A car-like van or a van-like car?

Road Test Vauxhall Sintra

Poor old Vauxhall. While every other mainstream car maker (Rover, of course, views itself as rather exclusive and therefore outside the scope of this particular discussion) had one of those useful and trendy multipurpose vehicles in its model range, the British arm of America's General Motors Corporation had nothing. And judging by the number of Ford Galaxys and Volkswagen Sharans to be seen on Britain's roads (nevermind that great European original, the Renault Espace), there were some serious sales opportunities being missed.

If you're the last to join the people-carrier party, you need to do something a little different, otherwise no one will notice you when you make your entrance. This is one reason why the Sintra, Vauxhall's late entry, doesn't look like its European rivals with their "one box" side profiles. Another is that the Sintra is in fact American, a Europeanised version of the latest Pontiac/Chevrolet/ Oldsmobile "minivan" (as the bigger-is-better Americans call these quite large vehicles).

Visually, the Europeanisation is a success. The Sintra looks like a Vauxhall, with the right front grille and the right detailing in the light clusters and the bumpers. But with its separate bonnet and conventional side window shape, it looks considerably less space-age than the capsular Galaxy and Espace (especially the new Espace, which is in the process of being launched in Britain). Vauxhall's view is that many people are put off by one-box styling, regarding it as too van-like. Such people miss the point - which is that the one-box is light, airy, forward-looking and deliberately unconventional - but if, instead, they would rather drive something that looks like a taxi, then that's fine by me.

Inside, we find the usual seven individual seats, the front pair of which are able to swivel round to face the rear in the CD-trim version, the rear five being foldable, slideable and easily removable thanks to their lightweight magnesium frames. When tipped forward to increase load space, springs help them to stay tipped so they don't, like the seats in a Galaxy, crash floorwards when you accelerate. Alternatively, you can have your Sintra with a one-piece bench seat for the rearmost row, bringing the total potential occupant count to eight. All have plenty of leg space, too. The rear doors slide instead of hinging outwards, which is useful in a tight space but threatening for small fingers.

Cup-holders and storage boxes abound, but in exploring these you will uncover one of the Sintra's main flaws. Its interior is plasticky, flimsy, built down to a price with bendy plastic moulded hinges and wobbly construction. Nor does one of the claimed benefits of its topologically distorted estate- car shape, that the feel from the driving seat is essentially car-like, materialise in practice. The high, slabby dashboard blocks your view forward and downward unless you raise the seat high, in which case you won't easily reach the handbrake, which is mounted too low and too far back. The deep- windowed, snub-nosed Galaxy is much better here.

The cheapness also extends to the driving experience. Car-like looks or not, the irony is that the Sintra feels the most unhoned, the most van-like to drive of all the current MPVs. The gearchange is springy and clonky, the brakes snatch, the structure shudders, and the 2.2-litre, four-cylinder engine in the version I drove had a gritty, whining note. Balancer shafts are claimed to make it smooth, so I dread to think what it must have been like before the engineers deemed them to be necessary. For all that, though, the Sintra moves along reasonably swiftly if you keep the revs stoked up, and both the roadholding and the ride comfort are acceptable. There's also a 3.0-litre V6 version, with automatic transmission.

American cars tend to feel cheaper, flimsier, harsher than ours, and the Sintra betrays its roots. The best MPV you can buy today is the Ford Galaxy, and its Volkswagen Sharan and Seat Alhambra clones. The Sintra's arrival does nothing to change that.

Vauxhall Sintra CD 2.2i


Prices (on the road): pounds 19,100 (5-seat), pounds 19,600 (7-seat). Engine: 2,198cc, four cylinders, 16 valves, 141bhp at 5,400rpm; five-speed gearbox, front- wheel drive. Performance: top speed 117mph, 0-60 in 12.5sec. Fuel consumption: 24-29mpg.


Chrysler Voyager 2.0 SE, pounds 18,395: another American, good value on paper but suffering similar American ailments.

Ford Galaxy 2.0 GLX 7-seat, pounds 19,255: smoother, quieter, more solid than the Sintra, easier in a tight spot and much more pleasant to drive.

Peugeot 806 2.0 SR, pounds 18,980: ingenious interior with facia-mounted gear lever, good to drive but feels dated.

Renault Espace 2.0 RT, pounds 19,635: the new Espace is truly avant-garde with central dials, huge storage boxes and infinite seat adjustment. Automatic only.

Toyota Previa 2.4 GS, pounds 19,710: seats eight, looks like an egg, underfloor engine gives surprising pace. Still popular after six years.

The Queen and the letter sent to Charlie
Arts and Entertainment
Eurovision Song Contest 2015
EurovisionGoogle marks the 2015 show
Two lesbians hold hands at a gay pride parade.
peopleIrish journalist shares moving story on day of referendum
Arts and Entertainment
<b>Kathryn Williams</b>
When I was supporting Ray La Montagne I was six months pregnant. He had been touring for a year and he was exhausted and full of the cold. I was feeling motherly, so I would leave presents for him and his band: Tunnock's Tea Cakes, cold remedies and proper tea. Ray seemed painfully shy. He hardly spoke, hardly looked at you in the face. I felt like a dick speaking to him, but said "hi" every day. </p>
He was being courted by the same record company who had signed me and subsequently let me go, and I wanted him to know that there were people around who didn't want anything from him. At the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, on the last night of the tour, Ray stopped in his set to thank me for doing the support. He said I was a really good songwriter and people should buy my stuff. I was taken aback and felt emotionally overwhelmed. Later that year, just before I had my boy Louis, I was l asleep in bed with Radio 4 on when Louis moved around in my belly and woke me up. Ray was doing a session on the World Service. </p>
I really believe that Louis recognised the music from the tour, and when I gave birth to him at home I played Ray's record as something that he would recognise to come into the world with. </p>
booksKathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
Liz Kendall played a key role in the introduction of the smoking ban
newsLiz Kendall: profile
Life and Style
techPatent specifies 'anthropomorphic device' to control media devices
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits
voicesAndrew Grice: Prime Minister can talk 'one nation Conservatism' but putting it into action will be tougher
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

    Guru Careers: Software Developer

    £35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

    £18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

    Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

    £25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

    Day In a Page

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?