Model: Vauxhall Antara 2.0CDTi SE
Engine: 2.0-litre diesel
Performance: 111mph, 0-60mph in 11.1 seconds, 148bhp, 37.2mpg
Worth considering: Chevrolet Captiva, Hyundai Santa Fe, Land Rover Freelander
If you're a regular reader of the Verdict, the Vauxhall Antara may have a familiar look about it, given that it bears more than a passing resemblance to the Chevrolet Captiva, which we featured last year. That's globalisation for you; what amounts to the same car can be sold with a few adaptations around the world under several different brands. One man's Chevrolet Captiva is another man's Vauxhall Antara (UK), Opel Antara (continental Europe), Saturn Vue (US) or Holden Captiva (Australia). All are sold by branches of the vast General Motors empire, which sources them from its operation in Korea – where this car is called the Daewoo Winstorm.
That's probably some of the best evidence around for the commonly held opinion that the world of cars is sinking into bland, depressing uniformity, but it's worth considering an alternative view; if Vauxhall were a small, self-contained, UK-only operation, its chances of producing its own modern SUV, like the Antara, and a full range of competitive cars would be small – just look at how long MG Rover survived once it was expelled from BMW's embrace. But as part of GM, Vauxhall can tap in to a worldwide network that gives it a model for every sector, and still manufacture in the UK; international specialisation means we get Antaras, Corsas and the rest, while other countries get our Astras and Vivaros.
You won't be surprised to hear that the Antara is very similar to the Captiva, sharing virtues such as its smart, roomy, sharply styled body, and its flat, car-like handling. Compared with the petrol-engined Captiva we tried last year, though, the version of the Antara featured here had one major plus and one minor minus. The plus was its diesel engine, which does a much better job of pushing a big heavy SUV like this around. The minus was that the Antara's top-spec SE interior featured lashings of wood and leather that rather jarred with the modern grey plastic of the car's basic cabin architecture. Sometimes there is such a thing as trying a bit too hard.
Paul Bones, 65
Retired NHS official, Halesworth, Suffolk
Usual car: Renault Megane
This imposing five-seater SUV looks big and is (16 feet long, 6 feet wide, 1.8 tons). First impressions were of good build quality. Interior impressions were mixed, with finishes and textures not working well together. Hardish leather seats were comfortable over 70 mixed road miles. Engine noise exceeded expectations over 60mph. Given the Antara's size and weight, 150bhp produces moderate performance only. Driving was "carlike", with well weighted brakes and steering, and good tracking without continual steering corrections. Climate control worked well, as did the computer, showing 37mpg from easy driving. A buyer spending £26,000-plus might expect more performance.
Carol Florey, 59
Retired teacher, Felixstowe
Usual car: MG TF
Never having been impressed by 4x4s, I wasn't expecting a positive experience. But I was pleasantly surprised by the looks, interior, gadgets (this was the top model), leg and headroom (I am tall), suspension and drive. It felt sluggish in second but took fifth easily and ran at low revs while achieving good speeds. Parking in supermarket spaces was easier than expected. But I do wonder who would buy it. The engine may be powerful and relatively quiet for a diesel but fuel consumption is not good. By today's standards, I would have expected better economy and any one of the aforementioned positives could be better achieved with other cars. In the end, it's a 4x4. And I'm still not impressed.
Nicholas Dixey, 52, Caroline, 48, Max, 11, Felix, 10, Louisa, 6
Printing company owner, Rockland St Mary, Norfolk
Usual cars: Fiat Multipla, Rover 75 and a Triumph Stag
It's a handsome machine, the over-40mph ride was smooth, it was very quiet at all speeds, the interior was smart and the children, despite sliding around on the leather seats, claimed there was enough room in the back for them all. It was my first drive of a "soft-roader" and the body roll and approximate steering were not as bad as predicted. Drawbacks were the risible luggage space and extremely uncomfortable and jittery ride at slow speeds on poor roads. My beloved Multipla hammers this car on most counts and is half the Antara's list price. It just didn't feel worth the money.
If you would like to take part in The Verdict, email email@example.com or write to The Verdict, Save & Spend, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, giving your address, phone number and details of the car, if any, you drive. For most cars, participants must be over 26 and have a clean licence.