THE VAUXHALL NAME seems to be everywhere and its certainly got 2011 off to a flying start. After an unsettled couple of years, the British face of GM’s European Opel has come bouncing back – not least with a very smart sponsorship deal of all four of the UK’s home nations football teams. Along with the others, the Scotland squad now proudly sport the Vauxhall name on their shirts and anything to do with the home championship has the brand plastered all over it.
The company is reluctant to discuss the deal in detail but they say the time was right, the opportunity was there and the profile is spot on for their target market. And, I’m told, that’s just the start with big plans to support the sport right down to grass roots schoolboy level.
For three weeks over February, hundreds of journalists and dealers are being flown into Edinburgh Airport and testing the car over the M8, M9 and country roads around Central Scotland
Scotland’s car buyers are hugely important to them. The UK is GM’s biggest single market in Europe and Vauxhall is the biggest selling manufacturer in Scotland, holding No1 spot with the Corsa and No2 with the Astra. Last year they sold 27,000 cars in Scotland, helped more than a little by the superb mid-range Insignia which outsold Ford’s Mondeo and Renault’s Laguna.
So, it’s no surprise really that GM chose Scotland for the European launch of its new SUV, the Antara which will go on sale at the end of April. For three weeks over February, hundreds of journalists and dealers are being flown into Edinburgh Airport and testing the car over the M8, M9, country roads around Central Scotland and off-roading in the Trossachs while overnighting on Loch Lomondside at Cameron House Hotel. The conditions have been challenging, with heavy rain and snow in the hills, but the German organisers say it’s been perfect to put the car through its paces.
On the road
Following its launch four years ago, the existing Antara has been considerably refreshed and beefed up with a new exterior look and upgraded interior, new powertrain with high-efficient engines, an enhanced chassis and the option of front-wheel-drive or electronically-controlled all-wheel-drive with variable power distribution. The test car was a six-speed manual diesel model with the smaller 163PS entry-level engine, but felt capable of dealing with everything that came its way.
GM claims its achieved a 50% reduction in interior noise and it certainly seemed quiet enough ,although I heard others who’d driven the petrol version dispute this, saying it seemed quite noisy and a bit “tinny”. The version I drove was one of the first left-hand-drive Opel models but the specification was similar to what will be coming to the UK.
The ride felt good, thanks to the chassis improvements, and the speed-sensitive power steering was accurate and positive. Standard equipment on the AWD versions includes automatic vehicle-level control, which maintains a constant ground clearance when loaded or pulling a trailer.
Venturing off road into the forest drive at the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park in the heart of the Trossachs, a substantial snowfall the previous day had added to the spectacular scenery and created some challenging conditions for the Antara. As the test car was a German-registered model, it came with compulsory winter tyres, but even discounting them the car felt supremely capable and sure-footed on the snow-covered muddy tracks, which in reality many of those sold in the UK will be unlikely to experience.
The real test came when it was faced with a series of mini off-road obstacles, such as cornering through a V-shaped gully; driving along a fearsome vertical slope and negotiating felled tree trunks, laid lengthwise and in one case over a giant rolling log to create a vehicular see-saw. The car dealt with them all with barely a murmur, suggesting that this latest Antara is much more than a townie with good visibility – it can also take the whole family into and over the countryside whatever their leisure pursuits.
The weather was cold, wet and miserable but there were smiles all round in the depths of the forest aided by the tea and buns provided in a temporary log cabin by a near neighbour of mine, event organiser Bill Thomson, who greeted everyone with a warm welcome in his thick tweed kilt, fox sporran and a pair of sturdy wellies.
Comfort & Safety
Push-button electric parking brake, hill descent and hill start assist are standard on all models, along with a host of other features such as fog lamps, roof rails and heated powered door mirrors. In the AWD test car, standard fittings include cruise control, headed front seats, 18in alloys and park assist. There’s also stacks of storage space, with a pull-out compartment under the front passenger seat and other little details, like nets on the front seat backs and a parking ticket holder in the dashboard.
There’s an underfloor storage compartment in the cargo area for security, and rails on both of the rear side walls into which you can clip the options of nets, partitions, rods or hooks to stop loads moving around. The ‘five quid off twenty grand’ entry level price is attractive, although after the winter we’ve just had I reckon it would be worth the extra £2350 to get the all-wheel drive-version.
My only criticism of the new car is that it doesn’t look that much different from many others in the competition. It would be good to see GM be more adventurous in design in the way that Nissan, Kia and even Ford have been. UK sales figures for the existing Antara have been around 1000 a year. With SUVs representing one-in-10 of all new car sales, Vauxhall is confident it can get 3000 in the first year and will build on that; they also reckon two-thirds of those sales will be to people moving into SUVs for the first time.
The impending death of the 4x4 has been predicted for many years. On the basis of the new Antara, it’s very much here to stay.
Should I buy one?
Lots of toys come in the package so it’s good value ... but go for the All-Wheel-Drive.
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