road test

Vauxhall Vectra
Does the new Vauxhall Vectra look any different from the Vauxhall Cavalier? You'd be forgiven for thinking not. Most people simply wouldn't spot the difference. Its door mirrors constitute the sole stylistic flourish, blending so effectively into the bodywork that they appear to have spouted from it. That, however, is it. But Vauxhall knows that people will not buy the Vectra to make a style statement. They want a convenient car, and that's just what this Vauxhall is.

Leaving aside the fact that its driving position leaves too little room between thigh and wheel rim (an error Vauxhall is racing to correct), the interior of a Vectra is very pleasant - airy, comfortable and particularly thoughtfully designed. You will, for instance, find a device to carry a pair of opened Coke cans in the centre console, and another drinks holder beneath an armrest bridging the front seats. You will find plenty of places to put things, easily manipulated controls, a crisp, powerful stereo and much else. Just as pleasing is that the Vectra is well mannered, something you could not say of its predecessor. The Cavalier just didn't get along with bumpy roads, which would have it bucking and jerking as if it were made for a different road network. Couple this with an awkward gear change, a clutch that made smooth progress a hard-won goal and engines that tended towards the coarse, and you had a car that felt cruder than it really was. The new Vectra sees all these problems fixed, and the Cavalier's strong points - sound performance, fair economy, good roadholding, robust construction - firmly built upon.

Pounding the motorway is likely to be the Vectra's most frequent task, for this is the quintessential company car. That it will often be passenger- less is just as well because the interior is not as spacious as it should be. The Renault Laguna and the Toyota Carina offer more. Its best-selling rival, the Ford Mondeo, does not however, but that car still has the edge over the Vauxhall in several areas. Keener steering, a superior gearchange, a much better driving position, a slightly more convenient, if less attractive, facia layout and stouter performance are among them. The Vauxhall strikes back with anti-lock brakes, a smoother ride, a more inviting cabin, and more quiet and more homogeneous looks.

If the message you're getting is that it's a close run thing, then you're right - the standard among the best of this class is high. Vectra, Laguna, Mondeo, it doesn't matter which you buy, because you'll be getting a damn good car. And something better than a Cavalier.

Richard Bremner