Sporty Update For the Sturdy Vauxhall Vectra

A rear boot spoiler and twin tailpipes are the only exterior clues that this Vectra is Vauxhall's latest attempt to woo motorists with sporty pretensions. It may not be the best car for turning pedestrians' heads, but it has a powerful V6 engine, 25 percent stiffer suspension and a new traction control system that aims to radically boost appeal.

The SRi V6 was first discussed by Vauxhall in September last year, when GM's technical development center at Russelsheim in Germany was commissioned to create a sporty new package for the Vectra. The springs and shock absorbers were revised, and the whole operation of chassis tuning was overseen by Lotus engineers.

Vauxhall hopes these relatively subtle alterations will help sell 4,500 to 5,000 of the new Vectras, which recently reached the showrooms. If that goal is reached, this will account for 10 per cent of total Vectra sales.

The new model's 2.5-liter, 24-valve engine is identical to the Ecotec unit that already powers other Vectra models, along with the Omega and the Saab 900. And the good news is that it delivers its 125KW to the front wheels in sparkling fashion without stress or mayhem, thanks to the occasional intervention of an electronic traction control system that ensures optimal grip.

The SRi's V6 engine is an enticingly gutsy yet sweet-sounding engine that delivers a good spread of torque but nonetheless thrives on higher revs. It's equipped with a clever electronically controlled intake manifold valving system which favors low-speed torque and high-speed power production. This excellent motor powers the Vectra to 100 kilometers per hour in a very healthy 8.1 seconds -- which is one tenth of a second quicker than its highly capable archrival, the Ford Mondeo V6. To complement that superiority, it also goes on to a top speed of 230 kilometers per hour - six kilometers per hour faster than the Ford.

However, despite Vauxhall's marketing strategy, which compares the new contender with great cars like the four-year-old Lotus Carlton, the SRi V6 is not anywhere in the same league. On a positive note, it is a definite improvement on the models in the Vectra range, which handle poorly on the road. The fact is, however, that Vectras, despite their state-of-the-art design "for the millennium," just aren't endowed with a particularly impressive chassis. That's why this version, which is more oriented toward the "driver's driver," is welcome.

The suspension changes ensure reduced body roll, but the steering remains a touch slow to react and ultimately lacks driver feedback. Initial slack at the wheel leaves drivers too uninvolved for a truly sporty feel on demanding corners and twisty roads. The SRi V6 shows its best form on long, straight, undulating stretches of road, where it powers ahead relentlessly with a refined and comfortable ride. Most of the high-speed turbulence which adversely affects the ride quality of lesser Vectras is thankfully eliminated from the SRi.

This Vectra's five-speed gearshift is the same as in the Vectra V6 GLS and CDX models, and it engages readily enough, although it lacks the smoothness and positivity of some of its class rivals.

Three body styles will be available before the end of the year, with four and five-door sedan versions hitting showrooms before the station wagon eventually arrives. Prices have yet to be announced, but they're expected to be competitive with the $25,500 that Ford charges for the Mondeo 2.5-liter V6 saloon.

The Vectra SRi V6 is likely to be bought largely by the fleet car market and will spend most of its time on highways. Standard features, therefore, need to provide maximum comfort. A long equipment list includes anti-lock brakes, power-assisted steering, remote central locking and electric front windows.

There are no complaints about the driving position -- both seat and wheel are height adjustable. The cabin is spacious, accommodating three rear-seat passengers comfortably.

However, the SRi V6's success or failure will rest on its performance. While the 2.5-liter V6 engine works well, the Vectra will be hard-pushed to outperform the Mondeo V6.

Ivor Carroll is a writer for Auto Express in Britain. He contributed this article to The Moscow Times.