In recent weeks The Telegraph’s motoring writers have been much exercised by the take up of Sport-Utility Vehicles (SUVs) in the UK, where they occupy some 56 per cent of all new-car sales.
Opinions have been trenchant and robustly put on both sides of the argument. And while you might reasonably ask ‘just exactly what constitutes an SUV these days?’, it’s clear that the idea of a robust and capacious vehicle that’s capable in all weathers - perhaps even with tall tyres and four-wheel drive - is one close to the hearts of a large number of motorists, whether you stick an SUV sign on it or not.
We used to have such vehicles in the form of the multi-purpose vehicle (MPVs) epitomised by the earliest introduction of the monospace (one-space) vehicle such as Fergus Pollock and Antonis Volanis’s design for the first 1984 Renault Espace.
Expensive, yes, but versatile and chic, the Espace spawned a series of vehicles, where state-of-the-art car interiors and sleek coachwork designs housed a practical cabin where seats could be removed to give more space, and sliding doors facilitated the disgorgement of children and dogs.
At the same time, the van-derived car (as opposed to the smaller car-derived van) started to gain credence, with vehicles such as the 1997 Renault Kangoo MPV and the 1996 Citroën Berlingo/Peugeot Partner and associated badge-engineered vehicles such as the Volkswagen Caddy, which was launched as a baby pick up from 1979, but became a van from the 1996 second-generation, which from the 2003 third generation begat a ‘civilian’ version with rear seats and sliding doors known as Caddy Life, or Kombi, Life Camper or the Tramper!
Clearly, a creative way with names is part and parcel of selling these vehicles, but even back then they were more than just a van with windows. In fact, they shared a lot of chassis, suspension and drive trains with similarly-sized passenger cars and the family vehicles that resulted were quickly dubbed Leisure Activity Vehicles (LAVs).
While the interiors were often those of the commercial van from whence they came, they often turned out to be better to drive than they had any right to be. More than that, they were popular; favoured by dog owners, small businesses looking for a dual-purpose van/family vehicle, and those requiring a wheelchair-accessible vehicle suitable for conversions.
Ford enters the fray
Ford’s Transit Connect was first produced as a Turkish-built compact panel van on a dedicated commercial chassis platform in 2002. We loved those vehicles, especially in Mk2 form, and mourned their demise - especially when we learned the 2020 fourth-generation would be another result of the tie up with the Volkswagen Group.
Gone was the old Ford connection, this new Tourneo would consist of a blue-oval badge stuck on the front of Polish-built, fourth-generation VW Caddy. Irony upon irony here is that the Caddy was based on the VW Group’s MQB platform, which also underpins its cars such as the Golf, Polo and Passat (though not the VW ID.3 EV-based ranges).
Yes, it’s jolly confusing, especially as the rivals are also more car-like these days, but that means they can’t have the twin sliding door options of the Tourneo, which is one of its great selling points to families.
Judge on its merits
Even so, we tested the £32,696 Grand Tourneo Connect automatic with seven seats recently, and loved it, so when Ford offered a long-term test of the 4x4 manual version of the same vehicle we jumped at the chance.
While this £35,720 (plus £684 for the black paint) four-wheel drive version on the long wheelbase chassis “isn’t an advertised product” according to Ford, it is available if you ask nicely.
Based on a five- or seven-seat LWB Tourneo, it’s quite a beast: 4.86 metres long, (the short wheelbase is 4.5 metres long), 1.86 metres wide and 1.8 metres tall. Rival Citroën’s LWB Berlingo is 4.753 metres long and the Vauxhall Combo Life XL is 4,753mm long.
Don’t think that this 4x4 is any substitute for a ‘proper’ off-road SUV if you’re planning on climbing and scrambling over hill and dale, but if you are looking for something that will get you off a muddy field after a deluge on the camp site, you’re in the right area.
The GitiSynergy H2 215/55/17-inch tyres on painted alloy wheels don’t look the last word in mud crawling either, but the side walls are a promising start to what turns out to be quite sophisticated ride quality.
While the top weight and the size of the Tourneo inhibits driving it like a loon (though that never seems to deter most van drivers on the road), it corners reasonably flat with a nice precise turn-in to corners, which is a hallmark of VW’s MQB underpinnings.
Since the unladen weight is well under 2,040kg (it weighs about 1.8 tonnes), this Tourneo comes under the UK road traffic regulations as a ‘dual-purpose vehicle’, so you are allowed to whizz along at passenger-car speed limits rather than the van limits, which restrict single carriageway speeds to 50mph and non-motorway dual carriageways to 60mph.
Those dual-purpose-vehicle regs also require rear side windows and, while the Tourneo twin sliding doors are a unique feature of the Ford, they also mean the rear side windows don’t open, which makes the three rear seats feel a bit pokey.
That would be fine if the air conditioning was a bit more powerful and sophisticated, but the bad news here is that the Tourneo inherits VW’s Cariad software and touch screen, which means you have to prod about (at least three pushes) to access the heater screen and pretty much everything else.
It’s slightly less frustrating than the same system in a Golf Mark 8 as it has a lot less to do, but this is one of the great drawbacks of the Ford/VW sharing arrangement; you don’t always get the best bits.
Again, VW roots show themselves, with the Volkswagen 2.0-litre 120bhp/236lb ft turbodiesel engine giving a lovely gentle cruising gait and a solid plus-50mpg when warmed-up and at ease on the motorway. The six-speed gearbox is a pleasure to use and the clutch is light and positive. Brakes, too, are strong and progressive.
Needless to say, the load bed is simply enormous, 1,529 litres with all five seats up, 2,761 with the second row folded. And it’s that space we’re about to put to the ultimate test, hauling Trixie, the Triumph GT6’s new engine and transmission back from Rutland where they’ve been built to Surrey, where the car awaits.
That’s 240kg of cast-iron block, cylinder head and at least some of the gearbox casing, plus untold expensive amounts of go-faster bits inside.
We’ll keep you posted…