Vehicle on test
Quiet cabin, handling, rear loadspace
Not so Good:
Bland looks, firm ride, notchy gearchange
You’d be forgiven for thinking that we’ve made a mistake with the photos of the Vauxhall Antara, but no – this is, indeed, the second-generation Antara that was launched in February 2011.
On the outside, the car has had the mildest of facelifts, with just changes to the lights and the grille compared to the original Antara that’s been around for about four years. Instead, Vauxhall has saved its energies for improvements under the skin: two new 2.2 litre turbodiesel engines for starters, one offering 163 PS and the other 184.
There are two new transmissions too, with both manual and automatic models now boasting 6 speeds, and an all-new interior that Vauxhall hopes will win potential buyers over from the dozen or so other soft-roaders currently on offer. One selling point, for example, is that the rear seats fold completely flat, opening up a huge amount of space for those trips to IKEA…..
That’s how the Vauxhall Antara looks, then, but we drove left-hand drive, German-registered Opel Antaras at the car’s European launch in Scotland. Apart from the steering wheel being on the wrong side, the cars were exactly the same as you’d find in Vauxhall showrooms, although for some reason the predicted biggest seller – the 163PS 4x4 – wasn’t there in huge numbers and so we had to settle for testing the more powerful engine with both the manual and automatic gearboxes. The Antara is now available with 2WD as well but only with the smaller engine, while European markets also get a petrol engine although it’ll only be the two diesels offered in the UK.
Two trim levels will be available – Exclusiv and SE – with even the bottom-spec front-wheel drive models getting lots of standard equipment such as air conditioning, ABS and a Hill Descent Control system. On the downside, we thought the new electric handbrake was a bit fiddly to operate, while the satnav in both the test cars was only too eager to send us down the wrong sliproads at motorway junctions. Perhaps this was because of the left-hand drive set-up, but it still earned a black mark in our book.
Of the two models we tested, we preferred the automatic but only because the manual car had a notchy gearchange that was also a bit of a stretch to get into fifth and sixth gears – that’ll be first and second on right-hand drive cars. The ride was on the firm side and so Scottish B-roads weren’t perhaps the best surfaces to demonstrate to European journalists how well the car rides.
Handling is another matter, however, as that stiff suspension means body roll is reduced and so you can make decent progress in what is quite a tall car. Along with the new engines, gearboxes and suspension, a lot of work has also clearly gone into making the interior much quieter than the old car – something like 50% quieter in fact.
Taking advantage of the fact that we were in Scotland in February, Vauxhall and their German colleagues had laid on a gentle drive for us through some stunning forestry. To be fair, we could have easily tackled the same snowy gravel tracks in a family hatchback, but knowing that we had an electrically-controlled 4WD system was reassuring; pretty much as it will be for the majority of potential buyers. The car was never really challenged, even when confronted by obstacles such as a tight turn across a muddy ditch or driving along a steep bank, but we reckon it’ll be more than capable of towing a caravan or a horsebox out of a muddy field. Should you need more than five seats for the rest of the Pony Club, then there’s always the Chevrolet Captiva that shares the same platform and is built in the same factory in Korea.
That, then, is the new Vauxhall Antara. Even though it’s better than the model it replaces, the car still doesn’t quite make a convincing case for itself – particularly in terms of economy and emissions - so we reckon Vauxhall may struggle to sell the 3,000 it predicts will find buyers in its first year on sale.
Report by Mark James