Vauxhall Ampera (2012-2014)

With its futuristic styling and cutting-edge running gear the Vauxhall Ampera should have been a smash hit, but as the first vehicle of its kind it was maybe too advanced for a very conservative market. The first ever range extender to be sold in the UK, the Ampera featured plug-in technology with a 1.4-litre petrol engine. The Ampera’s wheels are only ever driven by electric motors, the engine serving only as a generator to top up the batteries once they’ve dropped to 20 per cent charged. As a result there’s no need to worry about flat batteries and you can enjoy regenerative braking plus lots of instant torque. The Ampera was good enough to be voted 2012 Car of the Year but this didn’t translate into sales success; it’s still worth a closer look as a used buy though.


Key dates

5/12: The Ampera reaches UK showrooms. Just 23 dealers can sell them but each buyer gets their own customer liaison at Vauxhall HQ. There are three trim levels; standard, Positiv and Electron.

4/13: In a bid to boost sales, Vauxhall introduces a free ownership package that covers fuel and servicing for three years.

9/13: A price cut of £3,500 is Vauxhall’s last attempt at tempting buyers, but they remain uninterested. The Ampera is killed off a year later.



  • The Ampera was also sold in the UK as the Chevrolet Volt; these are even rarer than the Vauxhall.
  • Water gets into the tailgate’s rear light units. Replacing the lights helps, but the problem always comes back.
  • The battery pack comes with an eight-year or 100,000-mile warranty.
  • The real-world range on electric only is 25-40 miles. The total range with a tank of petrol is around 300 miles.
  • There’s room for four only, as in the rear there are two sculpted seats.
  • The Ampera was one of the safest cars ever tested by Euro NCAP, excelling in all categories including pedestrian protection.
  • Limited ground clearance means the front spoiler lip tends to ground with speed bumps.
  • For cars used largely in electric-only mode, the odometer gives no indication of how much use the engine has had.


We like

  • Futuristic design
  • It’s different
  • Cheap to run
  • Decently practical
  • Comfy seats
  • Very relaxing to drive


We don’t like

  • Few to choose from
  • Only four seats
  • Not engaging to drive
  • Poor visibility


Vauxhall Astra (2009-2015)

The Vauxhall Astra Mk6 was a massive improvement over its predecessor, but it was still only average in most departments – at best. As a used buy the Astra is much easier to recommend though, largely because of the value factor – you get plenty for your money. And with lots of examples to choose from, you won’t struggle to find the best engine, trim and bodystyle for your needs. The three-door GTC looks especially sharp while the capacious estate is ideal for anyone on a budget who needs to cart stuff about.

Key dates

12/09: The Astra Mk6 five-door hatch arrives, with 1.4 or 1.6 petrol engines (normally aspirated or turbocharged), and 1.7 CDTi or 2.0 CDTi diesels.

12/10: There’s now a five-door estate.

7/11: A sharply styled three-door hatch arrives, the GTC.

6/11: The Astra Ecoflex has CO2 emissions of just 99g/km

7/12: The 280bhp Astra VXR goes on sale.

07/12: A facelift brings tweaked styling, a longer options list and the introduction of a twin-turbo 2.0 CDTi engine.

2/14: A 97g/km 1.6 CDTi engine debuts.


  • The M32 six-speed manual gearbox can fail; Vauxhall has been known to contribute, even outside the warranty.
  • Look in the boot for signs of water leaks. Make sure you check the spare wheel well while you’re at it.
  • The fit and finish of some of the interior trim can be an issue, while squeaks, creaks and rattles aren’t uncommon.
  • The cruise control can disengage and the brake lights can flicker, because of a known fault with the parking brake sensor.
  • The ball joints in the front suspension wear, leading to knocking as the car is driven over bumps; replacements are cheap.
  • There’s an electronic parking brake on cars with SE trim and above. It can disengage for no apparent reason.

We like

  • Smart design
  • Strong value
  • Wide choice
  • High-quality cabin
  • Generally well equipped
  • Reasonably reliable

We don’t like

  • Disappointing dynamics
  • Low-rent image


Richard Dredge


Vauxhall Zafira (2005-2012)

Although Vauxhall didn't introduce the compact MPV, it did revolutionise the breed with its pop-up third row of seats. While rivals have now caught up, the second take on this compact MPV still offers brilliant family transport thanks to low purchase and running costs, and in most cases decent reliability too, especially in petrol-engined form. Throw in surprisingly good dynamics plus lots of choice, and you've got ideal family transport.

Key Dates

4/05: The second-generation Zafira is launched with a choice of 1.6, 1.8, turbocharged 2.0 or 2.2-litre petrol engines, plus a 1.9 turbodiesel.

9/05: The 237bhp Zafira VXR arrives, with a turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol engine.

1/06: The 1.8-litre engine is now offered with Vauxhall's Easytronic semi-automatic transmission.

6/07: A high-spec Elite trim level becomes available with some engines.

12/07: The 1.6-litre engine is boosted from 103bhp to 113bhp.

3/08: A refresh brings cosmetic changes inside and out.

3/09: The 1.7CDTi Ecoflex arrives.

Vauxhall Zafira (2005-2012) Checklist

  • Diesel autos have a heat exchanger in the radiator; coolant can get into the gearbox, wrecking it.
  • Six-speed autos can be jerky, because of an incorrect internal pipe not allowing the box to be properly filled.
  • Some electrical items aren't that robust, so make sure that the interior lights all work, plus the wipers.
  • The spare wheel sits underneath the boot floor, so it's easily stolen.
  • Radios can switch themselves on when the car is left standing, draining the battery.
  • Turbos can fail, and so can alternators, oil pumps and flywheels on the 1.9CDTi engine.
  • Make sure the central locking works properly; the tailgate release can be particularly temperamental.

We Like

  • Value
  • Reliability
  • Versatility
  • Comfort
  • Practicality
  • Choice

We Don't Like

  • Dowdy image
  • Base models spartan


Vauxhall Astra (2004-2009)

While Vauxhall's small family car was always outclassed, it has plenty to offer for those who care more about value than image or pin-sharp dynamics. So while there may not be much of a feel-good factor on offer from the Astra, a massive range of engines, trim levels and bodystyles ensure there's plenty of choice, prices are low, and so are running costs.

Key Dates

5/04: The fifth-generation Astra arrives, in five-door hatch form only.

7/04: A five-door estate joins the range.

1/05: The three-door Astra debuts, known as the Sport Hatch. At the same time, an LPG Astra is introduced.

4/05: The 240bhp VXR debuts, plus the 1.3CDTi.

1/06: A coupé-cabriolet appears, dubbed the Twin Top.

11/06: A facelift brings a fresh grille and headlights plus revised interior trim, along with a turbocharged 1.6-litre petrol engine.

8/08: The Astra EcoFlex arrives, with a 1.7CDTi engine.

Vauxhall Astra (2004-2009) Checklist

  • Clutch judder on 1.6 and 1.8 petrol cars suggests a failed rear crankshaft oil seal.
  • Hand brakes can fail, which is why the car should be left in gear.
  • The hatchback's loading sill is high and narrow, making access awkward.
  • Worn front suspension bushes lead to wayward handling.
  • Early cars had radios that would switch themselves on when the car was left, leading to a dead battery.
  • The top of the front suspension turrets can corrode.
  • Electrical problems are common; especially lights, wipers, fuel gauges and central locking.

We Like

  • Value
  • Choice
  • Refinement
  • Standard kit
  • Comfortable ride

We Don't Like

  • Image
  • Relatively cramped cabin


Vauxhall Tigra (2004-2009)

Baby coupé-cabriolets often end up as something of a joke - you've only got to look at the Mitsubishi Colt CZC and Nissan Micra CC for the proof. Some work better than others though, like Vauxhall's Tigra for example. Quick enough, reasonably well packaged and decent to drive with the roof up, things only go awry dynamically when the roof is dropped - which kind of defeats the object really.

Key Dates

5/04: The second-generation Tigra debuts, with 1.4 or 1.8-litre petrol engines.

12/04: The 1.3CDTi turbodiesel joins the range.

1/06: A new range-topping Tigra appears, the Exclusiv, with 1.4 or 1.8-litre petrol engines.

11/06: Vauxhall's Easytronic clutchless manual gearbox is available with the 1.4-litre engine. A special edition is also introduced, based on the Exclusiv and called the Exclusive, with a red leather interior.

3/07: The Exclusiv Red special edition debuts, based on the petrol-engined Tigra, with red leather trim and 17-inch alloy wheels.

4/08: The Sport Rouge limited edition arrives, available with any of the three engines.


  • Water leaks through the side window seals into the doors and cabin.
  • The electric boot closing system is prone to failures and leaks.
  • The roof mechanism can play up.
  • Camshafts can fail worryingly quickly; make sure the engine idles and revs happily.
  • The electrics can be unreliable; check everything works.
  • Steering racks aren't always very durable.
  • Premature brake wear can be a problem, affecting discs and pads.

We Like

  • Practicality
  • Affordability
  • Design

We Don't Like

  • Bland cabin
  • Reliability
  • Vauxhall image


Vauxhall Meriva (2003-2009)

Tardis-like design has become very popular in recent years, and one of the first truly small cars to offer serious interior space was the original Vauxhall Meriva. Based on the Corsa, this high-roofed mini-MPV is brilliantly versatile thanks to its FlexSpace seating, which allows the three rear seats to be adjusted individually. Throw in dependability and surprisingly good dynamics with low purchase costs, and the Meriva makes a lot of sense.

Key Dates

4/03: The Meriva arrives, with a 1.6-litre petrol engine only, offering 87bhp or 100bhp.

10/04: There's now a 90bhp 1.4-litre petrol engine available, along with 74bhp 1.7DTi and 100bhp 1.7 CDTi units.

11/05: A 123bhp 1.8-litre petrol engine debuts.

1/06: A facelifted Meriva brings a revised nose and tail, new colours and wheels plus two new engines - a 74bhp 1.3CDTi unit replaces the 1.7DTi unit and a 103bhp 1.6 TwinPort supersedes the previous 1.6.

5/06: The 178bhp Meriva VXR joins the range.

Vauxhall Meriva (2003-2009) Checklist

  • Power steering faults are very common; it's an eletric system and the problem is usually down to the motor playing up.
  • On petrol-engined models, the camshaft retaining bolts can slacken off, leading to the shaft breaking. They need tightening every service.
  • The gear linkage can wear badly.
  • Tax rates on some cars are high, so check the CO2 emissions before buying.
  • The Easytronic transmission is an acquired taste; try one thoroughly before buying.

We Like

  • Spacious
  • Versatile
  • Reliable
  • Comfortable
  • Cheap to buy
  • Cheap to run

We Don't Like

  • Lacklustre design
  • Some models are basic
  • Plasticky interior
  • Very thick A-pillars
  • VXR makes no sense


Vauxhall Signum (2003-2009)

Vauxhall's replacement for the Omega was based on the Vectra, so it didn't win many fans as it was seen as an overpriced family hatch rather than a distinct model worth a premium. That's good news for used buyers; the Signum's lack of visibility has ensured that residuals are less than rock solid. However, with a high specification, practicality galore and a decent choice of engines, the Signum has a lot to offer.

Key Dates

3/03: Signum introduced in 2.0 Turbo, 2.2 Di or 3.2 V6 petrol and 2.0 DTi or 2.2 DTi turbodiesel forms. There's also a 3.0 V6 CDTi turbodiesel.

1/04: The 2.2 Di is replaced by a 1.9CDTi unit in 120bhp and 150bhp forms.

5/04: All cars get extra standard equipment.

10/04: A 1.8-litre petrol engine is now offered.

7/05: All Signums get a facelift, with a fresh nose. A turbocharged 2.8 V6 petrol also arrives.

1/06: The frugal high-spec 1.8 Exclusiv Nav is introduced.

Vauxhall Signum (2003-2008) Checklist

  • On the 2.2 turbodiesel, the engine's timing chain pulley can fail - but there's no warning of the impending disaster.
  • With the 1.9CDTi engine, power can be lost when the throttle butterflies seize up. It's an easy fix, but is involved.
  • Most Signums are gadget-laden, so check that everything works - especially xenon lights, sat-nav systems and the alarm.
  • Many Signums have over-sized alloy wheels, easily kerbed and which can destroy the ride. It's best to stick with wheels no bigger than 17 inches across.

We Like

  • Value
  • Space
  • Equipment
  • Reliability
  • Refinement
  • Engines
  • Practicality

We Don't Like

  • Dowdy image



Vauxhall Monaro (2004-2007)

If you're a firm believer in the old adage that there's no substitute for cubic inches, you'll love the Monaro. With its V8 up front that displaces 5.7 or 6.0 litres, this is a full-on muscle car for the 21st century. Discreet, fast, reliable and cheap to buy, the Monaro can also be tuned very easily, if the entry-level 329bhp isn't enough for you. Just make sure your OPEC subs are up to date before you buy one.

Key Dates

3/04: The Monaro goes on sale with a 329bhp 5.7-litre V8.

5/04: A Monaro VXR is now offered, with a 380bhp 5.7-litre V8.

1/05: The 5.7-litre V8 now pumps out 349bhp while there's also a 397bhp 6.0-litre V8 available alongside.

10/06: The Monaro VXR500 debuts, with a 493bhp supercharged 6.0-litre V8 in the nose.

Vauxhall Monaro (2004-2007) Checklist

  • Start the engine up from cold and listen for rattles; if it's making a racket you're better off walking away.
  • Piston slap is also common on this engine; it generally affects very early cars only, but some later editions might suffer too.
  • Even healthy engines can get through a lot of oil, so make sure the V8 hasn't been running on empty.
  • The brakes take a real beating if the car is driven hard; make sure the discs haven't overheated and warped or scored.
  • The power steering can cause problems, so make sure it feels evenly assisted as you turn the wheel.

We Like

  • Power
  • Performance
  • Low purchase prices
  • Discreet styling
  • Tunability
  • Cabin
  • Interior space

We Don't Like

  • Thirst
  • Vauxhall badge


Vauxhall VX220 (2000-2004)

Built on the same production line as its Elise cousin, the Vauxhall VX220 never enjoyed the same cachet as the Lotus, thanks to the Griffin on the nose. Yet not only is the VX220 more usable in some ways, it also offers just as great a drive while also being more affordable. The VX220 shared just 10 per cent of its components with the Elise, but it offered every bit as much fun.

Key Dates

8/00: The VX220 goes on sale, with a normally aspirated 2.2-litre four-pot.

11/01: There's a special edition unleashed, called the Lightning Yellow. Just 100 are built, with yellow paint, anthracite alloys and a colour-coded hard top.

12/02: The VX220 Turbo arrives, with a blown 2-litre engine giving 197bhp.

5/04: The ultimate VX goes on sale, the VXR220. It packs a 2-litre turbocharged engine offering 220bhp.

Vauxhall VX220 (2000-2004) Checklist

  • The 2.2-litre engine can snap its timing chain when the lubrication jet gets blocked, because the oil hasn't been changed frequently enough.
  • Stone chips in the paintwork are par for the course.
  • The ignition control unit of the 2.2-litre engine is prone to burning out.
  • Check the car's floorpans, chassis and suspension components for rippling, cracks and dents, from poor crash repairs.
  • Suspension bushes wear out after 35,000 miles or so.
  • If the wheels vibrate at speed, it's probably because the outer wishbone ball joints need replacing.

We Like

  • Dynamics
  • Performance
  • Build quality
  • Reliability
  • Value

We Don't Like

  • Vauxhall badge