Opel Crossland X
2020 has been a tough year for just about everyone on the planet, and for just about every business. For German manufacturer Opel, the catastrophe that is the Coronavirus fallout couldn’t have come at a worse time - having recently relaunched itself in SA, it was already in a fight to steal sales from rival car makers, something that’s never easy to do - but even more difficult when you’re a brand trying to find your feet again in a marketplace that’s swamped with choice for potential customers.
The Opel Crossland X 1.6 TD is a sub-compact crossover that, compared to just about anything else in its category and price range in South Africa, sells in low numbers. But that’s not a reflection on the car itself - it’s more the side effect of a brand that’s on an ongoing mission to re-establish itself.
And that’s a very tough job in a country in a country as brand-loyal as ours - once you’re out of the public consciousness, it’s very difficult to get back in, almost regardless of how good your product is. For Opel, the Astra is a very good example: it’s a car that’s comparable in every way to its long-standing rival, the VW Golf. But the Astra regularly gets completely pantsed in the sales charts.
Every month, VW sells over 30 times as many Golfs as Opel does Astras. Say what you like about personal preference and the minutiae of spec sheets - none of that will go very far to explaining the huge gap in sales between two cars that are, on paper and on the road, closely matched.
Some of Opel’s misfortune is down to the company’s historically woeful financials, but since being bought by the PSA Group - the same company that owns Peugeot and Citroën - in 2017, they’ve been turning a profit, and they’ve been plowing at least some of into expanding their model range. By default, they means they’re expanding their appeal to a wider audience.
And that includes the all-important SUV market. Leading that charge is the Grandland X, but as every good manufacturer knows, you also need a subcompact SUV in the lineup - which is why they have the Mokka X. But as every good manufacturer knows, two subcompact SUVs is better than one… That’s where the Crossland X comes in, having arrived in South Africa at the end of 2017. Now, if you’re wondering why you’d choose a Crossland X over the only slightly more expensive Mokka X, the best way to describe the difference between the two is that the Mokka is a bit bigger, and slightly bulkier.
The Crossland X is… Cuter. It takes some elements from Opel’s premium subcompact Adam, the most notable of which is the floating C pillar. The L-shape for the daytime running lights is repeated in the tail lights, making it obviously Opel from either end.
In profile, the standard 16” wheels on our test look a little on the small side. The car’s Summit White body colour and contrasting Mineral Black roof up top, with black plastic body protection on the door sills lower down, make it look a bit like an ice cream sandwich. Not a bad thing - I mean who doesn’t like an ice cream sandwich?
If the styling alone isn’t enough to persuade you to choose the Crossland X over the Mokka X, then consider the engine options which, for the Mokka, are limited. It’s only available with a 1.4 turbo petrol, while the Crossland X gets a 1.2 turbo petrol and the 1.6 turbo diesel. And the first thing you notice about the diesel is the noise. In fact, it’s the enduring thing you notice - it’s a very diesel diesel. Rumbly, with an early torque delivery that starts to run out of shove as it passes the 3500rpm mark - and not very thirsty. Without really trying, fuel consumption stayed below 6.5 litres per 100km. But even if it does take you further per tank, it’s not the most refined lump in the world.
It’s a bit of a mixed bag, with its 68kW and 230Nm generally providing good power when you need it; but there is that consistent noise. There’s only one gearbox choice - a 5-speed manual - and like the engine, it has its good points and its not so good points. The mechanicals are great, but it has an odd feel. The gear ratios are spot on, but the shift action has a weirdness to it: kinda loose in your hand, but with gates being a bit sticky. Again, not terrible, but the interaction with the gearshift is something to get used to.
While the engine and gearbox have negatives that need to be balanced by positives, the strongest part of the Crossland X’s makeup is the ride. The suspension setup is pretty much perfect. It’s right in that Goldilocks zone where it’s not so soft that it gets bouncy or wafty and not so hard that it’s uncomfortable on rougher surfaces - it’s just right. Even chucking a lot of torque through its front wheel drive setup doesn’t noticeably unsettle it, although I don’t suppose many Crossland X drivers will be trying to wheelspin their way out of the school parking lot anyway. The chassis setup does a lot to stop you focusing on what might be considered this car’s shortcomings - and that’s something the interior is good at, too.
At first glance, it’s pretty straightforward. The infotainment system touchscreen sits on top of the centre stack, and below that are the controls for the aircon, with a storage binnacle under that. In front of the driver, a pair of analogue dials and a multifunction steering wheel. The materials have a quality feel, and when you take a moment, you start to see the details.
It’s quite a sculptural design, with lines running from the dashboard into the door panels, and lightly contrasting colours highlighting the shapes that are created between all the intersecting elements. There are very few buttons, and the ones that are there are small and neatly laid out. It’s a design that not only looks and feels premium, but is also ergonomically good.
The Enjoy spec level is the only one available for the diesel Crossland X; the highlights are smartphone integration, cruise control and park distance control with reversing camera.
Safety kit include auto lights and wipers, stability control and lane departure warning.
On the practical side, there’s good space all round, with a lot of headroom. Taller than average rear passengers shouldn’t struggle on the rear bench seat, and the boot space is quite a bit better than something like the similarly-sized Ford EcoSport: even though the Crossland X has a smaller footprint, it has about 20% more land space with the rear seats in place, and about 40% more with the rear seat down.
That’s the thing about this car. Next to its competition, in some respects its better, in some respects not, but when you look at it as a package, it has a lot of positive points with no genuine negatives. So next time you see a list of the best selling subcompact SUVs in South Africa, and you don’t see the Crossland X on it, don’t think that’s because it’s a bad car, but rather see it as the result of a Opel having had a bad time for the last few years. And at the same time, remember that they’re slowly fixing it by creating capable, enjoyable cars - with the Crossland X being one of them.
Follow Spike Ballantine on Twitter and Instagram