguar SUV was rolled out. Now, it’s here, and the stakes are high. Is this the car to make Jaguar firmly grab a share of the modern premium car sector?

On the road

Jaguar F-Pace (2016)

Does a Jaguar SUV handle like a Jaguar or like an SUV? Pleasingly, the former. You step up high and look down upon the bonnet bulge (and normal saloons), and high sides with broad shoulders mean you’re not sure what to expect: but the great Jaguar driving dynamics we like so much in XE and XF are still present here.

A super-stiff structure and levels of lateral suspension stiffness measurably greater than the Macan give the F-Pace excellent fundamentals. It feels reassuringly like a solid, premium machine on the move. It’s also very precise, with the familiar Jaguar steering accuracy and ease of placement through bends (once you’re used to the quick steering gearing, that is).

The front axle is very strong and direct, encouraging you to lean on it without suffering squishy, lollopy body roll as a reward. The F-Pace flows as finely as all modern Jaguars, changing direction with little effort, sending back lots of reassuring road feel, generally feeling light on its feet. Steering doesn’t have any particular feel but it does weigh up in bends and the rear-biased AWD feels great when deploying heavy-foot torque out of bends.

Jaguar F-Pace (2016)

Predictably, the fruity 380hp petrol V6 S is a lot of vocal, wailing fun: it is an F-Type engine, after all (the exhausts’ bark can be felt through the floorpan, for heaven’s sake!). The hushed 300hp twin-turbo V6 diesel is preferable though, with a cultured timbre and monumental torque. 516lb-ft from 2,000rpm makes light work of the diesel S’ chunky 1,884kg kerbweight.

The surprise engine is the 2.0D. in a good way. In the XE, this is too noisy and clattery. Here, it’s been silenced considerably. Jaguar’s taken away the gruff rattle, left the mechanical whine (generally nicer than the usual diesel drone) and, most importantly, made it far smoother and more cultured.

180hp and 1,775kg sounds a losing battle but 316lb-ft of pulling power flat from 1,750-2,500rpm does a better job of hauling it than you may expect (0-62mph takes 8.7 seconds) and, so long as you have 2,000rpm showing, the entry-level F-Pace diesel is perfectly fine. You will feel the mass (and have to wait a couple of seconds) if you ask for full beans at sub-2k rpm though…

The Montenegro launch roads were, in places, atrocious. Enter another F-Pace strength, ace ride quality. Long-travel suspension and expert spring and damper balance give it compliance without softness or wallow, meaning it can be thrown down scarily broken and undulating roads at a heck of a lick without fearing a crash, bang or stomach-churning lift.

Jaguar F-Pace (2016)

Body control is superb and the F-Pace is unruffled by almost everything it’s thrown into. It even works on 22-inch wheels, amazingly: they’re the biggest-ever factory-fit mid-size SUV wheels and Jaguar pulls it off without turning the ride awful (although engineers will privately admit 20”s are optimum: we’ll do it publically).

A class act then, beyond its SUV payscale? Not quite. It’s not quite a Macan-beater and is best up to eight-tenths: push it more than this and you’ll feel the mass, sense the nose start to heave and the front end push. Brakes will also wilt when embracing its Jaguar-ness (no fade-free carbon ceramics here). Still, being more fun than a Q5, almost as good as a Macan and riding better than both of them isn’t bad, is it?

Just one proviso: all the launch cars were running on Adaptive Dynamics suspension, the adaptive dampers that are standard on S models, a cost option on the 2.0D. Will steel-sprung cars have such a broad spread of talents, such well-controlled body compliance over challenging roads? We’ll have to wait and see: our advice: tick the option box.

On the inside

Jaguar F-Pace (2016)

The simple, neat F-Pace interior delivers the Ian Callum modern Jaguar look that the XF and, in particular, the XE somehow fail to. A high centre console makes it feel more coupe-like than its steup height suggests and the neat detail touches all blend in well.

Jaguar F-Pace (2016)

The centrepiece is the InControl touchscreen infotainment. Typically, it’s at its most impressive in optional InControl Touch Pro guise, whose fast-acting widescreen functionality so impressed on the launch: even standard cars get navigation included though, albeit from SD card rather than the Pro’s ultra-fast SSD hard drive. Wi-Fi internet for passengers is also standard.

Normal F-Pace get the same cowled dials as an F-Type but even better is the electronic ‘virtual’ screen option, which even includes an Audi TT-style full-screen sat nav screen option. Choice R Sport cockpits have sports seats and steering wheel, leather-look dashboard and black roofliner.

Jaguar F-Pace (2016)

All F-Pace have plenty of space for five. You read that right. In the rear, it’s broad, boasts ample headroom and abundant legroom. Goodness, it’s even fuss-free to step in and out of, with wide openings and Land Rover-style sill-covering panels that keep mud away from trousers. The rear bench is perhaps a bit flat, but hey: give rear occupants four-zone climate control and reclining rear seatbacks to compensate.

The boot is the biggest in the class. A massive tailgate (power operation is standard) reveals 650 litres of space (there’s more usable space than a BMW X5, claims Jaguar) that’s 1 metre wide and can carry loads 1.8 metres long. Jaguar decided from the very start to insist the F-Pace would be practical, and wouldn’t compromise on it: this shows.

Jaguar F-Pace (2016)

Practicality extends to its SUV abilities. With greater wading depth (525mm) and ground clearance (213mm)than any rival, plus an arsenal of off-road electronics trickery that Land Rover would be (is?) proud of, the F-Pace will off road, and not just the soft road type.

Not only will it tow a 2.4-tonne braked horse trailer out of a muddy field, it will also safely drive up and down hillsides, crawl across rocky roads and even traverse mountainsides. That it does this while also handling with such precision – on the very same tyres – is quite remarkable.

Running costs

Jaguar F-Pace (2016)

The F-Pace is a winner here, says Jaguar: it has the figures to prove it. One industry firm that works out whole life costs says the F-Pace will be £240 cheaper than a comparable Audi Q5 after three years and 60,000 miles. It will also be £3,107 cheaper than a BMW X4. And a whopping £10,734 cheaper than a Macan (and that’s despite the Porsche’s superb 53% retained value: the F-Pace is next-best on 50%).

Jaguar wants to attract fleets with this car and knows low cost of ownership is critical. That’s why there’s a tax-break model that emits 129g/km CO2 (and all key models have lower CO2 than direct rivals – a Q5 struggles to get below 150g/km), that’s why all models are so well equipped and have such a focus on practicality.

Jaguar F-Pace (2016)

Half of all F-Pace customers will be coming from competitor SUVs and so being cheaper than the incumbents is clever. But the other half will come out of saloons, estates, crossovers and coupes: keeping the running costs hike under control here is vital. Almost across the board, from cheapest servicing bills to the lowest insurance group, the F-Pace promises competitive running costs.

The biggest running cost is fuel consumption. The best F-Pace diesel returns 57.7mpg; add AWD and it’s 54.3mpg, add an auto and it’s 53.3mpg. The peachy V6 diesel returns 47.1mpg and even the F-Type-engine’d 380hp V6 petrol isn’t bad on 31.7mpg.

Verdict

Jaguar F-Pace (2016)

Land Rover makes SUVs, Jaguar makes sports cars. Land Rover hasn’t stopped Jaguar making an SUV though, just so long as it doesn’t ‘do a Land Rover’. It doesn’t. Just as the Macan is a surprisingly authentic Porsche mid-size SUV, so too is the F-Pace.

It drives pleasingly well, almost as much fun as an XE or XF but with a huge amount of extra ability (and more comfort on give-or-take roads). The volume 2.0D engine is shown in the best light yet and both refinement and composure will make it a super car for high-mileage motorists. Only in extremes will the SUV compromises show up; most drivers will rarely experience them.

And, would you believe, it’s practical. The cabin is roomy, flexible, the boot’s voluminous, it’s easy to use and the whole interior has a premium solidity that’s better than any Jaguar before it. The kit count is decent and prices are on the money.

By Motoring Research star rating logic, it’s a five-star car: it’s the best car in its sector, the most appealing all round, and certainly the best looking. Jaguar’s biggest challenge now may be making enough of them, but what a nice problem to have.

2016 Jaguar F-Pace: 5 rivals

  1. Porsche Macan
  2. Audi Q5
  3. Mercedes-Benz GLC
  4. BMW X3
  5. BMW X4

2016 Jaguar F-Pace: specifications

  • Model tested: 2.0D 180 AWD R Sport
  • Engine: 2.0-litre I4 turbodiesel
  • Price: £40,360 (Prices from £34,170)
  • Power: 180hp
  • Torque: 317lb-ft
  • 0-62mph: 8.7secs
  • Top speed: 129mph
  • Fuel economy: 53.3mpg
  • CO2 emissions: 134g/km
Volkswagen SUV offensive

Volkswagen SUVs: product onslaught begins at Geneva

Volkswagen SUV offensiveVolkswagen has vowed to build an SUV in every class of car that can justify one – and the T-Cross Breeze concept at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show is the first salvo in an off-roader onslaught from the German brand.

“SUV is THE segment globally at the moment,” Volkswagen board member for sales and marketing Juergen Stackmann told us. “We compete in it with the Tiguan, but this leaves two or three cars on the upper side: the Tiguan LWB, US-built large SUV and the range-topping Touareg.

“Below the Tiguan, we believe there is space for two more SUVs: the T-Cross will sit at the smaller end – and will arrive in the not too distant future.”

The product offensive will begin in the spring, when the all-new Tiguan launches in Europe (later followed by a long-wheelbase version for North America). Work is progressing fast on preparing the US Chattanooga factory to build the production version of the CrossBlue.

The new CrossBlue will be a genuine SUV range-topper, built on the same platform underpinning the Audi Q7 and Bentley Bentayga.

Volkswagen has revealed the entry-level SUV will be built on the Volkswagen Polo platform, while the family-sized one will use the MQB architecture underpinning the latest Volkswagen Golf.

From MPV to SUV

The growth of SUVs is coming at the expense of the MPV, said Stackmann. There’ll always be a market for practical vehicles, but it’s not one that will grow – because SUVs have taken on many of the characteristics that appeal to MPV buyers, such as space, a high seating position and functionality.

“MPVs were too rational. SUVs give drivers character.”

Volkswagen thus plans not to invest too much time and effort into MPVs in the future – and Stackmann even questioned attempts by rivals to make MPVs more stylish and sporty. “Is the compromise too much?”

Renault is, notably, the brand that invented the compact MPV, and with the latest Scenic has given us arguably the most stylish small people carrier yet. However, designer Laurens van der Acker has previously admitted that if this generation of Scenic doesn’t work with customers, the firm won’t continue with it…

Time for T: the future Volkswagen SUV range

T-Cross: supermini SUV, rival to the Nissan Juke

T-Roc: family hatch SUV, rival to the Nissan Qashqai

Tiguan: second-generation family now being launched

Tiguan LWB: bigger second-gen version for U.S and other major markets

CrossBlue Concept: mid-size SUV for U.S and China

Touareg: third-gen range-topping SUV due 2018

 

Volkswagen T-Cross Geneva 2016 SUV concept

Volkswagen T-Cross SUV concept teased ahead of Geneva 2016 debut

Volkswagen T-Cross Geneva 2016 SUV conceptVolkswagen has teased the mini SUV concept it’s brining to the 2016 Geneva Motor Show – a sub-£20,000 rival to the Nissan Juke that’s expected to be called T-Cross.

The Volkswagen Polo-derived T-Cross crossover SUV will fill a glaring gap in the firm’s range, taking on models such as the Juke, Renault Captur and Vauxhall Mokka.

Volkswagen T-Cross Geneva 2016 SUV concept

Last year, SUVs became the biggest-selling car type in Europe, with one of the fastest-growing sub-sectors being the mini SUV class invented by the Nissan Juke.

Needless to say, Volkswagen’s not giving much away ahead of Geneva, but did say the concept, whose name is yet to be disclosed, will give a “realistic perspective on a completely new model series and… the future production model”.

Volkswagen T-Cross Geneva 2016 SUV concept

This indicates that Volkswagen is planning a range of T-badged crossovers: in 2014, it showed the Golf-derived T-Roc concept, a rival to the Nissan Qashqai.

The firm admits this is the “beginning of a broad SUV offensive”.

It’s going to have a modern, infotainment-packed interior, adds Volkswagen. “Its operating concept features hardly any switches, creating a conceptual bridge to the BUDD-e” that debuted at CES 2016 earlier in January.

See more next week at the 2016 Geneva Motor Show: we’ll be bringing you all the news from press day which opens on 1 March.

Skoda VisionS Geneva 2016

Skoda VisionS SUV concept previews new large 7-seater

Skoda VisionS Geneva 2016Skoda has revealed first images of its new 2016 Geneva Motor Show-bound VisionS concept that previews the new large SUV it will launch in early 2017.

Rumoured to be called Kodiak, the VisionS concept of Skoda’s eagerly-anticipated big brother to the popular Yeti is likely to be one of the real-world stars of next month’s Geneva show.

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Skoda’s not telling us much about it at the moment, but has confirmed it will be based on the Volkswagen Group MQB architecture. This is the same platform also used by models such as the Volkswagen Golf, new Volkswagen Tiguan and the latest Skoda Superb.

Skoda VisionS Geneva 2016

It will be 4.7 metres long – a little shorter than a Ford Mondeo – 1.91 metres wide and 1.68 metres tall. It’s thus larger than models such as a Land Rover Discovery Sport: it’s more similar in size to a larger Hyundai Santa Fe.

As it’s a concept (which it teased earlier in the month), there’s no talk of engines, but it’s safe to guess the 1.6-litre TDI and 2.0-litre TDI will feature heavily in production cars, and plug-in hybrid versions may also come in time. Both front- and four-wheel drive models will be sold.

As for prices, from around £25,000 seems a safe bet.

Previewing Skoda’s new SUV design language (that will also come to the next-gen Yeti), the VisionS is, typically for all Skodas, crisp and sharp, with clean lines that emphasise the straight rather than the curvaceous. It’s more intricately styled than most Skodas at the front though, reflecting the extra ‘jewellery’ that premium-focused SUVs need to have.

The rear is more plain: we hope Skoda brings the ‘crystal’ rear lights to production though – they look great.

No shots of the interior yet, but Skoda hasn’t blacked out the windows so we’re likely to see more of that as the Geneva show nears.

For now, share your thoughts. Is it a Skoda SUV hit or miss?

Volvo XC60

The best-selling mid-size SUV in Europe is a Volvo

Volvo XC60Volvo has posted a sales surprise for 2015 with XC60 emerging as Europe’s favourite mid-size SUV.

Seemingly overlooked throughout 2015 in a year full of XC90 fever, the five-seat SUV has nevertheless been proving popular in showrooms, with Volvo selling a hefty 159,617 of them last year alone.

Indeed, this is actually a sales record for the XC60 since its introduction in 2008 – and sales have also risen every year since launch, something almost unheard of in the normal lifecycle of a car.

It’s also been Volvo’s best-selling vehicle of all since 2009.

Of course, while it’s proving popular in Europe, this isn’t the market that’s driving the bulk of sales growth. Rather, China and the United States are: they’re the leading two markets for the XC60, followed by Sweden.

In Europe Volvo says it’s also doing well in Germany, the UK and France, helping the nine-year-old SUV top the 750,000 total sales mark last year.

European sales overall represent more than half of Volvo’s global sales.

2015 was actually the first time the Volvo XC60 has led the mid-size SUV segment – in the same year that SUVs emerged as the most popular EU car segment of all.

And if the ageing current car’s doing this well, imagine how successful an XC90-inspired all new one would be…

2016 Bentley Bentayga

Bentley Bentayga review: 2016 first drive

2016 Bentley BentaygaThe Bentley Bentayga was an inevitability from the moment we saw the first concept at the 2012 Geneva Motor Show. SUVs are popular and profitable for premium automakers. Lack one and you’re missing out.

So here in 2016 is the production version of that controversial concept. You could never call an SUV pretty but it’s far more acceptable than the divisive EXP-9F: Bentley’s never made an SUV before and, with this, it’s given us a more sportily-styled one than most.


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Of course, it’s big: 5.1 metres long, around two metres wide and a kerbweight of 2.4 tonnes. It also only seats five (or, ideally, four), in opulent comfort, rather than squeezing in seven. You don’t expect to get seven in a Mulsanne, so why here?

It is a striking thing in the metal (aluminium at that, for a near-quarter-tonne weight saving over steel). The front is bluff and ‘Bentley’ but the so-called side power line and bulging rear haunches really stand out: add in an almost fastback-style rake to the rear for something way less boxy and brutal than we were expecting. It’s world’s apart from a Range Rover.

Saying that, it’s a design that has the nobility you expect of a Bentley. A Range Rover has this too: a Range Rover Sport, arguably, does not.

2016 Bentley Bentayga

Features such as the shallow glass and massive 22-inch alloys (the biggest ever on a Bentley) further aid the proportions and, in standout colours such as bright red or the gorgeous blue pictured here, it’s far more appealing than we ever dared hope back in 2012. Designer Sangyup Lee, who joined Bentley in 2013 to deliver the Bentayga, is a genius.

Costing from £161,355, Bentley says most won’t leave the Crewe factory with a price tag less than £200,000. There’s never been such an expensive, posh SUV before, giving Bentley no end of headaches in finding rivals during development, but also allowing it to claim it invents a new category: the luxury SUV.

It’s based on the Volkswagen MLB platform also used by the new Audi Q7, albeit with 80% unique components, including the 6.0-litre W12 TSI petrol engine. First deliveries will be underway soon, initially of the limited-to-608 Launch Edition (a mere £230k…) so we headed to California to try out the fourth vehicle in Bentley’s model line for the first time.

On the road

2016 Bentley Bentayga

The 6.0-litre W12 twin-turbo TSI engine is all-new. Despite being exactly the same size as the old one, “not a single nut or bolt is the same,” insists Bentley. It produces a headline 608hp and an even more traditionally Bentley-like monstrous torque figure of 664lb-ft. In new money, that’s 900Nm, and is yours between 1,250-4,500rpm. Remarkable.

The headline figures guarantee bragging rights: 4.1 seconds to 62mph and, at 187mph, the world’s fastest SUV. Again, in metric, that’s 301km/h: was that extra 1km/h engineered in to grab it the record, we wonder… but be in no doubt the headlines are justified – this is a devastatingly rapid machine. Sports car fast, despite being an SUV.

The torque makes it. In combination with near-instant throttle response, the Bentayga’s eye-opening speed is truly effortless, on tap at will. Waft around at low revs to keep pace with almost anything on the road, shove the accelerator further into the rich carpets for higher revs and eye-opening step-up power. It just floods in.

High revs are the only time the engine’s vocal – a cammy, unusually ‘V6-like’ noise for a 12-cylinder, overlayed with distant turbo whistle. Otherwise, it’s stupendously quiet, smooth and isolated. At tickover, you genuinely can’t feel or hear it, have to check the tacho to see if it’s started (stop-start means you’re often in doubt). It’s every inch the creamy, rich engine you’d hope.

2016 Bentley Bentayga

Pleasingly, with such a powerful engine, it’s no soft, squidgy SUV either. This is perhaps the biggest surprise of the Bentayga on the road: how the firm’s blended agility with comfort. The ride, of course, is lush, with air-cushioned absorbency and pliancy that’s justifiably magic carpet, even on the meaty big wheels most buyers will choose.

But it handles too. Really handles. From the first turn-in, you feel the uncannily roll-free body (thank new 48-volt anti-roll tech for that) which, in combination with surprisingly meaty steering bite, makes the Bentayga extremely agile for a big 2.4-tonne SUV. Yes, agile: it even boasts clean front-end turn in and inertia-free manners through switchbacks, just to further reinforce its litheness. The nose only pushes on when the lack of roll fools you into entering corners at silly speeds.

This makes it a beautifully relaxing and confident car to drive. The lovely ride, reassuring steering weight and planted handling make it unlike almost any other SUV: most are wallowy and plush, some are taut yet lumpy, but the Bentayga is neither. Add in its speed and muscle for something that absolutely delivers the Bentley rich all-rounder experience we know from the Continental GT (even if, inevitably, some of the Conti’s driver focus is ultimately absent).

Indeed, the only time it does feel like a squidgy, heavy SUV is under braking – there, you do feel the mass as the brakes are worked super-hard. You also feel the weight shift forwards and the nose dive. Bentley’s working on carbon ceramic brakes but they’re not here yet. When they are, they’ll lessen a rare chink in its armour.

2016 Bentley Bentayga

We should also add its off-road ability. Technology and air suspension give it loads, more than enough to tackle loose surfaces and steep gradients that would terrify even the most hoo-ray of owners. We even took it into the sand dunes for full-throttle four-wheel drifting fun: and if it’s not quite enough as standard, Bentley also sells an off-road pack with even more capability.

On the inside

2016 Bentley Bentayga

Inside, the Bentayga is breathtaking. Truly extraordinary. If it’s not the best new car interior in the world right now, it’s pretty damn close.

You notice the silence first. It’s among the quietest, most refined cars in the world – Rolls-Royce quiet, the sort of quiet that makes you think you’ve gone deaf. Refinement so impeccable, Bentley’s even had to specially engineer the electric windows so they go up and down without jarring. 70mph sounds like 30: that’s how peaceful it is. What wind noise, etc.

As for design, it’s a modern version of the traditional Bentley twin-cowl dash, with much more sculpture and depth than the rather flat and 2D current design in the Conti. It’s shapely and intricately detailed; the Bentley ‘jewellery’ around all the wood and leather (both are abundant) is just as you’d expect of a luxury car and more.

Occupants sit high – a steep step-up is aided by flat sills (and the door bottoms cover the sills so trousers don’t get dirty when you step out) and the view out is commanding. It feels more planted than the regal view out of a Range Rover, but still look-down.

2016 Bentley Bentayga

The dash features contemporary-look controls throughout, from the big dials and central colour display screen, to the widescreen infotainment display in the centre console (a little too VW-Group in appearance, perhaps, but packed with modern tech as a result). Switches, displays, buttons: all have a sort of 4K clarity that makes even the smallest detail seem special.

It’s roomy enough, with big-car legroom in the rear and ample space in the front. The five-seat bench in the rear is OK, but to match the cossetingly comfortable seats in the front, you need the two-seat rear pack. There are dual tablet displays in the rear, connected to the infotainment system: you can view the same mapping systems as the driver, should the plethora of entertainment options not be enough.

2016 Bentley Bentayga

Only the boot seems a bit small: 430 litres is not brilliant for such a large SUV. Blame the sporty rear design, although the space that is there is easy to load and, again, all trimmed in rich and ultra-quality materials. You can even get an optional slide-out rear bench, to mimic the Range Rover’s split rear tailgate whose bottom half so many sit on.

Another nugget we learnt on the launch: this is the first Bentley that’s been tested for towing, and can handle a 3.5-tonne trailer. There’s even a trailer assist programme: press a button and the Bentayga will reverse itself and the trailer it’s towing into a space. Magic.

Running costs

2016 Bentley Bentayga

What, you really want to know how much a big, heavy £150,000 Bentley with a 12-cylinder petrol engine will cost to run? Er, OK. Are you sitting down?

Actually, it’s not quite as bad as all that. Oh sure, 21.6mpg is hardly green and CO2 emissions of 296g/km are three times a Ford Focus Ecoboost. But it is a 2.4-tonne SUV, remember – and as Bentley says, those emissions are more than a Focus Ecoboost’s worth less than the original 2003 Continental GT W12…

2016 Bentley Bentayga

Actually getting sub-300g/km for a petrol SUV as big as this is an achievement in itself, helped by the Bentley Variable Displacement system. This shuts down half the cylinders during light loads so it operates as a fuel-efficient six-cylinder (you can’t tell). Stop-start is standard and allows you to coast, engine off, to a halt.

The full might of Volkswagen Group brings added features to make living with it easier: adaptive cruise control, head-up display, even night vision. The driver assistance systems’ 12 ultrasonic sensors, five cameras plus short- and long-range radar is reassuring tech to have supporting you.

Bentley says prices aren’t the biggest concern of owners, which is perhaps a good thing: the sheer amount of customisation outside and in, and the amount of money you can spend on it, would never be fully recouped on the secondhand market.

Not that depreciation is going to be too much of a concern for the first few years: we suspect demand is going to far outstrip supply here, which will make the Bentayga a hot, desirable and safe place to put (all) your money.

Verdict

2016 Bentley Bentayga

Doubters and naysayers, at ease. You can’t hate the Bentley Bentayga, because it is an extraordinary car and a fantastic achievement by the Crewe company.

It fully deserves a five-star rating, and not just because it’s effectively the first car in its class. The Range Rover is classless and desirable, but this has moved the luxury SUV game on for those who like driving, not just wafting. The interior is a triumph, the engine’s a powerhouse and the refinement is outstanding.

We shuddered at the thought of a Bentley SUV a few years ago, and the 2012 concept looked set to confirm our worst fears. But the Bentayga has confounded all our fears. A cosseting, rapid and satisfying to drive luxury SUV, it’s a true Bentley – the best car the firm makes. Without doubt, one of the best premium SUVs you can buy, full stop.

2016 Bentley Bentayga: the best 5 rivals

The Bentayga creates an entirely new class of car, the luxury SUV. Apart from the Range Rover, it’s thus without rival. Bentley admits it struggled to find genuine competitors – which is why it says even cars such as its own Flying Spur could be considered a rival…

  • Range Rover
  • Mercedes-Benz S-Class
  • Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
  • Audi Q7
  • Bentley Flying Spur

2016 Bentley Bentayga: specifications

2016 Bentley Bentayga

Engine: 6.0-litre W12 TSI twin-turbo

Price: £161,355

Power: 608hp

Torque: 664lb-ft

0-62mph: 4.1secs

Top speed: 187mph

Fuel economy: 21.6mpg

CO2 emissions: 296g/km

Mercedes-Benz GLS review: 2015 first drive

Mercedes-Benz GLSIf the Range Rover is the S-Class of SUVs, where is the Mercedes-Benz alternative? Up to now, it’s been unclear. The GL-Class seven-seat SUV was launched in 2006 (this second generation arrived in 2012) as the largest, most premium SUV in the Mercedes range. And in key markets such as the US, it has sold well.

But it has never quite carried range-topper status here. It’s a big ML-Class, rather than an off-road SUV. So Mercedes has had a rethink. It’s renamed all its SUVs to tie them into the passenger car ranges they fit into: GLC is the SUV C-Class and GLE is the 4×4 E-Class.

So, the GL becomes GLS, the off-road S-Class – a genuine SUV pinnacle at last. It’s more than just a name change, too; this mid-life facelift has given it new bumpers, new lights and a big refit for the interior.

Although body panel changes are few, the new front end transforms the look of the GLS, giving it a family look and much more status. There are cool SL-style powerdomes on the bonnet and striking LED headlights. Like much of the equipment bounty, they’re standard on all.

In common with the S-Class, the vast majority of GLS sold in the UK will be diesel. The 3.0-litre V6 350d produces 258hp, and will take nine in 10 sales. The alternative is the bonkers GLS 63 AMG. Mercedes-Benz sells a V6 and a V8 petrol in other markets, but almost nobody would buy them in the UK, so they’re not offered.

Prices start at £69,100 which, for an S-SUV, actually seems a bargain. A Range Rover is much more expensive, says Mercedes. The Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 are cheaper, but they’re not genuine seven-seaters like this. All sounds promising, but can the GLS deliver?

On the road

Mercedes-Benz GLS

The GLS is a big car; 5.1 metres long, over 1.9 metres wide and 1.8 metres tall. The wheelbase alone is more than 3 metres, and it weighs 2.5 tonnes. But while it feels big and imposing when first behind the wheel, you find it isn’t unwieldy or clumsy. Far from it.

Mercedes-Benz fits Airmatic air suspension as standard, which gives an elegant, cushioned, easygoing ride. Just as you’d expect in an S-Class, in fact. Very low noise levels add to the isolation and make the GLS a wonderfully relaxing long-distance car.

Ample drive from the engine helps. It may be a 3.0-litre diesel in a 2.5-tonne car, but it still does 0-62mph in 7.8 seconds and can run to 137mph. More importantly, 457lb-ft of torque between 1,600-2,400rpm makes light work of the mass.

The engine is quiet, creamy-smooth and clatter-free – generally all that filters through is a pleasant V6 hum – but it’s the new nine-speed 9G-TRIONIC automatic that’s the real masterpiece. An exceptionally intuitive transmission, it perfectly complements the GLS 350d.

With permanent four-wheel drive (hence the 4MATIC badge on the back), it’s a confident performer, even on the snow and ice-covered Austrian test route roads. Remarkably so, in fact: Mercedes’ advanced hardware and software delivers immense foursquare confidence.

It also handles surprisingly tidily (for a 2.5-tonne, 5.1-metre SUV), provided you tick one key option box – that for the Active Curve System anti-roll system. So equipped, and with the Sport drive system selected, the big GLS defies its mass through corners with a lack of lean and roll, and surprising turn-in alacrity.

It’s softer and wallowier in regular drive mode, so remember to turn the knob to experience this surprise: if you want the ultimate S-Class ride, though, keep it regular. It’s a mark of how much Mercedes has successfully done to the GLS that it’s now able to offer this choice.

On the inside

Mercedes-Benz GLS

The GLS’ cabin looks similar to the GL-Class in pictures, but it feels very different in real life. Much higher quality, much more premium, with almost no examples of surprisingly poor finish that you shouldn’t see in such a premium vehicle.

The lift in plushness and appearance is present throughout. The extensively revised dashboard is the star draw: Mercedes has fitted a new freestanding infotainment screen, making the top slimmer and more sculptural. The cool touchpad infotainment controller (with standard internet) is also standard.

Dials are new, with a hi-res display in between, and the finish and appearance of materials throughout is much classier and more expensive-looking. Even small details have been updated: the steering wheel centre is now Nappa leather, for example.

Space is abundant. This is the key reason why people choose a GLS, reckons Mercedes; those in the front have a very high, extremely commanding view out (enhanced by those bonnet domes) and those in the middle seats also have plush, spacious chairs (choose the design trim and four-zone climate control is standard).

It’s the third row seats that really set the GLS apart from the smaller seven-seat Audi Q7 and Volvo XC90 though. Access is relatively easy for a three-row machine: press an electric button on the top of the middle seats and the backrest folds, then the base flips up, fully automatically.

Once there, even adults find ample legroom, kneeroom, footroom and headroom. It’s surprising, how capacious it is, with big side windows adding to the airy feel. They’re far from the chairs you put the people you like least in.

The boot is 295 litres with all seats in use, quickly growing to 680 litres with the third row seats folded flat into the floor. Fold all the seats and a mammoth 2,300 litres is yours, as is a load length of over 2.1 metres. Even payload capacity is vast – the boot takes 815kg, or more than a Caterham Seven and a half.

The GLS can also tow 3.5 tonnes, putting it into the premier league of tow cars. At least one in four will thus be sold with a tow bar…

Running costs

Mercedes-Benz GLS

This is a £70k car and so running costs will not be the same as a GLC. But it won’t be too off the scale, and certainly not as expensive to run as a Range Rover.

The diesel officially averages 37.2mpg, for example, meaning sub-200g/km CO2 (an impressive achievement in itself) and lower fuel and tax bills than you might expect. And although a 100-litre fuel tank will be expensive to fill, it should ensure a decent range.

You can also almost guarantee reliability, which isn’t the case for some luxury SUVs. Mercedes-Benz even offers a 30-year anti-breakdown warranty to all those who keep it within the franchise dealer network: on the side of a snowy Austrian mountain in a -10deg Celcius blizzard, that’s reassuring.

Verdict

Mercedes-Benz GLS

Mercedes-Benz has perfected the GLS by, well, calling it the GLS. That’s all it takes to give it market clarity and definition. In becoming ‘an S-Class’, Merc’s also improved the suspension, overhauled the interior and made it much prettier, but the key thing is so clearly sectorising it, whereas before it was undefined.

This is the firm’s Range Rover rival and, while it’s not as good or as classy as a Range Rover, neither is it as expensive. Yet it still carries the class of an upmarket Mercedes-Benz SUV and, most importantly, it now carries the kudos of being an off-road S-Class. This counts for a lot.

It has taken three years, but now the capable range-topping Mercedes SUV has achieved the status it deserves. In not being a confusing muddle but a well defined model, the Range Rover may just find itself with an unexpected, pretty talented and surprisingly good value new rival.

Rivals

  • Range Rover
  • Audi Q7
  • Volvo XC90
  • BMW X5
  • Mercedes-Benz S-Class

Model line-up

  • GLS 350d 4MATIC AMG Line: £69,100
  • GLS 350d 4MATIC Designo Line: £78,095
  • GLS 63 AMG 4MATIC: £102,330

Specifications

Model: GLS 350d 4MATIC AMG Line

Engine: 3.0-litre V6 turbodiesel

Price: £69,100

Power: 258hp

Torque: 457lb-ft

0-62mph: 7.8 seconds

Top speed: 138mph

Fuel economy: 37.2mpg

CO2 emissions: 199g/km

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