Vauxhall's idea of mass market 4x4 motoring is found in its revised Antara. June Neary checks it out
Will It Suit Me?
Does the world need another soft roader? Obviously Vauxhall thinks so. Its Antara joined the market at a time when car makers saw it as a cardinal sin not to have a 4x4 in their line-ups. Perhaps surprisingly, it wasn't the big hit its much inferior forerunner the Frontera had been. So what of this revised version? Well, it looks just as smart, has lots of MPV-style touches but, unlike its General Motors stablemate, the Chevrolet Captiva, has only five seats. So of course have natural rivals like Toyota's RAV4, Land Rover's Freelander and Honda's CR-V, so that isn't necessarily a problem, particularly as the Vauxhall has more space inside than any of them. If that matters and you get the right deal, then this car has enough about it to tempt you away from more established names in this sector.
One of the reasons people buy 4x4s of this kind is to enjoy the high up driving position which gives a super view of the road (as well as enabling you to look down on other road users). As you would expect, in this the Antara fails to disappoint. More uniquely however, it's a great deal more practical than most other five-seat 4x4s. With the rear seats folded, there's 1,420 litres of luggage space available and even with them in place, the Antara isn't shy of capacity. The loading aperture is quite narrow, however, the tailgate fitting between the two big rear light clusters. The design is clever in reducing the perceived bulk of what is a surprisingly spacious vehicle. Viewed in isolation, the Antara looks to be about the size of a RAV4 or a Grand Vitara but the tale of the tape shows that it's a much heftier piece of metalwork. For a start, it's fully 4,570mm long, compared with the 4,415 of the Toyota and the 4,470mm of the Suzuki. Even comparing it to the Vauxhall Zafira, we find the mini-MPV breaking the tape at just 4,467mm. That figure should be taken with a pinch if salt though, as the Antara has a lot more bonnet than the Zafira and the wheelbases are around the same. Perhaps engineering the Flex7 seating system into the Antara would have been too big an investment. Lumping child seats in and out was as straightforward as it's ever going to be with this kind of car and thanks to the excellent all-round visibility, parking was a pleasant experience. All the materials and plastics used seem to be reasonably hard wearing and the seats easily passed my family's 'ingrained chocolate' test. Like more recently introduced Vauxhall models like the Corsa, the Antara can be specified with the optional FlexFix system, a clever slide-out bike rack which emerges from under the rear bumper. This was apparently pretty tricky to package in the Antara thanks to the rear wheels being driven but Vauxhall has managed it. There are also roof rails fitted that will easily accept a ski box or additional bikes.
Behind the Wheel
You will not be surprised to hear that this is yet another 4x4 not really suited to anything other than very light off road driving. Yes, it has four-wheel drive (don't laugh - not all the '4x4s' I test do) but ground clearance is limited and although it does come fitted with a hill descent function, there's no low range transfer case. As with most of its rivals, for most of the time the Antara runs in front wheel drive mode only, the electromagnetically operated electro-hydraulic clutch sending up to fifty per cent of drive to the back wheels when the going gets slippery. 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. Prices start at around £20,000 and there's a choice of E, S or SE trim levels. This diesel is much smoother and more refined than the previous engine and decently rapid in the mid-range overtaking zone where you need it to be. And as well as better performance, it's fully Euro-5 compliant and 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.
Value For Money
The entry-level price of £19,995 looks quite attractive - which of course, is what it's there to do. Thisnets you the entry-level 162bhp 2.2-litre diesel version. Plumping for the higher powered models with their respectively plusher specs brings your purchase much closer to the £26,000 mark - at which point there's a lot of very talented opposition. It's also worth pointing out that a £20,000 budget will net you the seven-seater version of this car that wears a Chevrolet Captiva badge. However, assuming you don't need the extra people carrying capacity, stick the two cars side by side and there's no doubt as to which you'd prefer to drive home in. The Antara just looks right. For that, you can forgive it a lot.
Could I Live With One?
If you're interested, 'Antara' is the equivalent of a verse in Hindustani classical music. What Vauxhall were less keen to tell me was that the name is also used for a prescription drug designed to lower cholesterol. This car will certainly relieve the stress felt by hundreds of Vauxhall dealers across the land who after the demise of the Frontera, for years had nothing to sell to all to all the people who wandered in wanting a 4x4. Would I buy one? Well, it's probably as good as it needs to be to snag undemanding 4x4 customers like me. If you liked the Frontera (why?), then you'll be amazed at the wheel of one of these just how far 4x4s have come.