SsangYong is on a roll. Buoyed by a steady stream of new, modern products to replace the staid vehicles it relied on for way too long, the Korean 4×4 specialist started this year by celebrating overall success in our 4×4 of the Year awards with the new Rexton.

Based on the same platform as the Rexton, with the same engine and choice of gearboxes and very similar cabin, the new Musso is a quantum leap forward from the model currently being sold under the same name.

We’ve had an early test, on British roads, of a Korean-spec Musso. Aside from the fact that it’s left-hand drive, the only difference between this and the one coming to Britain is in the details, so this is a good indication of what’s on the way.

Starting in the cabin, the Rexton’s influence is clear. There’s even a strip of leather across the dashboard, complete with contrasting stitching.

Elsewhere, materials remain high-quality by pick-up standards, with soft-touch surfaces on much of the dash and excellent leather seats which managed to be both soft and comfy yet impressively supportive. They put you in a good driving position, too, from which your view all around is particularly fine – even over your shoulder, thanks to a C-post that’s no bigger than it needs to be.

There’s plenty of headroom, too, and enough leg room to let a six-footer drive without needing to move his seat all the way back. This is handy if there’s another six-footer sat behind, because the seat-backs have no give in them at all – but the good news is that aside from the Ford Ranger, we think the Musso probably has the most rear knee room in the double-cab market. It’s possible for two tall adults to ride in tandem without either feeling the squeeze, and there’s not a lot of trucks we can say that about. All-round, few double-cabs can match it for accommodation.

There’s a decent amount of oddment stowage, too, and overall build quality appears close to that of the Rexton. As does the equipment you get for your money – we’ll leave the specifics out, as UK models will likely differ from this one, but there’ll be a range of three trim levels and at the top, you’ll get a truly premium level of kit. As an indication, the vehicle here had stuff like air-conditioned seats and a heated steering wheel.

It also had 20” polished rims, complete with 255/50R20 tyres, which are pretty much the exact opposite of what we like to see on pick-ups. But if the Musso range is going to mirror that of the Rexton, this is what top models will come with.

One definite difference to the Rexton is that whereas that vehicle comes with independent rear suspension on AWD models, all Mussos have a live rear axle. This is coil-sprung, which remains a rarity in the pick-up market.

You also get a part-time, dual-range transfer case as standard, mated to a choice of six-speed manual or auto gearboxes. This all goes together to make what looks on paper like a well sorted vehicle for on and off-road use.

Starting with the latter, we found that the limits were definitely set by the low-profile, road-pattern tyres. No surprise there – but what was very pleasing to note was that when pushed, the rear axle displays excellent articulation, particularly on the bump stroke. A rather low rear bumper, coupled with the inevitable long overhang, means there’s an element of vulnerability back there, but based on the limited amount we were able to do on this early drive the suspension is unusually good at following the terrain.

What the coil springs can’t do is hide the fact that they’re specced to hold up a tonne. Inevitably, this means the suspension is upset by all but the smoothest roads – though while there certainly is plenty of thumping, even in sharp-edged pot-holes the impacts are never harsh. The body does get jolted around a fair bit at lower speeds on uneven urban roads, but once you get it moving things are a lot more settled. We haven’t yet had the chance to drive the Musso at cruising speeds, but at this stage’s we’d say the results are promising for a composed motorway ride.

We haven’t been able to tow with the vehicle yet, but SsangYong advises us that it will be rated to haul 3500kg (3200 with the manual box) while also carrying 1050kg of cargo. At the time of writing, the testing and approval process was still underway, but the company believes this will give it the highest gross train weight in the market.

It certainly has the brakes for the job, as we found out when a driver in the employ of a very well known courier company lost control of his 7.5-tonner while coming towards us round a corner. And while an unladen test can only tell you so much, the engine does pull strongly – 181bhp is backed up by 295lbf.ft at 1400rpm in manual form, and 310lbf.ft at 1600rpm in autos. It raises its voice when your foot goes right down, but is quiet enough not to cause a disturbance at higher speeds. Again, though, we can’t yet comment on motorway cruising.

What we can say is that from this first, brief look, the Musso does appear to do a good job of taking the good stuff from the Rexton and applying it to the pick-up market. It’s solid, spacious inside and, without rewriting the rules, represents a quantum leap forward from the truck it will replace, vaulting SsangYong from the bottom of the one-tonne pile to a position in which it can compete on a level footing with the rest of the pack.

It also comes with a five-year, unlimited-mileage warranty, and with running costs mattering so much to most people that could go a long way to convincing some buyers. So too could prices which SsangYong says will start at less than £20,000 plus VAT – these are yet to be confirmed, as has the exact spec of the three-strong UK range. But it’s clear that value for money will continue to be a key part of the proposition.

Weigh all that up against fuel consumption and emissions of 35.8mpg and 211g/km (32.8 and 226 auto), and residuals which will likely be on the weak side, and you have a number of questions to ask yourself. By no means are they clear cut, though – and for the first time in the UK pick-up market, SsangYong certainly does have an answer.

Back in January, Land Rover kicked off a special year for its company with news that the much-loved Defender was alive and well. Sort of.

As part of the 70th anniversary celebrations, Land Rover decided it would be a good idea to ‘re-engineer’ a few Defenders by opening the bonnet, lobbing the Transit engine aside and squeezing the SVR’s thumping big heart under the hood instead – albeit without the supercharger.

That makes for a 400bhp Defender, effectively, with Land Rover branding it the fastest and most powerful iteration they’ve ever made. Given that it can do 0-60mph in just 5.6 seconds, we’ve no reason to suggest otherwise. And if you’re feeling especially ballsy, it tops out at 106mph.

I say ‘could’, because embarking on such an experience is likely to leave you with some form of scarring: physically, because your eardrums may disintegrate from the noise, and mentally, because it feels as safe as strapping a jet engine to a shopping trolley.

Alongside the newly-fitted V8 furnace, this re-worked Defender gains the popular eight-speed ZF automatic transmission and a raft of other enhancements, including better brakes and a handling kit of uprated dampers, springs and anti-roll bars.

You may think that with this revised road-biased setup, that the Works V8 now prefers to find the racing line through a series of apexes rather than ruts – but don’t be fooled. Sure, they’ve given the Works V8 a handling kit, but that’s like fitting a handling kit to a Boeing 747.

When you plant your foot into the throttle, there’s a significant pause while the Defender reluctantly calls the ZF ‘box into action. A gear is eventually selected and then your ears become victimised by an onslaught of thunder, whilst the cabin seems to tremble in a manner akin to that of a launching space shuttle.

And after you’ve hurtled down the road and you’ve become aware of the fast-approaching bend, your thoughts quickly turn to the shedding of speed and the fact the brakes aren’t doing as much of it as you’d like.

Then you’ve got the corner itself. It’s like trying to thread the Defender through the eye of needle, only you seem to have all the precision of a half-canned Jackson Pollock. It really is quite a spectacular mode of travel.

With the Works V8 Defender, even though it has all the subtlety of a burning hammer, it’s a machine that is capable of stirring the emotions. Any Defender, whether it be this £150,000 collector’s item or a knackered Tdi from the nineties with several hundred thousand miles on the clock, every one of them has that ability to get under your skin.

This one has a stubbornness that makes it endearing and while it has the road manners of a JCB in a tracksuit, you can’t avoid getting sucked into the theatre of it all, even if the performance isn’t what you were expecting.

Sadly, only 150 people will get the ticket to own one of these special Defenders. They are, chiefly, for collectors – a select few who have the funds to buy up toys, even if it means they will rarely ever come out of their boxes.

It’s a wonderful thing, the Works V8, and a fitting limited edition to mark a special year for Land Rover. It’s just a shame that so few eyes will ever get to see them in the flesh. And so few of these Defenders will ever have flesh grappling their steering wheels in anger.

Fiat raised an eyebrow or two in the pick-up world when it decided to launch a badge-engineered version of the Mitsubishi L200. The Fullback could be described as a me-too model – or, more sensibly, as an expedient way of allowing fleet customers to address all their light commercial vehicle needs in one deal. Either way, though, the new Fullback Cross is more than just someone else’s truck with a Fiat badge on it.

Sitting at the top of the Fullback range, the Cross model is based on the already well-equipped LX, meaning it has full-tim four-wheel drive and a 180bhp version of the now-familiar 2.4-litre turbo-diesel engine.

What it also has is a locking rear differential. Typically these make all the difference to a pick-up’s performance off-road. By nature they’re light at the tail, and lift wheels very easily – especially when unladen, and being able to lock the rear diff to prevent drive being lost this way is an important weapon in the driver’s arsenal. Many manufacturers use traction control as an alternative to this – some systems work better than others, but in our experience none at all as are effective as the traditional tech.

The L200 is available with a locking rear diff – but only with part-time four-wheel drive. Higher-spec models gain the full-time system that’s also used on the Fullback Cross – but lose the locker. This was frustrating when Mitsubishi first launched the full-time system in 2005, so it feels rather as if this new Fullback is a case of Fiat making the L200 into the vehicle we’ve always wished it would be.

To go with the off-road potential this offers, the Cross is lightly ruggedized, if that’s not a contradiction in terms. It gains toughened wheelarches and side steps with a matt black finish, as well as a satin-effect skid plate, and its 245/65R17 tyres are wrapped around black alloys.

If prepping vehicles for off-road work is your thing, you’ll immediately write all this off as mere styling, all of which would be unbolted and replaced with proper heavy-duty stuff from the aftermarket the moment you got your hands on it. That would be rather a harsh verdict, all the same, as Fiat is honest about the Cross being pitched as an eye-catching lifestyle truck fit for work and play alike, but there is indeed an element of show-not-go to its spec. In particular, the design of the six-spoke alloys means their faces are close to being flush with the tyres’ sidewall, which is a recipe for scratches when you’re churning your way through ruts.

Nonetheless, the Fullback Cross proves very competent off-road. Even on standard tyres, it deals well with the wet, sloppy conditions many will encounter frequently in day-to-day working life, following the ground confidently without any sign of wanting to go sideways. With 317lbf.ft, there’s plenty of torque for slugging away through mud or heaving itself up hills, though with this version of the engine you pay for the higher output by needing to rev it to 2500rpm before it’ll give you all it’s got – but despite this, it’ll scale very decent climbs at little more than tickover, and the gearing in the six-speed manual box never feels high.

You’d need more aggressive tyres for the diff-lock to make an appreciable difference in muddy conditions. However, at a crawl over uneven terrain, it comes into its own. The ground does need to be very rough – much more so than most owners will attempt to tackle in their expensive new trucks – but where two wheels lighten up at once, the locker allows you to keep on taking it gently rather than using extra speed to get through. And that’s good for the vehicle, its passengers, its load and the ground beneath it.

On the road, the Fullback is a fine performer, with a smooth, quiet ride on the motorway which makes it very agreeable indeed. The engine hauls it up to speed without any problem at all and feels as if it has plenty more to give, even when you’re keeping up with the traffic in the fast lane, and with the cruise control set it’ll rumble along all day without skipping a beat. You don’t need to fidget with the steering to keep it in its lane, either.

On A and B-roads, the steering is engaging, with plenty of feel and response as you chuck it into corners. Of course, there’s body roll, but it’s well controlled and doesn’t prevent you from enjoying yourself. As always with off-road vehicles, the trick is to drive with its foibles, not against them – accept it for what it is, and it’s a big, cheerful bundle of laughs.

Ride-wise, poorer road surfaces do set up a bit of fuss at the back, at least when there’s not a load of pea shingle in there to damp it down. But even when running unladen you can clobber it into an alloy-trasher of a pot-hole without feeling like the world’s coming to an end. Refinement is perfectly good by general pick-up standards, though the gearchange from the six-speed manual box is a bit mechanical.

Last time we drove a Fullback, we noted that the clutch had an oddly high biting point. No such trouble this time, however – it’s as easy to drive as you want it to be, with the option of full-time four-wheel drive adding an extra element of stability in wet conditions – and one which no other pick-up currently offers in combination with a rear locker.

Something else we grumbled about last time we drove a Fullback was its multimedia system, which defeated our every attempt to pair it with an iPhone and struggled to hold on to a DAB signal. This time, again no problem. We’d still like to know who it was that decided digital radio had to be so complicated to operate, but the sound and reception in the Cross were just fine – and having plugged our iPhone in to the USB port, it registered within seconds.

Elsewhere inside there’s heated leather seats and so on giving you the full luxury treatment. The leather feels tough rather than sumptuous – as always, we’d sooner see good fabric than so-so hide – but the seats are perfectly supportive and despite no adjustable lumbar support are comfortable over longer distances.

Similarly, the dash and floor console, though they’re finished in a hard plastic that is scratchy, are extremely well made – there’s almost no creaking from any part of them. It’s tough and rugged rather than luxurious, but all the top-spec kit does add something. It can’t work magic on the amount of space in the back, of course, but so long as you’re not carrying tall adults or bulky car seats, there’s enough space there to get by.

One other complaint we’d have relates to the pick-up bed. This is dominated by a model-unique textured sports bar, which looks cool and, we found, is capable of protecting the cab roof if you’re carrying very long items, but the bed itself is protected by a liner which, tough though it may be, offers nowhere to lash down your load. We had to run ratchet straps around the sports bar itself, which we’re pretty sure is not the idea.

The Fullback Cross isn’t unique in having full-time four-wheel drive, nor in having a rear diff-lock. But no other truck currently offers both in tandem, which gives it genuine off-road potential. It’s a good all-rounder, clearly the best option in the Fullback range, and its styling accessories certainly stand out – though in places we’d like to see a little more practicality to go with the eyeball-pleasing design.

Not so long ago, we lived in a much simpler time. A phone was a phone, and an SUV was… an SUV.

These days, companies aren’t satisfied with just producing something fit for one purpose. And with that, I give you the new Jaguar E-Pace – the ‘compact performance SUV with sports car looks’.

So, what about those looks then? Well, the E-Pace is an attractive vehicle, especially when finished in the R-Dynamic trim, with the rear being a particular highlight and some F-Type mimicking clear to see.

It’s the same inside, too, most noticeably when you look at how the grab handle runs from the side of the transmission tunnel on the passenger side up to the dashboard. On the whole the cabin is a welcoming enough environment, although its design is far from ground breaking. The switchgear is fine, apart from the toggle you engage to hop between driving modes, which feels cheap, frankly.

It’s Evoque-like inside: functional style, but with a little added flair. And that’s an important comparison, because the two share more than an interior.

While the E-Pace may wear a Gucci tracksuit, it’s based upon the same platform as the Range Rover Evoque and Discovery Sport. No surprise to see it uses the same nine-speed ZF gearbox through much of its range then, and a list of engines that’re straight from the JLR stable.

There’s a front-wheel-drive 150bhp diesel available with a manual ‘box and no R-Dynamic pack for under £30K, but unsurprisingly, we’re not too interested in that.

Thankfully, you can also equip an E-Pace with either a 180bhp or 240bhp tune of the 2.0-litre four-pot diesel, or should you want to go for the full Jaguar growl, there’s 250bhp or 300bhp 2.0-litre petrol engines.

Does any of this equate to a sports car driving experience? Not really.

There’s no denying that for a vehicle with a raised ride height carrying four-wheel-drive technology, the E-Pace is a competent performer, with a nimbleness to its handling that makes it feel lighter than it is.

However, this isn’t some low-slung sports car that’ll power slide its way to Tesco and back. Still, the lack of weight transpiring through the steering wheel is a testament to JLR’s engineers, especially when you consider the E-Pace is actually heavier than the bigger F-Pace (only JLR’s big boys get the expensive aluminium architecture).

A quick word on the two petrol variants: they’re both lovely to drive, with lively motors and a real verve in the way they go about their business. But, I can’t help feel Jaguar has missed a trick by not bringing in a ‘sensible’ petrol option. 250PS is a lot of power in any vehicle, and one can’t help but feel the emergence of a P200 may just be the peach JLR is looking for.

Currently, the pick of the bunch has to be the R-Dynamic SE 180bhp diesel in all-wheel-drive and auto spec. Forget the news, modern-day diesels aren’t the work of Satan and the 180bhp diesel provides a solid compromise between performance and economy.

The nine-speed ‘box still revs longer than necessary, but in everyday situations you’ll be pleased you took this over the manual. It’s all down to driving style, of course. If you insist on having an E-Pace you want to thrash, go petrol. The diesel is much better for cruising, and seeing as you’re likely to buy this vehicle with the view to popping a couple of your kids in the back, it’s better for the school run.

Jag’s new E-Pace offers good driving attributes for a car that isn’t a sports car. It rides well, whatever the driving mode, has ample performance and doesn’t feel bloated as its kerb weight suggests. But importantly, it has more kerb appeal than just about any other SUV out there. Thankfully for Jaguar, the beauty is more than skin deep.

The new XV is the first SUV on Subaru’s Global Platform – which will eventually underpin all the company’s vehicles. It’s good news for customers, because the XV and Impreza – which is also based on the new platform – take the top two places in EuroNCAP’s league table for child occupant protection.

It’s designed to route energy more efficiently through the body of the car in the event of a crash, and the engine is mounted in a cradle which carries it underneath the passenger compartment.

But to avoid that eventuality, the XV now features autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert, linked in to Subaru’s EyeSight system which uses a pair of cameras to create a 3D image of the road ahead. The XV will self-steer to a degree, too, to keep you on the straight and narrow, and if you try to pull away before the car in front, it’ll kill the gas.

And it looks after you the rest of the time, too. Inside, the XV’s cabin feels more modern than the old model’s, with a slick design and excellent build quality. The dashboard is dominated by a large screen which does the stuff you want it to but not the stuff you don’t – i.e. the heating and air-con which get traditional buttons.

We like the all-round view from the vehicle, too, as well as the space in the front seats. The rears aren’t as good – one six-footer can sit behind another, but not without compromise.

The rear seats drop down to leave a cargo floor with a sizeable step in it and a sloping front section. There’s a high lip at the tailgate aperture, too – because the floor is set low to allow the tallest possible luggage space.

The XV’s seating position is quite sporty, as is the vehicle’s willingness to be driven with verve.

The new platform is stiffer, with a low centre of gravity as well as a side-to-side balance of weight which flatters Subaru’s all-wheel drive system, letting the vehicle grip more tenaciously while steering and handling with greater feel and sharpness. It feels alert, and it also covers the ground very smoothly, with real composure.

You might not be surprised by any of that, but you’re unlikely to be expecting the XV to slay any giants off-road. Incredibly, though, we took on some mud on the luanch – the kind you really wouldn’t fancy having a go at on the wrong tyres. They wouldn’t have done this, of course, if they hadn’t tested it first. But this was on standard 18” tyres with the regulation amount of air in them. There was wheelspin, and a certain amount of sideways action as the vehicles found themselves a way through, but the fact is that we didn’t once see one getting into difficulties.

There’s no low box and the short stroke of the suspension means that although ground clearance is good, lifting wheels will always be an issue. But a standard CVT gearbox to some extent overcomes the absence of low range and, with Subaru’s X-Mode system now fitted, the XV’s traction control kicks in at lower speeds to prevent wheelspin.

There’s also a very effective hill descent control system whose set speed can be fine-tuned by dabbing the pedals, allowing you to tackle surprisingly rough terrain with much more control and finesse than a crossover estate normally allows.

Overall, there’s more off-road ability here than we believed possible in a car of this nature – Subaru is a past master at making estates perform in the mud, but the company has excelled itself here.

That’s the icing on top for a vehicle which makes a very good first impression indeed. And it’s a good first impression in more ways than one – because with the XV’s new platform set to go under the next Forester and Outback, Subaru has some very good times ahead.

Read the full review in the next issue of 4×4, out 9th February.

Following last year’s success for the Skoda Kodiaq, VW has decided to add a new seven-seater to their own line-up – Tiguan Allspace.

Essentially, this is a Tiguan with added flexibility. It’s 215mm longer than the regular Tiguan and the wheelbase has been stretched by 109mm. With your elongated Tiguan you get the privilege of ‘occasional seating’, which thankfully doesn’t mean you can only use them for birthdays and weddings.

What it does mean is that VW hasn’t tried to make out they’ve harnessed technology from the Tardis and applied it to the Allspace’s back row of seats. Instead, they freely admit these two pews are for the petite individual who is likely to be more interested in discussing with you the delights of Peppa Pig rather than available legroom.

There are a few other subtle differences between the Allspace and regular Tiguan, too. At the front, a taller grille and revised bonnet visually helps with raising the front in order to counter the extra bulk at the rear. The rear doors are longer and the shoulder line has been reworked, while off-road versions get amended bumpers and underbody protection. Even with the Tiguan’s growth spurt, it’s not an oversized vehicle and remains attractive.

The model we recently got our hands on was an SE Nav 2.0-litre TDI 4Motion 147bhp variant. Bit of a mouthful, but before we break it down for you, it’s worth knowing that this is the example VW estimates will be its top seller.

The ‘SE Nav’ denotes the starting point as you head up through the Allspace spectrum, past SEL and onto the R-Line derivatives. There’s a focus on providing high spec’d vehicles here, so all versions are generously equipped from the off. This base SE Nav, for instance, has the 8” colour touchscreen and Discover Navigation system.

VW estimates suggest that 95% of Allspace sales will be diesel, emphasising that TDI still pips TSI in this category – for now. You can get the 2.0 TDI unit in more powerful guises, and while initially sceptical about the 147bhp being able to haul the Allspace and seven people around, it will satisfy you completely, with a surprising amount of shove to serve up when prompted. Regarding the petrol units, the 1.4 TSI is only available in 2WD, leaving the thirstier 2.0 TSI. It may have 177bhp, but the TDIs can talk the torque.

There’s a mix of manual and autos on offer, but it’s the latter we’d advise you towards. Family life can tire you out, so why not let the car do the work for you? That is the idea after all. Plus you get paddles and a manual shift setting should you wish to take control and with the DSG ‘boxes being the best in the business, their slickness is difficult to play down.

Inside, it can look a little conservative – but as usual with Volkswagen, it’s all in the detail. The soft-touch plastics give an assuring feel of quality, while the cloth seats look up for a battle with the kids in the war of cleanliness. Controls are positioned well and easy to navigate.

And what of this ‘occasional seating’? A tether either side of the middle row flips them down and the occasional two are simple to put up or down. You can have a very spacious five-seat Tiguan or a seven-seater that will cope with the capability of swallowing a decent shopping trip.

Bigger boot, more seats, and more eventualities covered – what’s not to like. VW has quietly gone on and added that extra flexibility without harming the goodness already established in the Tiguan.

Prices start at £29,370, with the one that impressed us costing £34,905.

Jeep Compass

We drove the new Jeep Compass on its European launch in the summer. But now we’ve tried it out where it matters – here in Blighty.

Again, we had a spin in the 2.0 Multijet II diesel, but this time we also tried out the 1.4 MultiAir II turbocharged petrol equivalent. In versions of the Compass with four-wheel drive, both produce the same figure of 170bhp when mated to Jeep’s nine-speed auto box (there’s also a 140bhp version of the 2.0-litre unit with a manual box, but that’s for another day).

So our test was really about the two engines. At cruising speeds, there’s nothing to choose between them. The gearbox transitions are smooth and both are similarly quiet and comfortable.

Inside, the cabin is cleanly laid out and the touch-screen infotainment system is simple to navigate. The vehicles driven here were both in range-topping Limited spec, which means seats trimmed in full leather and, at the front, both heated and vented.

Again, the leather-wrapped steering wheel feels good and solid and the cruise control regulators are straightforward to operate. For taller drivers who require the seat further back, however, the restricted headroom that comes as a side product of the panoramic sunroof isn’t ideal.

We found the Compass’ ride to be notably informative over something as slight as cats’ eyes, and on uneven streets and B-roads this was amplified. It wasn’t uncomfortable by any means, but for something with off-road credentials in the wheelhouse we hoped for a smoother deal on everyday surfaces.

Talking of off-road credentials, we didn’t get to test these as the route set out for us to follow on the launch stuck exclusively to tarmac. There is, however, a Trailhawk version of the Compass coming during 2018 – and if you like the look of the vehicle as your next off-road giant-slayer, it will certainly be the one to wait for.

Back in the here and now, the biggest difference between the engines in driving terms is how they work with the automatic gearbox. Both may produce the same power, but the diesel has 258lbf.ft from 1750rpm while the petrol only gives you 184lbf.ft at 2500rpm – and the difference is very apparent.

The petrol engine doesn’t cover the auto box in a lot of glory. Unless it’s bullied, we found it sluggish when pulling away – bridging the gap between dangling yourself in front of traffic at roundabouts and steaming across them can be a frustrating task. A window of opportunity in between these extremes does exist – it’s just smaller than you might expect.

There are similar delays in power delivery when building up speed – and if you over-compensate, your wrists are slapped with torque steer. Downshifts on a decline caught it out a few times, too – we found it shifting down a gear too many and over-revving loudly as a result.

The diesel is a lot better behaved. The sooner the torque comes in, the happier the gearbox is. It doesn’t feel as if there are too many gear ratios in the mix, it copes better with downshifts and it’s less anxious and more refined in city centre traffic.

In every other way, the Compass is comfortable in urban environments, with light steering making it easy and untaxing to manoeuvre around town. Its contemporary styling makes it look like it belongs, too – which, trivial though it may sound, is no small concern on the school run.

Visibility is less than fantastic, however. There are blind spot indicators to help you out, but the C-pillars do dominate the view over your shoulder.12

On the whole, though, the Compass is a solid entrant for Jeep into the medium SUV market. We’d certainly choose the 2.0-litre diesel, however, whose extra torque works far better with the auto gearbox, making it much nicer to live with, and in Limited trim the cabin is a really nice, plush place to sit.

It is, however, on the expensive side. The 2.0 MultiJet II auto 4×4 lists at £34,295, and the vehicle we drove on the launch had options on it which would have taken that to £39,645. How that will look alongside the best of the Compass’ many excellent competitors in the medium SUV market is open to question – though taken on its own merits, this new Jeep certainly does have a lot to recommend it.


First time Jeep launched a vehicle called the Compass, it was a bit rubbish. It was 2006, and the company felt like it could do nothing wrong – so it brought a deeply American vehicle to Britain and figured it would sell, because back then everything sold.

What followed was a financial collapse that ended up with Jeep becoming part of the Fiat empire. And however cynical you might feel about that, the result is that today’s Jeeps are properly global products.

The Renegade was first, and its sales have been astronomical. So much so that having sold 300,000 vehicles in 2009, Jeep shifted 1.4 million last year.

Now, aiming to play the same game, here’s an all-new Compass. It’s halfway in size between the Renegade and bigger Cherokee – and it’s set to give Jeep an extremely serious presence in the compact SUV market when it goes on sale at the end of the year.

If you doubt Jeep’s global credentials, you might be interested to learn that UK Compasses with be built in India. You don’t need to spend much time inside the vehicle to see that it’s distinctly European in character, too.

Jeep says the Compass will be the ‘most capable’ vehicle in its segment. Backing that up is the presence of a Trailhawk model in the range, bringing with it dual-ratio gears – and the ‘Trail Rated’ badge that says Jeep considers this vehicle worthy of its off-road heritage.

As with the existing Renegade and Cherokee, the Trailhawk model will be a niche seller. But all Compasses will have a decent level of off-road ability built in, with 3mm metal underbody guards as standard and a rear suspension setup allowing 20cm of articulation.

So this is going to be more than just another me-too model in an already crowded segment. You could argue that real off-road ability is irrelevant to most buyers here, and by extension that it’s a gimmick, but Jeep clearly believes that its brand means something, even to people who buy soft-roaders. And amen to that.

First and foremost, though, this is a family car. Entry-level models won’t even have four-wheel drive. Obviously we’ll leave those to one side; assuming you want the real thing, your choice will be between a 1.4-litre petrol engine and a pair of 2.0-litre diesels producing 140 and 170bhp. All 4×4 models will get a nine-speed auto box as standard.

There are three main trim levels, with Trailhawk out on its own as a specialist model. All are well equipped, with the range-topping Limited giving you an exceptional kit list including a particularly impressive multimedia system.

We drove a Limited with the 170bhp diesel engine, as well as a similarly powered Trailhawk. The most obvious difference aside from the off-road stuff is that the Limited has a full leather interior; the leather itself is less than entirely plush, but does feel hard-wearing.

There are some hard, scratchy and cheap-feeling plastics around the cabin, too, particularly to the lower dash surfaces and rear door trims. The dash itself is good and stout, however, though the floor console is a bit flappy – give it a couple of years and we’d be listening out for creaks and squeaks from it.

It’s easy to get into a good driving position, however – and even with the front seat set all the way back, a six-footer can still slide comfortably into the back. That’s a very pleasing surprise in a 4×4 of this size – though in the Limited we drove, a full-length sunroof meant headroom in the back was badly lacking. The Trailhawk was just fine in this way, however, though a high waistline and rather eagerly positioned C-post means the view out is nothing to write home about.

So your kids might not be overly enamoured of the Compass. They’ll like this, though: when Jeep’s designers were coming up with a ‘look’ for the vehicle, they took inspiration from sources including none other than Iron Man. ‘Machine with character’ is the phrase they like to use, and you’d be hard pushed to say the Compass lacks it.

It doesn’t lack for cargo carrying skills, either, thanks to rear seats which fold acceptably close to flat. They don’t leave any step to get your stuff over, either, and loading up in the first place is aided by a good, low lip with a hard-wearing plastic covering.

On the move, the Compass is impressively quiet. The diesel engine is quiet at all speeds and the ninespeed box is as smooth as you like, meaning progress in stop-start city traffi c is hassle-free. Our test route included a lot of urban driving, which was completely undramatic – even when the surface got broken up and pot-holed, the suspension dealt with it more effi ciently than we expected, with crashy responses almost completely absent.

We didn’t really get the chance to experience the Compass’ handling, however we can say that its ride and refi nement are genuinely impressive – as is its braking. Off-road, the Limited dealt tidily with rough, unsurfaced tracks – and the Trailhawk demonstrated a strong level of climbing ability, whether over loose stones or bigger, axle-twisting rocks. We found that even in low box, however, it was necessary to use Hill Descent Control to keep on top of its speed on even quite shallow drops – putting the auto box into manual mode and dropping it into fi rst did prevent revs from building up in some situations but, once the vehicle was already descending on HDC, switching it off provoked an immediate lurch forward.

Overall, however, there’s no doubting that with the extra hardware Jeep has given the Compass, it’s going to add something new to the compact SUV market. It may not be the most sophisticated vehicle in its class, but not a lot will be able to match it for standard kit – and Jeep says that its price will be pitched in to the middle of the market.

There’s more to life than just kit, though – which is one of the lessons Jeep learned from the original Compass. This time, the vehicle itself has been designed to appeal to European tastes – showing that of all the lessons they’ve learned, the main one is that the Renegade worked like a charm.

Like it or not, Jeep would be mad not to follow that formula. The Compass does just that – but the need to demonstrate real off-road skill shows that this is a formula that’s unique to Jeep itself. It’s one they’ve got right before – and thus far, everything points to them having done it again.


Skoda came late to the SUV game. But when it arrived, the Yeti rewrote the rules on how a small 4×4 should be. Now the company aims to do the same thing with the Kodiaq, a larger vehicle whose all-road ability, seven-seat practicality and sensible pricing is aimed directly at the heart of Discovery Sport territory.

Based on the latest technology used throughout the Volkswagen Group, the Kodiaq is designed to be as family-friendly as possible. Not all models have seven seats, just as not all have four-wheel drive, but with a choice of five engines, two gearboxes and four trim levels, it’s unlikely that you’ll fail to find one to suit your taste.

That’s if it’s to your taste at all, of course. The Yeti stood out by virtue of its distinctive styling, but the Kodiaq is more conservative, looking smaller than it really is and even appearing quite car-like from some angles. Apparently the nextgen Yeti will take the same approach when it arrives later this year, which you might say is a bit of a pity.

Far be it from us to talk of trivial stuff, but it did occur during the launch that this is a vehicle whose design is particularly sensitive to the colour you paint it. We drove one in signal red, which definitely deivided opinion; ours would be that unless you want to hide in the scenery, a bright colour helps.

Inside, the Kodiaq feels just like a Skoda should. It’s beautifully put together, of course, and the dash on the SE L spec model we drove was highlighted by a very elegant, very modern touch-screen media system that looked crisp, made logical sense to use and responded promptly to inputs.

This helps make it a pleasing and entirely inoffensive place to sit, as do good, comfortable seats with a commanding view of the road ahead. Behind you, the second row can be slid far enough back to let one six-footer stretch out behind another – naturally, there’ll be a push-me-pull-you sort of compromise to be made if there are people sat in the third row too, but our tester was only a fiveseater so that one’s going to have to wait for another day.

What we were able to do was drop the rear seats, which is dead easy as it’s just a question of pulling a lever and watching as the backs drop to click into place and sit near-flat on the fixed squabs. They left a step in the load floor on the Kodiaq we drove, but once you’ve played about with the seven-seat options and/or the various cargo handling accessories on offer, there’s no reason to fear being stuck with one like that.

Our Kodiaq had the 1.4 TSI engine, in 150bhp form and mated to a manual gearbox. Yes, a 4×4 with a 1.4-litre petrol engine… last time we came across one of those, it was an old-generation Dacia Duster from the early nineties.

Happily, the Kodiaq bears no resemblence to that sad shed of a thing. The engine is brisk and full of torquem the gearbox is a picture of smoothess and the overall standard of handling and, in particular, ride shows none of the harshness that’s blotted Skoda’s copybook in the past. It doesn’t exactly reflect well on how much attention we were paying, but at the end of the launch route we remarked that we had barely noticed what the Kodiaq was like to drive – a sure sign of a car with no vices.

The petrol engine is not to be feared, and if you value serenity you’ll fi nd it quieter than the 2.0 TDI diesel we had a quick spin in afterwards. Both are very acceptable, however.

What the launch route didn’t include was any off-tarmac work worthy of the name (even though we were tantalisingly close to Salisbury Plain, which was a bit frustrating). So that too will have to wait for another day – however with Off-road mode available as part of the Drive Mode Select option on 4×4 models, we fully expect the Kodiaq to be as capable as mechanically similar machines like the new VW Tiguan – which has previously impressed us in genuinely difficult conditions.

As it is, the pictures on these pages make it clear that Skoda is marketing the Kodiaq as a vehicle for people who want to keep going after the road ends. Within reason, we expect it to excel at that – it’s clearly not for hardcore mudplugging, and you wouldn’t want to cane it through clawing thorns, but on the sort of known-quantity rough tracks that make up almost all the off-roading people do in the real world, it has the makings of a true do-anything family holdall.

Land Rover Discovery

There were no surprises when pictures of the Discovery 5 surfaced. Like the Discovery Sport but taller, wider and with familiar traits from previous Discoverys like the stepped roof, the D5 is clearly the top dog in what is now Land Rover’s most rounded model family.

Crucially, however, there’s always the risk that someone will label it, ‘just a rebadged Range Rover’. There’s no denying that this Discovery looks closer to its poshest relations than before, especially at the front. What this Discovery needs to do, though, is drive like a Discovery. There needs to be segregation here compared to the Range Rover. Unlike in the old Discovery 4, you have a choice of engines ranging from the 240hp 2.0-litre Sd4 diesel to the 340hp 3.0-litre Si6 petrol unit.

We tested the one in between, a 258hp 3.0-litre Td6 version, and while that doesn’t have significantly more power than the Sd4 engine, there is around 20% more torque on tap (443lbf.ft against 369lbf.ft). Simply put, the Td6 engine is superb. Essentially the same unit as the old SDV6, it does a fine job of hauling the vehicle up to speed. Having shed 480kg in weight over the old Disco 4, it’s no wonder this new Discovery feels lighter on its feet. Naturally, it’s no featherweight still, so you can’t start thinking you’re in a sports car – but you can at least think heavyweight boxer rather than sumo wrestler.

There’s more good news too as each engine is mated to the brilliant eight-speed ZF gearbox. On the road, the Discovery 5 feels very composed. It still has that Discovery 4 glide, and it’s very easy to settle into. The steering is nicely weighted for a vehicle this size, making it easy to position in town and when entering the sort of bends you’ll find on a typical B-road.

Again, it’s easy to cover ground quickly. Yes, there will be a little body roll in the corners, but it’s minimal and to be expected when you’re pressing on in a vehicle of this stature. Big is one conclusion everyone seems to draw from their initial greeting with the Disco 5.

But no, it doesn’t feel like a Range Rover. There’s more to it than that. It feels multi-purpose. It feels versatile. It feels Discovery.

Admittedly, when you sit in the driver’s seat of the new Disco, the fact that it utilises the same steering wheel and switchgear as the Range Rover can undermine that argument. But having parts from a car that is significantly more expensive is surely a string to the Discovery’s bow.

Being the new kid on the block, the Discovery has other perks too. These include the Intelligent Seat Fold system, which allows you to raise or lower the middle and back rows of seats all at the touch of a button; the stadium seating that means the (very usable) back row gets as good a view of the road ahead as the driver; the on-board wi-fi and hundred different USB slots to help kids keep shtum for weeks. There’s even heated seats for every single row and bum.

Everyone should be safe, too, as you carry the kiddiewinks to school in a vehicle awarded with a full fivestar NCAP safety rating.

Forget the party pieces and on-road manners for a moment, though. Take the Discovery 5 offroad and you understand why Land Rover is so excited about it.

There’s no escaping that you are subject to a far more digitised experience than you had 28 years ago in a Discovery. The latest Terrain Response 2 algorithms, combined with All-Terrain Progress Control, Hill Descent Control and cameras on every panel, mean it can all feel a little disconnected.

However, all these electronic aids mean no terrain is safe from the reach of the Discovery. Even over severe rocks, it brings a level of composure, while traction control settings can adjust automatically to solve the equation the landscape poses ahead. Our impression is that the Discovery 5 will go further than a Disco 1 or 2 could manage, at least in standard spec.

A 900mm wading depth also enables the Discovery to do a good impression of a narrowboat heading down your nearest canal.

Notwithstanding this, the new Discovery looks and moves much better than a boat. The fresh exterior, while not to everyone’s taste, has sharpened it up over its predecessor. Yet it still feels like a Disco 4 – only nimbler.

The problem with the Discovery is the Range Rover. Or more accurately, the Range Rover’s problem is now the Discovery.

The version we drove was a Td6 HSE Luxury: yours for £75,965. That sounds like insane money for a Discovery, but this is a seriously high-spec machine which echoes the Range Rover with some of the touches in its cabin.

The question is that with the Discovery being such an all-rounder, with seven usable seats, brilliant storage space, luxury taken straight from the Range Rover and more capability than you’ve ever seen in a thing with four wheels, why would you spend possibly an extra £25,000 on a Rangey?

The answer is that snob value is a powerful thing. And you can expect the Range Rover to keep on moving upmarket. With what may just be the greatest ever Discovery now on its case, it might have to.