roader, the five-seater
Antara, should appeal
to a wide audience:
it looks smart and it
comes with all the Kit
VAUXHALL'S CONTENDER TO RE-ENTER THE SURPRISINGLY UPBEAT SOFT-ROADER market is the Antara. Offered only in a single five-door body style, it accommodates five and can be ordered with either a petrol (entry-level spec 138bhp 2.4-litre) or turbodiesel (148bhp 2.0-litre) with a choice of
three trim levels. Prices start at £19,995 and top-out at £27,700 for the range-topping SE automatic.
There's no denying that the Antara has a classy look about it helped by some particularly neat styling around the headlamps and bumpers, as well as a vertical vent in the front wing just ahead of the door which is similar to the Range Rover and latest Jaguar XJ saloons. The sloping tail treatment is equally polished all of which gives it an edge over a number of its competitors. Attention to detail such as the flush-fitting front and rear parking sensors, chrome glasshouse trim, sleek silver roof rails and even the way the wheels amply fit the wheel arches make all the difference.
Reviewed here is the 2.0-litre SE turbodiesel with a five-speed manual 'box. This powerplant enjoys a substantial torque advantage over the petrol model 236lb ft compared to the petrol's 162. Not only that, but other benefits of the diesel are better CO2 emissions (198g/km; giving them a Band F VED rating and £205-per-year road tax) as well as less of a thirst than the petrol-engined sibling officially 32.5, 37.2 and 41.5mpg respectively for urban, combined and touring. For the record, we averaged 27mpg during our week's test. Interestingly, when regular MotorBar contributor David Miles tested the same Antara model, he achieved a best of 30.7mpg and an overall average of 26.9mpg over a similar period.
Most soft-roader buyers will expect four-wheel drive in some shape or form. In the Antara's case, they will get an 'intelligent' AWD system that for most of the time puts the power down through the front wheels. However, when conditions call for more grip, the system will automatically and seamlessly select full four-wheel drive and apportion power 50:50 between the front and rear axles.
While there's no 4WD lock or low ratio gearbox for heavy duty off-road work, the Antara does have a hill descent control (called Descent Control System) which, off-road, allows a controlled descent of up to 30mph on downward slopes without locking the wheels and without the need for the driver to use the brakes. On severe inclines the DCS will maintain the speed of descent at a constant 6mph. The system also operates in reverse gear, but at a slower speed. Along with the Descent Control System, the Antara is fitted with ABS, Emergency Brake Assist, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, Cornering Brake Control and an Electronic Stability Programme incorporating Traction Control. Also falling into the safety remit are the Xenon headlights these not only provide strong illumination at night, but their good spread and throw contribute to safer driving.
The Antara's 2.0-litre diesel unit has common-rail fuel injection and a variable geometry turbocharger with intercooler (it also has a Diesel Particulate Filter). Like many diesel engines, it's best kept in the right gear to make the best of the power band and to avoid any turbo lag. With maximum torque on hand from 2,000rpm, the four-cylinder 1,991cc pulls heartily and is more than happy to be worked. Keep the accelerator down and the 16-valve 2.0-litre unit will whip round to its 4,500rpm limit without complaint, hauling you up even long, steep hills without faltering. Even used in this rather cavalier manner, it sounds
no different to a hard-driven petrol engine.
On the open road the Antara is perky and dynamically responsive; at higher speed it feels fine and well settled. The Antara's top speed
is 113mph and, from standstill, the benchmark 62mph comes up in a reasonable 10.3 seconds. Pick up in fourth and fifth from 70mph is crisp. In use, the turbodiesel is generally easy-going but not judging from our consistent 27mpg average over two separate road tests quite as fuel efficient as we were expecting. Maybe we're just too heavy-footed? Could do better!
The standard five-speed manual gearbox has a longish throw between gear positions and is slightly notchy. That said, it's accurate if you are, and with a wide gate you are never in any doubt of the gear you're in. Not a problem. The Antara is good for covering long distances: it rides particularly smoothly on motorways; and off them the suspension manages bumps and potholes satisfactorily offering good grip, road-holding and body control. The steering is pretty direct which, combined with good visibility from the driver's seat, makes it easy to place on the road. And the smooth leather wrapped around the thick steering wheel rim feels good in your hands. The brakes, with ventilated discs both front and rear, are excellent; very progressive and a very reassuring bite, even at speed.
The two factors that will first and foremost attract buyers to the Antara are undoubtedly its looks and specification. The styling is hand-some and physically it's not 'in your face' park next to a Mondeo
and you'll see that the Antara is a full eight inches shorter.
Inside the user-friendly cabin there's more than enough room for five, combined with a flexible seating configuration that makes it easy to 'mix 'n' match' passengers and luggage. At its smallest, with all the seats in use, the boot holds 370 litres which makes it big enough to cope. However, fold down the 60:40 split rear seats note that they fold perfectly flat and capacity increases to 1,420 litres. The lug-gage blind is a sturdy affair that doesn't mess you around, and beneath the floor (commendably, there's an easy fix hook) you'll find a dedic-ated multi-section storage box. If you regularly carry lots of items, Vauxhall's FlexiOrganiser system (already doing good work in Astra and Vectra estate models) is available as an option to divide up the load bay into multiple sections.
No complaints, either, with the ergonomics: everything the driver needs is positioned where it's easy to see or reach, or both. The dash and centre stack, topped off with the 5.5-inch colour screen for the SatNav/on-board computer and three (rather than the usual two) round air vents, is neat and functional and the driving position is first rate, with height and reach adjustment of the wheel and height adjust-ment on the seat. Another important comfort element is that the seats are set high off the floor so your lower legs are resting at a more restful angle.
The trigger-style handbrake, although different, is easy to use (there's an audible tone when it fully releases), as is the SatNav that is not only visually foolproof but also delivers accurate and timely spoken guidance. Overall, the cabin is smart the faux wood inserts in the facia and doors actually work very well and is put together care-fully with generally high-quality materials. The standard leather trim was pleasant to sit on and the three-stage heated seats supportive. There's also ample storage space with lots of cubbies dotted about the cabin, including a partitioned and cooled glovebox as well as a pas-senger seat undertray (8.5 x 8.5 inches by 2 inches deep) and a sun-glasses storage pocket. Another appreciated feature was the tilt-and-slide powered sunroof with a one-shot open facility when tilted, it has side 'curtains' to keep out draughts. Very clever.
Those sitting in the back of the Antara also enjoy relaxing seats, im-proved by rear seat backrests that are raked (select from four posit-ions) at a good angle. Not only is there generous head and shoulder room in the back, but there's loads of foot and legroom with inches to spare for your knees more generous, for the record, than a number of the Antara's rivals. In addition, the flat floor makes it easier to accommodate three abreast. Two rear passengers can really stretch out and share the centre rear armrest, which is fitted with a lidded and lined oddments box, 12-volt power point and damped, pop-out cup-holders.
For your money the SE spec model we tested comes with a lot of kit. For a start there's the intelligent four-wheel drive and all the safety systems already mentioned (ABS, ESP, Descent Control, etc) along with sports suspension (that includes self-levelling rear suspension) and a set of 18-inch alloys with 235/55 Dunlop SP Sport tyres. There are front as well as front side airbags and front and outer rear full-
size curtain airbags.
Equipment you can see and touch includes electrically adjustable/ heated door mirrors, leather-covered steering wheel with remote con-trol buttons for the audio/voice/computer, electronic climate control, variable temperature heated front seats, multi-function trip computer, cruise control, cooled glovebox, automatic lighting and rain-sensitive wipers, DVD stereo radio with seven speakers and six-disc CD auto-changer with MP3 format and SatNav with a colour monitor, tinted glass, four electric windows, mobile phone system with Bluetooth, Xenon headlights and high-pressure washers, self-dipping rear view mirror, electrically foldable door mirrors, leather upholstery and door facings, a visual tyre pressure monitoring system and parking sensors both front and rear.
The Antara is well put together, offers lots of room and rides and drives perfectly nicely a good all-rounder that will appeal to soft-roader buyers who don't want seven seats but who do rate a com-manding driving position, SUV looks and multi-purpose functionality. Potential customers with outdoor-oriented families will also be inter-ested to know that from early 2008 they will be able to specify Vauxhall's novel and hassle-free Flex-Fit bike rack this pulls out
from the rear bumper like a drawer, and is ready to carry two bicycles.
If you've ever tried to fit a standard bike rack (or worse, bikes to a roof-mounted bike rack) you'll appecaite that at £475 it not only costs little more than conventional bike cariers but is one sanity-saving option. While you do get a lot of Kit and Caboodle for your money on the SE model tested here, at £26,320 potential customers will also be able to include a number of similar vehicles on their shopping list. That's exactly as it should be in a free market economy everyone has the right to buy and drive the vehicle they want. And if it's the Antara you want, you'll know you've chosen well.
Vauxhall Antara 2.0 CDTi SE | £26,320
Maximum speed: 113mph | 0-62mph: 10.3 seconds
Overall test MPG: 27mpg | Power: 148bhp | Torque: 236lb ft
CO2 198g/km | Insurance group 13E
Visit Vauxhall's website