Saturday 22 October 2016

Spoilt for choice - a seven-seater, crossover or a fully blown 4X4?

As the temperature drops, the appeal of a good set of winter wheels is very appealing but what's your best option, asks Geraldine Herbert

Published 02/12/2015 | 02:30

Volvo XC90
Volvo XC90
Audi Q7

It seems that even the most ardent city dweller occasionally yearns for a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), given the pace of sales over the past few years. There was a time when the choice of a 4x4 was simple but now there is a bewildering range to choose from and car makers have reinvented the four-wheel-drive into everything from school run crossovers to machines with a purpose. So how do you decide which one suits your needs? Choosing the right wheels depends really on where you live and whether you need to choose practicality over panache.

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All of the current crop of SUVs on our roads fall into roughly three groups: urban crossovers, compact SUVs and large/luxury SUVs.

Urban crossovers are essentially taller versions of hatchbacks and these quirky, stylish, SUV-type vehicles are aimed at the younger buyer who wants something a little different. The idea is to combine the spaciousness and flexibility of an MPV, the rugged appearance of an SUV and the driving dynamics of a family hatchback.

Most don't offer any off-road capability, including Renault's Captur, Citroen's C4 Cactus or the Ford EcoSport, but some are a little more robust. Peugeot's 2008 comes with an optional grip control system that can be fitted on Allure models.

This system gives you maximum traction on slippery or muddy conditions, so it is a very credible alternative to traditional 4WD systems.

If you need something a little more capable, then consider a compact SUV. While the line between urban crossover and SUV was once quite defined, now compact SUVs are distinguished from crossovers by being a little bigger and most are offered with four-wheel-drive options.

That said, if frugality is your overall concern, then front-wheel-drive-only is still a viable option. Cars such as Honda's new HR-V or the Kia Soul offer SUV styling and practicality without the extra fuel bills.

Kia's new Sportage arrives in January while Hyundai have just launched their all-new Tucson. Mercedes' rival to the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, the GLC is built on the C-Class platform and arrives in Ireland in time for 161 sales.

The GLC is a replacement to the GLK, a car that was never produced in right-hand-drive and so was unavailable in Ireland. A new Tiguan from Volkswagen will be launched in Ireland in July 2016.

But if you need a large load lugger with permanent 4x4, the quintessential Sports Utility Vehicle is your only option. Even within this category, you'll find everything from the rugged workhorse to the luxurious family hauler.

Now in its third generation, the Hyundai Santa Fe has garnered much favour with Irish buyers seeking a practical, economical and well-equipped solution to family motoring.

The seven-seat Kia Sorento is another good option that is capable, comfortable and a very stylish family car; that happens to be just as competent off road.

Mitsubishi's Outlander received some significant styling tweaks for 2016 and the range now includes seven-seat, five-seat and plug-in Hybrid versions. At the top end of the market, all new versions of the Audi Q7 and Volvo's XC90 arrived this year.

While the Q7 is crammed with cutting-edge technology and is the one to choose for sheer driving dynamics, the XC90 is a fine family car and the better all-round package.

Finally, if you are not in the market for an SUV but still want winter wheels, all is not lost. Go for a conventional looking car with all-wheel drive instead. A good option is the Skoda Octavia Estate with 4x4. It comes with a cheaper price than most similarly equipped SUVs and has plenty of kerb-hopping ability.

Alternatively, invest in some winter tyres at a cost of hundreds, rather than thousands, of euros. Tests have shown that front-wheel-drive cars fitted with all-weather tyres can be as good as or even outperform an equivalent AWD car under severe winter conditions.

The best advice is not to limit yourself to any one choice: test a few cars properly and work out what is best for your individual needs.

Before you head off to the showroom it is worth knowing the basics on the level of grip each type of system can give you.

Front-wheel drive (FWD): Front-wheel drive (FWD) is typically used in most cars. It means the engine's power is routed to the front wheels and it offers better fuel economy but less performance than other options.

Rear-wheel drive (RWD): RWD is commonly found on sports and high-performance cars as the power is delivered to the rear wheels, giving better handling on dry roads. But RWD provides less traction on slippery roads because there is little weight over the driving wheels, so it is very easy to lose control in icy conditions.

All-wheel drive (AWD): AWD sends power to all four wheels but is different than traditional four-wheel drive (4WD) systems, as it is designed for on road use.

Most AWD systems deliver power primarily to one set of wheels, front or rear but if grip is lost, the system can shift power to the other wheels until the car regains traction. It is particularly useful when moving through mud, sand and other loose surfaces.

Four-wheel drive (4WD): Modern 4WD systems generally allow the driver to manually switch between driving two wheels and driving all four.

Most 4WD systems have high and a low gear range, the latter used to increase low-speed climbing power and they are ideally suited to particularly harsh off-road driving situations.

4WD adds significant weight to the vehicle, so ride quality and fuel economy are usually compromised.

Sunday Independent

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