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Vauxhall Antara S 2.0 CDTi Roadtest

A late entrant into the mid-range SUV market, the Antara routinely ticks all the right boxes.

the Vauxhall Antara and Chevrolet Captiva are from the same family

"Pea und ham zoup! This to me is an inzult!" raged Gregor Mendel before storming out of a Royal Society dinner. Thus erupted the great 'Taking the pea' episode that rocked the Victorian scientific establishment.

Whilst studying genetics, Mendel discovered that peas in a pod were not merely of the same species but were brothers and sisters, or cousins at least, and thus, some thought, had anthropomorphic qualities that gave them the right not to be consigned to a tin of Crosse & Blackwell's.

Like Mendel's peas, the Vauxhall Antara and Chevrolet Captiva are from the same family: in their case, General Motors. Mendel also discovered that that although peas in a pod appear sometimes only superficially to resemble each other, beneath the skin they are identical, and that certainly is true of the Vauxhall and the Chevy.

Unfortunately, the Antara-Captiva also shows the effect of cross-breeding. The truly stunning Antara GTC concept pea that appeared at the 2005 Frankfurt motor show has since been cross-bred with peas from the cost-accountant's greenhouse, and with peas from the production engineer's allotment, and with peas from the market research kitchen garden, and the result would satisfy some EU Department of Conformity. In short, the Antara and Captiva now look much like any other mid-market SUV, and, of course, to some extent, each other.

Yet, aside from the common platform and powertrain, there is one distinguishing factor that immediately separates the Vauxhall from the Chevrolet. In fact, there are two, and both of them seats. Whereas the Captiva is offered with seven seats (and is consequently slightly longer), the Antara has only five. But then, of course, one is cheaper than the other: the mid-range, 7-seater Captiva LT is £21,140, whereas the mid-range, 5-seater Antara S is £22,620. Did I get that right? I certainly did: the seven-seater Chevy is £1,500 cheaper than the five-seater Vauxhall.

Moreover, both cars are built side-by-side on the same production line at the Daewoo factory in South Korea. So where is the added value on the Vauxhall? There isn't any, as far as I could tell. For sure, there are cosmetic differences, but the core architecture, and performance are identical: any added value - if you can call it that - is merely in the badge.

Having said that, the Vauxhall does have a prominent trip computer, but, on the other hand, it lacks the very useful fascia-mounted oddments boxes that offer Captiva drivers a convenient storage place for glasses, 'phone, etc. And it could be argued that the Vauxhall's fascia looks marginally more sophisticated, thanks mainly to the corporate DNA that drives the design of the centre stack. But by and large, the overall fascia design is the same, only different.

Easy Driveability Is The Antara's Principle Dynamic Benefit

In the search for added value, I also noted that the Vauxhall has a multi-function steering wheel, although the controls are confined to remote operation of the audio system. Both cars have a novel, looped handbrake lever, the shape of which, on the Vauxhall, is replicated in a grab handle located alongside the inboard side of the passenger seat.

Anyway, enough of comparisons for the moment, let's examine the Antara in its own right.

The test car was powered by GM's newly developed 2.0 CDTi diesel engine, which develops 150 PS and a healthy peak torque of 320 Nm that kicks in at 2000 rpm. This translates into a 0-60 mph (not 0-62, note) time of 11.1 seconds and, coincidentally, a top speed of 111 mph. Easy numbers to remember, although 111 is hardly the mark of the beast. Indeed, beast it isn't: easy driveability is the Antara's principle dynamic benefit, with a four-wheel drive system that falls into the fit-and-forget category.

Under normal driving conditions, the so-called Intelligent Torque Controlled Coupling (ITCC) defaults to front drive only. In event of any loss of traction, the system automatically diverts torque to the affected axle, up to a maximum split of 50:50.

Although such systems are not normally the stuff of serious off-roading, Vauxhall appears anxious to assert the Antara's all-terrain credentials and goes as far as quoting approach and departure angles - 24 and 16 degrees, respectively. But there are two other things - one a statistic, and the other a feature - that place the Antara in a similar league to the Freelander 2. Firstly, the Vauxhall has a maximum wading depth of 450 mm, and secondly, it has a form of hill-descent control, which automatically controls the car on steep downward slopes using the ABS to pulse the brakes. This is not for multi-storey car-park ramps, so Vauxhall clearly anticipates that some Antara customers will expect the car to match a vigorous lifestyle.

Eighteen-inch wheels contribute to a ground clearance of 200 mm, which will clear most obstacles, and for green-lane users who do not venture so far off road that they need a low-ratio 'box and locking diffs, the only limitation is likely to be the on-road tyres, which are susceptible to turning slick whenever mud is encountered.

Certainly the 2.0-litre engine is man enough for the job, and plenty of torque and a fairly low first gear provide the right combination for measured progress across all but the worst terrain. As with so many of these on-demand systems, the off-road performance - in the right hands - is better than you might expect.

The Antara Avoids Being Dull, Mainly Thanks To Quite Aggressive Styling

Because ITCC defaults to front drive, fuel consumption is not compromised by unnecessary drag, and so the Antara will accomplish - in theory, at least - 37.2 mpg on the combined cycle. An urban consumption of 32.5 mpg, and an extra-urban of 41.5 mpg to some extent reflect the even disposition of ratios in the five-speed manual 'box. This adds to the easy driveability, as every gear-change seems 'natural', without any peaks and troughs in the engine speed.

But the torquey engine is perfectly capable of handling an extra ratio, and I wonder why GM does not use a six-speed 'box, like so many of its rivals. That would certainly improve the extra-urban, and therefore the combined, fuel consumption, which would, in turn, perhaps lower the CO2 emissions to below 185 g/km, and that would place the diesel Antara into VED Band E. As it is, CO2 emissions of 198 g/km attract a Band F rating, and an annual bill of £205. Unfortunately, a Group 12 insurance rating - which seems a little spiteful given the car's modest performance and ready availability of parts - adds to the running costs, and, for the wrong reasons, places it firmly in the same ballpark as the much more expensive Freelander 2.

Statistically speaking, where the Antara does fall behind the Freelander is in its luggage capacity. Despite its being slightly longer than the Land Rover, the Antara is not as wide, and this is reflected in a maximum luggage volume - seats down, loaded to the roof - of 1420 litres, compared with 1670 litres for the Landy. The Captiva, incidentally, falls between the two.

Standard features on the Antara S include heated front seats, cruise control, 18-inch alloys, ESP, electronic climate control, and auto' lights and wipers. A useful extra, available from 2008, is the Flex-Fix rear bicycle carrier, similar to the one that features on those irritating Corsa TV ads. It will carry two bikes, and the kit includes extra rear lights. Already available is the FlexOrganiser that compartmentalises the boot, and satellite navigation with TMC.

Rick Wagoner, GM's seasoned CEO, said in a recent interview that the American approach to car building was "...to make the product in a highly rational way...based on what has worked historically". The Antara clearly satisfies this ethos. In no way is it extreme, irrational or remotely radical. It is very nearly the definitive Sports Utility Vehicle, although with perhaps more emphasis on the Utility aspect - including the 2.4-litre petrol model, which is slower than the 2.0 CDTi.

Without being exciting, the Antara avoids being dull, mainly thanks to its quite aggressive styling, which still has faint traces of the GTC concept about it, but which have entirely deserted the anodyne Captiva. And, in the American tradition, the Antara offers its occupants plenty of room. A generous five-seater, the Vauxhall also makes sure that rear-seat occupants can stretch their legs.

And because the Antara, in an unremarkable way, ticks all the right boxes, it is hard to fault, and should attract a wide audience, not least of all because it is a Vauxhall, a brand that rightly has a faithful following.

Mendel was one of the faithful. A deeply religious man, in later life he became an abbot, and set aside his research work to spend time combating various authorities who wished to apply special levies to monasteries and churches. Their modern counterparts would like to apply special levies to 'gas-guzzling' 4x4s. They should forget about the Antara: in diesel form it has no more environmental impact than a modest family hatchback, yet retains all the virtues of safety, security and versatility that have made SUVs a sensible choice for countless modern families. As a genre, SUVs are by no means all peas in a pod.

Posted on 25.11.2007 by Graham Whyte
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