When's it going?

The Frontera is long gone, I'm afraid, but the reason it is slightly back in the news is that Vauxhall has come up with a new off-roader. It was 2003 when the Frontera ran out of road, and it hasn't been overly missed. The all-new Antara is proving a smart and capable 4x4, but was the old Frontera really that bad?

What's good about it?

The three-door Sport and five-door Estate Frontera always was a low-priced, tough and well-packaged 4x4, and is still ready for work. However, it was the all-new model in 1998 that saw Vauxhall trying to put right all the handling and reliability problems that affected the old model, while also trying to inject some style into the vehicle.

When it comes to rugged charm, the Frontera has that in spades. The body on the newer model may be softer, but it still looks the big, butch, off-road part. Low costs for parts and labour make this a cheap 4x4 to own. Oil-change service intervals are at a recommended 9,000-10,000 miles, while 1998 models are even cheaper to service.

The old Frontera had vague steering and rolled on corners, but otherwise handled not too badly. The 1998's steering is responsive, and roll on corners is kept in check: more refinement on the road and more accomplished off it. The old model was very competent in mud, while later gadgets, such as push-button engagement of 4WD on the move, means improved ability.

In practical terms, the Frontera had a decent-sized boot with good access. On 1998 models, the rear window opens up, although the rear door is side-hinged to the left, which is a bit clumsy. Overall, then, it is important to distinguish between the early and later models.

What's bad about it?

The Frontera name became well established, but it always lacked the credibility of Land Rover, Jeep or Toyota, even if it could get close to them off-road. This was an unpretentious 4x4, but it never really caught on. It was cramped in the back, although the 1998 models have considerably more room. The ride was jiggly in the three-door, but the larger estate was much better. Otherwise, the cheap plastics and low-grade interior were not very inspiring. There was always a mixed bag of engines: the small 2.3 turbo diesel was sluggish, while the post-1998 V6 offers best performance at the expense of economy. Worst of all, the reliability record was patchy for early models, which put a lot of potential buyers off.

How much?

There are still some very tidy examples around. I found a privately owned 2004 model, a 2.2 DTi RS that had covered just 20,000 miles. It had a full main-dealer service history and a high level of standard equipment, and it was on offer at £7,950. At a dealer, Westwood Motors (01484 661511), a 2.2DTi Limited Olympus that had covered 35,000 miles had a top asking price of £9,500.

Any snags?

Water leaks in doors. Damage to underside. Noisy engines and wheel bearings. Oil leaks. Indeed, the older Frontera was a nightmare when it came to reliability. However, from 1998, a new factory and better quality control meant a greatly improved Frontera.


Launched: 1991

Engine sizes: 2.0, 2.2, 2.2 DTi, 2.3TD, 2.4, 2.5TDS, 2.8TD, 3.2 V6

Performance: 2.2 DTI top speed 96 mph 0-60mph 13.7 seconds

Economy: 31 mpg

Safety: NCAP, 3 stars

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