Ten Second Review
Tell most people you drive a Vauxhall Antara and you'll be greeted with blank looks. But what Vauxhall's 4x4 lacks in brand recognition it makes up for in raw ability. Sized midway between a compact and a family 4x4, it offers strong value for money, a fine engine and solid build quality.
Vauxhall expected great things of its Antara. First shown at the 2006 Paris Show, it was effectively a rebadged Chevrolet Captiva, itself a rebadged Daewoo Winstorm. This third-hand model may not have been thoroughly imbued with Vauxhall DNA, coming as it did straight out of not Luton but GM-Daewoo's Bupyeong-gu plant in Incheon, Korea. Perhaps this explains Vauxhall's rather half-hearted marketing effort. Certainly the Chevrolet Captiva seems to have sold more units in the UK. All this back story merely serves to explain why such a decent car has been so criminally undersold. Make no mistake, the Antara is no spiritual successor to the awful Frontera, yet could only muster a fraction of the Frontera's sales at a time when the SUV market was booming. Fast forward to today and we have a more sluggish sales arena that Vauxhall is attempting to inject a little life into with its facelifted and improved Antara. Maybe the second time's a charm.
The Achilles heel of the old Antara was a rather asthmatic and coarse 2.0-litre diesel engine. Thankfully that has been yanked and junked in favour of a wholly more satisfactory 2.2-litre lump. Power goes up from 148bhp to a more robust 162bhp in the entry-level model or 183bhp for the range-topping all-wheel drive car which means that you won't need to extend it quite so much when fully loaded. As well as better performance, this fully Euro-5 compliant engine line-up offers significantly reduced fuel consumption and emissions. Both engine variants come with variable camshaft phasing, optimising torque and performance as well as reducing fuel consumption and emissions. The Antara was never a star performer off road and neither is the latest car. The chassis gets revised spring and damper settings which help the on-road ability significantly but ground clearance remains an issue if you're to subject the vehicle to anything much more arduous than a rutted track. The adaptive four-wheel drive system switches automatically between two and four-wheel drive as conditions demand. In normal driving, only the front wheels are driven, saving fuel, but in slippery conditions four-wheel drive is employed, switching drive to both front and rear wheels for improved traction.
Design and Build
The biggest styling change to the latest Antara is its revised grille. I'm not altogether sold on the way that it makes the car look narrower and taller than before but the rear end now looks extremely sharp, with a central crease running vertically up the middle and chunky light clusters defining the Vauxhall's hips. These big lights have the unfortunate effect of narrowing the loading aperture at the back, but what price good looks? Underbody bash plates at the front and rear of the car appear to be more cosmetic than anything else. A five-seater, the Antara features seats that fold flat to the floor and room for a decent amount of luggage when the rear seats are in place. The interior is, rather unsurprisingly, not particularly Vauxhall in its design language but gets a revised centre console with extra storage and better quality materials, in addition to improved instrument graphics and interior lighting. Build quality is solid enough and owners of first generation Antara models have reported decent satisfaction scores in reliability surveys.
Market and Model
The 162bhp Antara variant is offered in front-wheel drive with a six-speed manual transmission only or there's all-wheel drive mated to either a manual or six-speed auto gearbox. The 184bhp model also offers a choice of manual or automatic transmissions, and comes with all-wheel drive as standard. All transmissions have been revised to improve efficiency. Equipment levels are decent, even for the entry-level Exclusiv model, while the SE variant can be identified by its 19-inch alloy wheels and chrome bezels on the front foglights. With prices starting at less than £20,000, the Antara represents a heck of a lot of metal for your money in a market where you'd need more than £2,000 more to buy just 129bhp worth of diesel Suzuki Grand Vitara. Suddenly Vauxhall looks as if it could have a real contender on its hands. It just needs some promotion.
Cost of Ownership
Fail to adequately market a car and the inevitable consequence is low brand recognition and therefore high depreciation. The original Antara was a case in point. On paper, there was no reason why it should depreciate heavily but after three years, the entry-level diesel Antara model would be worth 33 per cent of its new value whereas an equivalent Honda CR-V would cling on to 46 per cent of its original sticker price. This time round, Vauxhall has helped reduce the sting of depreciation by reducing upfront prices, offering a stronger all-round product and offering a far better warranty. With improved fuel economy and lower emissions, the pence per mile costs of this generation Antara have been hammered yet further down.
The latest Vauxhall Antara hasn't actually changed the formula that much from its rather unsuccessful predecessor. That in itself might sound a damning appraisal were it not for the fact that the old Antara wasn't at all bad, merely underrated and under-promoted. This latest model offers a lot more power as well as improved efficiency and lower prices, so it has tightened up in all the key areas that count. Better equipment provision and revised styling may also prove attractive to potential customers but in order to get bums on seats, Vauxhall needs to not only let people know that this vehicle exists, but it must also be able to do that while convincing them not to choose its sister vehicle, the Chevrolet Captiva. With the improvements already in hand, the latter task may be easier than the former. Offering a lot of car for not a lot of money is always a good start but the Antara features quality as well as quantity. It's not a macho off-roader but if you need space for a family of five with all-weather capability, the big-hearted Vauxhall takes a lot of beating - at this price at any rate.