Opel Vectra: Opel Vectra 2.2DTR review

Hmm. Things sneak up on you in the latest Opel Vectra. Like the cruise control in the version I've been driving this week. I didn't know about it, and it wasn't obvious.

But in use, once I found it while stuck in a traffic jam and had time to browse around the car a bit, it is so much the best-placed and most instinctive to use of its kind that I'd give it the five stars maximum if there was a competition for ergonomic excellence.

And the stalks for lights and wipers. Well, how to use them properly sneaks up on you too. At first you curse them (they don't have a definite position for various uses, just a flick like you'd work a motorcycle gearbox or a tiptronic-style shift in a car) and then you suddenly realise that you've mastered the technique without noticing.

Though I wonder why it was necessary to change the system?

Never mind. The car's the thing. And the car, with a name that has been unfairly reviled by Brit colleagues who don't appreciate they're lucky even to still have the Vauxhall brand and manufacturing on their versions, is a flip into warp speed for the nameplate.

The latest Vectra is the spiritual successor to a long line of Opels, from the Rekords of my driving youth through Asconas and Cavaliers to the current name that links both Opel and Vauxhall brands.

And in my current run with it, the car almost subverts the need for an Omega (next class up) as we have known that most successful of large cars from a mass-market manufacturer.

It feels almost as big. It looks as classy as that larger car has managed to be despite being owned by a General Motors not known for such an attribute even in its Cadillac nameplates (in European terms, that is).

And in the review car's 2.2-litre turbodiesel form, it lacked only an autobox to make it as good as you're going to get in the segment.

I'm going to commit a heresy: this Opel's diesel, to my mind, is a nicer one to drive even than Ford's excellent and groundbreaking TDCi in the Mondeo.

And I have nothing but praise for the ride in this car, which in just this day brought me comfortably in a very precise manner to destinations that required both highway and very indifferent backroads (Kildare, natch!). If I'd been in the back seats, and I will be tomorrow when Trish takes a turn at chauffeuring me, I know just from looking that there's more than enough room for my knees, legs and working-in-the-back-seat needs.

And I've lifted the bootlid, and found that I could lose most of my everyday luggage in its vastness.

Then there are the other things that creep up on you. Like the instruments. An apparently insipid setup at first, with the information being unusually unobtrusive and colour-keyed to the background with a remarkable lack of contrast. And the ancillary information dials for temperature and fuel level is displayed small.

But after a while you notice that all the information is entirely absorbable without difficulty, without even trying. So somebody has got it right against all the rules.

Centre stack stuff works just as well, radio controls (main ones replicated on the steering wheel) easy to hand, unmessy; the ventilation/aircon simple and causing no distraction; and there's both CD and tape player slots.

With the current Vectra, GM Europe/Opel seem to have gone the upper side of the segment in size and target market. The entry-level 1.8-litre engine is its own indicator that its benchmark competition is the Mondeo/Passat end of the segment, while Toyota, Nissan and Renault are the prime runners in the 1.6-litre end of things. be aware, though, that theres not a great euro-difference in price at entry-level between them, so your choice will be predicated more on size of car preferences and tax and insurance costs.

The 2.2-litre turbodiesel in the Vectra also pushed the car beyond the VRT 2-litre barrier (though there is a 2-litre oilburner available) and with the inevitable price premium for the engine it makes the car a probable lesser seller in numeric terms. It costs just short of 4,000 euros more than the 2-litre, and at the Comfort middle-range specification of the review car that makes the price 31,400 euros, not a very loud shout behind the entry-level Omega.

But it IS a rewarding car to drive and, I suspect, to own. The driving comfort is very high, provided you like to drive a big car. As Ive mentioned, the ride control seems at least to be up with the best in class. It happened that I didnt have a lot of long-distance driving to do while I had the car, but I found it quite manageable on shorter and even around-town work. Even as a diesel, it fitted very well with my usual easy driving preference. I got the distinct feeling, though, that if I had to do a long distance at a good clip, in even challenging conditions, this is a car in which Id be very happy to do it.

Also, the 125bhp output allows a respectable 10.8sec performance to 100kph, while more than 41mpg should be generally achievable.

These too, are things that sneak up on you, though rather faster than some of the other things Ive mentioned.

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