If the shiny new off-roader sitting in your local Vauxhall dealership looks familiar, there is a good reason: the 'brand new' Vauxhall Monterey is, behind its badges, the Isuzu Trooper.

It isn't the first time Vauxhall has plundered Isuzu's line-up for a ready-made new model - its Frontera is derived from the Isuzu Amigo. But at least with the Frontera, Vauxhall put a bit of its own engineering effort into the brew, installing its own petrol engines and changing the looks a smidgeon. For the Monterey it slaps on a different grille, swaps the badges, and - Hey presto]: meet the glamorous new Vauxhall.

Expediency has created the Monterey. Vauxhall urgently needed a vehicle to compete with the all-conquering Land Rover Discovery, which earlier this year was Britain's best-selling executive car. Developing an all-new model from scratch wasn't feasible, even for a firm as big as Vauxhall, so the solution was to 'borrow' a design.

Fortunately for Vauxhall, its mother company, General Motors, also embraces Isuzu, whose Trooper is one of the Discovery's most able challengers.

The Monterey range offers long or short wheelbases, petrol or turbodiesel engines, and RS or LTD trim levels. On test here is the long-wheelbase, 3.1-litre, turbodiesel-engined LTD, one of the range-toppers and the model best qualified to take on the Discovery.

Despite being styled like a size-five shoebox on top of a size-nine, it's an attractive beast, with enough class and presence to play city slicker as well as county carriage. The two-tone paint scheme looks much nicer than it sounds, and alloy wheels come as standard.

After the rugged sophistication of the exterior, the interior looks extremely low-rent. It's spacious, certainly, and comfortable, but devoid of style or character. And the one quirky feature (the wipers and washers are operated by twisting and pressing a knob on the dashboard) proves irritating.

Still, once you are installed in the driver's seat, a lofty perch commanding an excellent view, other things will impress you, such as the verve of the four-cylinder turbodiesel engine. Sure, it needs to be revved hard, and you won't be overtaking many GTis; but you won't be getting in the way, either. On the motorway, the engine settles to a hushed hum, making long-distance travel as relaxing as it would be in more ordinary executive transportation.

For a big go-anywhere vehicle, the Monterey has a gentle ride quality, capable of smothering all but the worst potholes. It can float too much on undulating roads, but that's a fair price to pay for keeping your bones from rattling over the rougher stuff.

Unlike the Discovery, which has permanent four-wheel drive, the Monterey has only rear-wheel drive in normal use (to engage all-wheel drive, you must stop and pull a lever). But the lofty Vauxhall isn't a nifty handler. Over-light power-assisted steering combines with lolloping body-roll to make fast cornering dramatic. Of course, the Monterey isn't intended to be driven like a sports car, although its eager engine can sometimes make you forget that.

But a Discovery beater? No. The Monterey is as brisk as the Land Rover, and quieter all- round, but doesn't handle or steer as well, is less capable off-road, has less standard equipment, is naff inside, and has nothing like as much panache.


Vauxhall Monterey LTD 3.1-litre turbodiesel, long wheelbase, pounds 23,290

Four-cylinder turbodiesel; 114bhp, max torque 192lb ft. Five-speed manual gearbox, plus low-ratio gears; part-time four-wheel drive. Top speed 94mph, 0-60mph in 16.4 seconds. Touring fuel consumption, 22.8mpg


Land Rover Discovery Tdi ES, pounds 26,765

Current king of the off-roaders is dearer than the Monterey in this trim level, but boasts leather upholstery and air-conditioning. Turbodiesel engine noisier than the Vauxhall's, but in all else the Disco is superior.

Mitsubishi Shogun 2.8 TD turbodiesel, pounds 25,499

Scores highly for looks and cachet. Performance is on a par with the larger-engined Vauxhall. Kitsch interior.

Nissan Patrol SGX turbodiesel pounds 26,400

Not pretty, not modern, not even that good, the Patrol is slower, noisier, less refined and more expensive than the Vauxhall. But it is great fun.

(Photograph omitted)

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