Motor’s Carri-Anne Jane denounces the negativity attached to people carriers and assures us these fun-sized SUVs do indeed bring the fun
Traditional people carriers don’t have the best reputation around. Large and obnoxiously dimensioned, they’re usually magnets for parking-lot damage on the exterior and grade-A bacteria transport on the interior. Added to that, the ever-present image of a slightly reskinned Volksiebus, driven by passive-aggressive parental types hopped-up on sneakily attained ADD medication intended for their sprogs, and you can understand why they’re not exactly a mainstay motoring item, like, say, the SUV. They don’t promise a world of fun, do they? And life should be about fun, even if you have a large family. Some SUVs are fun… So why not blend fun and a practical family vehicle? Well, Volkswagen and Lexus have taken a mid-size SUV each and added some family sized dimensions, less 7-seater more useable 5+2 seater. Is the recipe worth sharing?
Volkswagen’s original ‘Tiger-meets-Iguana’ crossover has been beefed-up and can be considered a fully fledged SUV in today’s currency. Yet, the Allspace takes growing up to a whole new level with a third row of seats added without looking like your dad after a really indulgent lunch. It’s got a certain ‘stomach in, chest out’ confidence to it’s persona that is attractive. There’s no cringe-worthy shame in announcing which family-centric SUV you drive here. There’s pride when you’ve got an Allspace in the drive. Lexus is on the more premium end of the SUV spectrum, less footballer’s wives more refined breeding. There’s a rarefied air to any Lexus, the hours of thought that have gone into sculpting each scalpel-like body crease is reflected in the high-gloss finished product. Now the standard RX has entered the people-carrier fray, adding a third row to the RX 350 with the L version. Before you can even say, ‘Yes, but a Lexus isn’t fun!’, have you seen Japanese family gameshows lately? These guys own the fun…
So they’re both technically 7-seaters but not really. That third row is more for the little one than the big ones or running an underworld Mom’s-taxi operation. The Allspace has 700-litres of luggage space without the extra row, up by 115 litres from the regular Tiggy. However, in a game of Rock, Paper, Space, the RX wins at 966 litres. Yup, it may have slightly Adam Sandler, dad bod proportions, but now you know why. Both these models pride themselves on passenger comfort. The Allspace’s wheelbase has been extended by 109 mm equating to 60-mm extra legroom for rear passengers. The RX 350 L has no issues when it comes to legroom, it adds 110 mm to the original length, both front and rear passengers have adjustable seats resulting in the third row being able to reclaim extra leg space when everyone scooches forward. It’s a vehicular version of the kids rhyme Ten in the Bed, except no one falls out, one climbs in.
Both the Allspace and the RX 350 L have AWD, adding a level of pragmatism to family motoring that’s essential if you’re after fun. Dirt roads don’t mean a thing to these two, and a weekend gamut to Die Hel in the Gamkaskloof is totally doable, as are dirt roads in Kruger after heavy rains. Exploration off the beaten track is a given with these two. The RX 350 L is powered by a 3.5-litre naturally aspirated V6 engine. The upside of this is that it suffers no turbo lag. The down side, it weighs 2 150 kg and drinks its weight in fuel. As we said, dad bod. Endowed with an impressive 216 kW output, it’s silken off the line with all-wheel-drive transmitting shove securely to the ground, although it doesn’t exactly get the body moving as quickly as the figures might suggest, or as quickly as the turbocharged Volkswagen. Once up to speed, however, if you harness its great momentum, it wafts down a road very enjoyably. Flick the variable drive mode into Sport mode and you elicit a lovely gruff tone to the V6 you just don’t hear from modern, downsized motors these days. Like the 162 kW 2.0 TSI engine found in our top-of-the-range Allspace test car. Coupled to a 4Motion all-wheel-drive system, for gratis you get Adaptive Chassis Control with four driving modes. Add a razor-sharp DSG box and you have something that goes a bit like a GTI at full throttle and drinks fuel like your grandparents at an open bar.
Comfort and ease of access is everything in a family car. No comfort, no fun. The Allspace has tried and tested VW ergonomics, it’s been done so many times it just works, the cabin up front has everything a driver and passenger needs close at hand. The second row benefits from collapsible tray tables, a godsend on those long journeys with little ones and they can also be manually shifted forward, the occupant in the middle is gambling with a surprise enema from the seatbelt clip mind you. Getting children into the back of the VW poses quite the feat of gymnastic ability. An adult? Well, they’ll possibly choose to stay at home instead. The third row is cramped with little in the way of space, ventilation or stowage options. The panoramic sunroof relieves the cramped environment, however, the Allspace’s release lever for the third row in the luggage compartment simply didn’t work when we called upon it. Epic fail. Imagine you’re standing there in the rain collecting Dick and Jane with all their paraphernalia and that darn button won’t work, leaving you carefully unburdening yourself, creating a precarious pile of belongings on the wet pavement and clambering into the boot to use the manual grab handles.
Lexus, too, sticks to what it knows. Up front there’s technology for everyone and everything. Enough ports of varying dimensions to charge everyone and their maitjies’ smartphones. The second row caters less to little kids and more towards adults. Electrically adjustable seats and here’s the absolute game changer, electric access to the third row. Pop open the boot (also electrically operated) and you’ll find switches to power the third row – it’s like they know! Owing to the Lexus’ greater overall width, the third row has a wider aperture that occupants could easily step into, there are stowage compartments and dedicated ventilation. And, yet again, more charging ports! While the seats are comfortable and indicative of the more expensive price tag, the sunroof is not of a panoramic variety and doesn’t extend as far back, leaving the third row in darkness. We’ve reliably been told this is fun for kids.
While the Allspace is more affordable with the superior, downsized engine and gearbox, the difficulty operating the third row and bench like rear seats provide an underwhelming experience as a straight-up people carrier. Yes, the RX 350 L is R160 000 dearer, but it delivers on everything it promises, without neglecting the all-important fun element. It’s a close call but the Lexus RX 350 L is our pick.
In a nutshell –
Lexus RX 350L EX
Honest, all-in, luxury trucklet
Refined, infotainment system feels a bit long-in-the-tooth
Engine: 3 456 cc, 6-cylinder
Power: 216 kW @ 6 300 rpm, 358 Nm @ 4 600 rpm
Weight: 2 150 kg
Power to weight: 100 kW per tonne
0-100 km/h 7.5 sec (tested),
Quarter mile 15.62 sec (tested),
Top speed 200 km/h
Tyres: 20-inch alloys, 235/55 Bridgestone Dueller
Economy: 10.2 l/100 km (claimed)
Transmission: 8-speed auto
CO2 emissions: 234 g/km
Decibel test: Max. 91.6 dB, Ave. 80.3 dB
Boot capacity: 966 litres (3rd row stowed)
Priced from: R959 000
Special award: Technology, there’s a button for everything
In a nutshell –
Volkswagen Tiguan Allspace 2.0 TSI 4Motion Highline
Solid peoples’ car that’ll go down a treat in Volksie-loving SA
A bit cold, a bit clinical, a bit German
Engine: 1 984 cc, 4-cylinder, turbo
Power: 162 kW @ 4 000 rpm, 340 Nm @ 4 400 rpm
Weight: 1 680 kg
Power to weight: 97 kW per tonne
0-100 km/h 6.9 sec (tested)
Quarter mile 15.32 sec (tested)
Top speed 223 km/h
Tyres: 19-inch alloys, 235/50 Hankook Ventus S1 Evo
Economy: 8.8 l/100 km
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch auto
CO2 emissions: 185 g/km
Decibel test: Max. 91.4 dB, Ave. 82 dB
Boot capacity: 700 litres (3rd row stowed)
Priced from: R604 800 (Price as tested: R693 919)
Special award: VW build and heritage, will see your first born to uni.