Vauxhall's attraction to traction

STEVE WALKER offers a few pointers to help you buy Vauxhall's compact 4x4 Antara.Five or six years into the 21st century, car dealerships nationwide must have been overrun with people in mud-splattered combat fatigues wanting to buy off-road vehicles.

STEVE WALKER offers a few pointers to help you buy Vauxhall's compact 4x4 Antara.

Five or six years into the 21st century, car dealerships nationwide must have been overrun with people in mud-splattered combat fatigues wanting to buy off-road vehicles. The only other explanation for the proliferation of compact 4x4s about this time would be that families had started buying them because they were trendier and a bit more practical than the usual hatchbacks and saloons.

Whatever the true source of the demand was, even manufacturers with little or no experience in the all-wheel drive field rushed to satisfy it, giving rise to a clutch of vehicles like Vauxhall's Antara.


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History

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When it became clear that any mainstream manufacturer without a 4x4 was missing out on a potentially lucrative slice of the fastest-growing market sector, they all dived in. Rather than shouldering the development costs alone, many of the big brands forged alliances with other marques that had a little more 4x4 knowhow.

Vauxhall teamed up with its fellow General Motors company Chevrolet, the twin results being the Chevrolet Captiva and the Vauxhall Antara.

Vauxhall did have some earlier experience with 4x4s but had vacated the market after the Frontera - a rebadged Isuzu. The Antara was launched in 2007 with a two engines and some optimism. There was an aged 2.4-litre petrol included mainly to generate a temptingly low entry-level price and a 2.0-litre common-rail diesel that most buyers ended up with.

Trim levels of E, S and SE were available from launch but sales were slower than expected and the range was slimmed down over the next few years. The 2.4-litre petrol engine bit the bullet fairly quickly and by this year the diesel engine was offered only in Exclusiv and SE. A major hindrance was that, unlike the Chevrolet Captiva, it could only be ordered in five-seater guise.

What to look for

What you don't want is a Vauxhall Antara that's been driven it to the brink of destruction off-road on a weekly basis. In truth, the Antara isn't the kind of 4x4 that's likely to attract the hardcore off-road driver but, just in case, check the alloy wheels for excessive damage, have a look underneath the car to ensure the exposed areas are clean and abrasion-free and avoid any seller who buys his clothes at the army surplus shop.

On the road

The 2.4-litre petrol is slow, unrefined and thirsty (it will struggle to achieve 29mpg), so it was no surprise when it was phased out. Most customers only considered the one engine option anyway - a 148bhp 2.0-litre CDTi diesel. It was fitted with a five-speed manual gearbox as standard but a five-speed automatic was also available.

Although the engine does its best work in a relatively narrow band between 2,800 and 4,000rpm, if you're quick with the stick, you can make very respectable progress - breaking 10 seconds to 62mph and going on to a fairly academic top speed of 112mph.

The Antara handles surprisingly well with commendable resistance to bodyroll and alert steering response for a 4x4 vehicle its size. Don't expect it to out-handle a conventional family hatch, however, and the diesel engine does become noisy when pushed hard.

What the Antara is definitely not, is a challenger to the likes of Jeep or Land Rover. Although it does boast four-wheel drive, ground clearance is limited and although it does come fitted with a hill descent function, there's no low-range transfer case. In fact, for most of the time, the Antara runs in front-wheel drive mode only, the electromagnetically operated electro-hydraulic clutch sending up to 50pc of drive to the back wheels when the going gets slippery. It's enough to provide extra security on snowy or icy roads and more grip on wet grass but extreme off-road terrain is a definite no-no.

Running costs are reasonably healthy, with the diesel managing 37mpg on the combined cycle and putting out 198g/km of CO2.

Overall

The Antara is one of a number of vehicles that went chasing the mushrooming compact 4x4 market in the early 21st century. As a new car, it got rather lost under the weight of competition with no real points of differentiation to spark buyer interest. As a used car, if you can find one, it's a solid, spacious family vehicle that's well put together and good to drive on the road for a 4x4 of its size.

Unusually for a Vauxhall, there's also very little chance that your neighbour will have one.

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