Opel has been having a hard time of it over the last decade or so.
The German arm of General Motors was treated like a
scandalised relative by the American giant in the wake of the 2008 economic crash — ignored and marginalised.
Admittedly, the timing of the crash could not have come at a worse time for Opel because it was just, at that time, sliding into an abyss of debt which actively discouraged its American bosses from committing the sort of investment necessary to right the wrongs at Russelsheim.
Poor product, slack engines and questionable technology were all factors in Opel’s slip from being GM’s European powerhouse to being the company’s poor European relation and while the Yanks did just enough to keep the show on the road, the lack of real support coming from Detroit meant Opel was left to swim in shark infested waters while haemorrhaging badly.
The portents were not good in the 2008 to 2014 period, but a revival of fortunes came thanks to the company’s own determination not to go down without a fight.
The latest Astra was a revelation after many years of shoddy treatment and the new Insignia, which we will be testing here in a couple of week’s time, is also said to be a winner.
We will reserve judgement on the
Insignia until we get our hands on one, but the Astra certainly restored our faith in a company which had seemed determined to go down in flames without any outside assistance. They did attempt to get aboard the Fiat 500/Mini bandwagon with the Adam and the Karl, but sales never really matched expectations.
Until then, successive Astra models doomed what had once been a staple of the family car market to an ignominious and sorry state while the Insignia laid waste to a model range which had also once been a sales monster in various Ascona/Vectra guises.
That Opel has been able to breathe new life into the Astra and Insignia is a pretty impressive signpost the company had turned years of neglect and little investment in planning, design and engineering.
Effectively, GM had lost interest in Opel, but when it saw that its European arm was reinvigorated to the point of actually turning a profit again, it realised that maybe a few quid could be wisely spent helping it along the road a little.
The result saw the re-branding of the Mokka as the more robust Mokka X and plans for two new SUVs (albeit a little late to that particular table) , the Crossland X and the Grantland X. The former has arrived with us and we test it this week, while the latter will be here soon.
But, just as all this was happening, GM suddenly announced it was selling Opel off to the French PSA (Peugeot/Citroen) Group and that deal was cemented recently. Where this merger will leave Opel in the long term remains open to question, but certainly the French are making all the right sort of noise about their plans and sounding very positive about their new German brethren.
There are obvious questions about branding and marketing issues — something long-suffering Opel dealers are undoubtedly concerned about — but the French have to date been full of positive guff about maximising synergies and cross-pollination of engineering and design duties.
While the mechanics of all that are worked out between Paris and Russelsheim, dealers are left to do their best with what Opel already makes and you’d have to say what they have right now is a lot better than most of the stuff they’ve had to sell in the last decade or so.
The Crossland X is one of the models which dealers will find a lot easier to sell than some of the stuff they’ve been trying to flog in recent years. Effectively the spiritual successor to the Meriva mini-MPV, but dressed up in SUV clothing, the Crossland X has the sort of looks, equipment levels, engine choices and pricing that will draw punters in.
It’s an attractive motor and in the SE specification we tested it has the sort of personalisation options buyers require, as well as a level of kit which should tempt people to part with their hard-earned.
Crucially, there is also a decent three-pot petrol engine on offer (with two power output choices, one of which is turbocharged).
In fact, the 1.2 litre engine without the turbo is a very decent thing indeed. Producing some 84 bhp, it will not startle you with performance — top speed 170 kph and 0-100 kph in 14 seconds — but it will engage you. The characteristic thrum of the three-cylinder provides an enjoyable soundtrack, and the determined manner in which it goes about its business will keep you smiling.
It is a winning urban partner and also well able to hold its own on the open road. In fact the standard cruise control allows motorway trolling in comfort and with peace of mind. The fact the engine will also return a claimed 5.2 l/100km (53.8 mpg) will also appeal.
On top of that the OnStar connectivity system (which will pinpoint you location for emergency services in the event of an accident) and the excellent 7” touchscreen system add to the appeal of the car, while the exceptionally airy, comfortable and practical interior demonstrates a level of classiness missing from this level of Opel for so long.
It is an unremarkable ride and there are few compelling arguments for the Crossland X in this regard, but that’s pretty standard for the segment and not something which will concern many drivers. That said, it does provide a decent ride and fair handling, although wind and tyre noise doe become issues at higher motorway speeds.
The Crossland X is a car of the times and as good as many of its competitors and that means it is capable of selling in the sort of numbers that will keep the dealership network rather more happy than they might have been heretofore.
Quite whether it help Opel to become the sort of resurgent international player the French would like it to be,
remains to be seen, but this car is certainly a move in the right direction for
a company that has been through such a tough time.
The Cost: From €21,995 - €23,495 as tested.
The Engine: An excellent little three pot petrol.
The Specification: Very impressive.
The Overall Verdict: Opel gets its mojo back.
Star Rating: ***
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved