NEW HOLIDAY STARS

The new cars that made our pre- and post-Xmas driving a pleasure, and got 2024 off to a flying start...

The SUZUKI S-CROSS is one of those affordable five-doors that is simply more than the sum of its parts. It’s not a big player in the market, although sales of this hybridised model (equipped with 48V starter generator and 10kW/50Nm electric motor) are expected to be over half those of the popular Vitara this year. It brings an added layer of polish to Suzuki’s proven blend of practicality and durability. Over the break, there were plenty of occasions when only the S-CROSS would do, whether it was because of its ease of loading, outstanding outward visibility, family-friendly packaging or easy parking. It took the pressure out of trips in congested traffic and its all-wheel-drive security was a bonus when the weather turned to custard. In isolation, no particular feature will live long in the memory yet this was the workhorse that undertook some of our more memorable trips in fuss-free, super-efficient fashion. Its 1.4-litre turbo-petrol and six-speed auto did not thrill but, equally, the torque-smoothed combo was never found wanting.

Even more efficient, and arguably better value than the Suzuki, was the HAVAL H6, a true hybrid SUV that ending up staying on our holiday fleet for much longer than intended, thanks to the generosity of the local Haval distributor. If other motoring media were drawn to more upmarket end-of-year offerings, their shortsightedness in the hectic run-up to Xmas was our gain. When it comes to space, comfort, ease of use, decent equipment and good road presence, the Haval H6 is hard to beat at its bargain price point, and we soon started noticing the number of other H6s in circulation, all registered within the past couple of years. Here was a car that had never been on our radar but the longer it sat in the driveway, the more indispensable it became for real-world applications. Yes, there are minor areas for improvement, but the H6 still impressed as a force to be reckoned with at the sensible end of the market.

If the S-CROSS and H6 were similar takes on a similar theme, the OPEL GRANDLAND plug-in hybrid brought European technology and undeniable quality to the compact SUV party, plus a welcome dose of sporting flair in its design and handling. It immediately appealed as another versatile all-rounder that upgraded us to Premium Economy. The claimed electric-only range of 67km seemed a bit far-fetched but electric running was extremely agreeable even if the battery charge disappeared more quickly than hoped. Two hours is all it takes to recharge the 13.2kWh battery at your home wallbox. In support, you have a 133kW turbo-petrol of 1.6-litre capacity, and its 300Nm of peak torque combines with electric reserves to give you punchy acceleration when required. An eight-speed auto does sterling work and 19-inch wheels with broad boots ensure plenty of steering feel and traction when this front-driver gets feisty. A very pleasant device that was with us all too briefly and didn’t deserve a cracked windscreen while on motorway duties.

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