A Vauxhall 4x4 is all well and good, but aren’t they a bit late to the party?
Ignoring all the environemtal isssues for a moment, Luton is indeed very late to the segment – if you discount the Frontera. Toyota launched the Rav4 back in the early 1990s, and the compact 4x4 sector has grown phenomenally since. The Japanese (Toyota, Honda, and Nissan) have dominated the sector and only now are the Europeans catching up. Vauxhall is one of the first out of the blocks with the new Anatara, co-developed with the Chevrolet Captiva in South Korea. Credit where it's due though; Vauxhall is ahead of other European 4x4s entrants. We've seen official pictures of the VW Tiguan, driven the Peugeot and Citroen twins in this month's CAR Magazine, and we’ll soon have the Renault Koleos and Ford Kuga.
It looks a bit dull compared with the Captiva...
It depends who you ask. Vauxhall previewed the car as the Antara GTC concept at Frankfurt in September 2005 - it was a swoopy three-door crossover with a dash of style. The production Antara is a fairly boxy, blander five-door, with none of the cheeky looks of the Corsa or imposing elegance of the forthcoming Vectra. And it's got the scourge of modern design, fake side vents on the flanks. To these eyes, the sister Chevrolet Captiva is much smarter on the outside, better resolved. If this isn't your cup of tea, you can always investigate get the chunky Irmscher styling kit...
What about inside?
A lot better actually. Although the concept’s swooping dash has been lost, the production interior is a mix of Astra for the lower dash and Corsa for the upper. It’s well built and attractive, and of good quality. The driving position is typical high-chair 4x4, but it won't threaten those used to regular hatchbacks despite the lorry-sized steering wheel. There’s also none of the penny-pinching present in the Captiva that feels very much built down to a budget. It's a solid, well built cabin in the Vauxhall.
And from behind the wheel?
The seats are comfy but not as good as the Captiva’s but the driving experience is better. Of course, this high-up 4x4 rolls a bit, but it also steers accurately and can be hustled along quite nicely. Engine-wise there is a 2.4-litre petrol or a 2.0-litre diesel: the former is probably best avoided in such a car if you want the best residuals and economy. The oil-burner is a VM Motori unit from Italy with 148bhp and a solid 236lb ft. Our test car came with the automatic which is only available on the diesel. It shifts smoothly but will hurt you at the pumps and the wallet, sending CO2 emissions spiralling by 40 points to 238g/km while economy tumbles from 37.2 to 32.8mpg. The engine is refined enough but struggles in a car weighing just over 1800kg.
Can the Antara off-road?
Are you serious? Well if you really want to know the Vauxhall has hill descent control and intelligent four-wheel drive which only sends drive to the front in regular driving. Only when the system detects a loss of traction is drive sent to the rear wheels. But the Antara’s tagline is ‘explore the city limits’, which to us means it’ll spend most of its time in suburbia and not in the mud. Which is true of the very vast majority of 4x4s, especially these compact lifestyle models.
The Antara isn't far from the class best, but you’ll pay at least £21,020 for a diesel whilst our S trim level model with an auto tops £24,095. That’s not bad value, but those prices position it head-on with the Freelander, one of our favourite cars in the class. That Vauxhall badge might put some off, but the Antara nevertheless does everything you would expect of a Griffin-badged 4x4: it's a competent all-rounder, but with little real flair.