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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Opel's New Mini-Van: A Promising Latecomer

Arriving late at the party doesn't mean you are going to miss out on the fun -- at least that seems to be Opel's philosophy for its new mini-van.

The Sintra joins a market segment that is not only becoming increasingly crowded but is also beginning to show signs of falling well short of over-enthusiastic early predictions of sales volumes. Even the carmakers themselves are less bullish on mini-vans than they were a year ago.

But enough of the doom and gloom. There are still a sizeable number of people buying mini-vans, and Opel, together with its British cousin Vauxhall, is confident that it has the right product to persuade buyers to part with their cash.

With Ford, VW, Citroen, Peugeot, Fiat, and Honda all having launched new mini-vans in the past two years, and all of these competing against established heavyweights such as the Renault Espace and the Chrysler Voyager, that confidence needs a serious vehicle to back it up.

And the good news -- for Opel at least -- is that the Sintra looks to be as competent as it needs to be.

Instead of joining forces with a rival manufacturer in a bid to keep costs down, General Motors took a different spin on the joint-development angle and combined resources on both sides of the Atlantic. Opel and Vauxhall Sintras roll off the same Georgia production line in the United States as GM's North American mini-vans -- the Chevrolet Venture, Pontiac Trans Sport and Oldsmobile Silhouette.

But while the Sintra and its stateside cousins share a large number of bits and pieces, it is very much a European product. A 20-strong team from Europe set up camp in the United States at the beginning of the project and stayed until the first vehicles came off the line. The Europeans had a say in every area of the Sintra's development, and won on some crucial points, in particular the insistence that it be narrower than the American engineers intended, so it would be suitable for European roads.

The result is a vehicle not only 12 centimeters shorter than an Omega sedan, but is also completely at home in Europe -- with no sign of American giantism creeping in.

There is a trans-Atlantic air to the exterior styling, though, despite Opel citing the large head lights and V-grille as proof that the Sintra is an extension to the company's station wagon range rather than a completely separate entity. But don't forget that there are three American mini-vans basically the same as this, so there were limits to how far the "Europeanization" could go.

The distinctive, angled hood is a departure from the "one-box" design favored by the likes of Ford and Renault, and you have to admit that it does look different on the road. The decision to opt for a hood was taken after customer research revealed that a large number of potential buyers prefer a conventional "car" look to more futuristic one-box styling.

The driving position has been tailor-made for Europeans as well -- apparently U.S. motorists drive closer to the wheel than is usual in Europe. Seating configurations for five, six, seven or eight people are possible, with the rear passengers using sliding doors on either side to enter and leave the Sintra.

You can't argue with the amount of room inside the chunky Opel, either. The straight-sided body gives really good interior space, with virtually all of the competition beaten on paper -- and, more importantly, borne out on perception from inside the vehicle. In addition, the rear seats are so simple to remove and refit that it just isn't a hassle.

Opel and Vauxhall engineers spent long hours tailoring the Sintra's running gear to suit European tastes; neither sloppy steering nor springing designed for 55 miles-per-hour highways.

The Sintra is a surprisingly good drive, helped greatly by the fact that to reinforce the difference between U.S. and European markets, the suspension, steering and brakes are unique to Sintra.

Better still, the front-wheel drive mini-van is powered by Opel ECOTEC engines -- a new 2.2-liter four-cylinder unit or the 3.0-liter V6 used in the Omega -- rather than big, thirsty American motors.

That means even the cheaper of the two models -- a 2.2 CD with manual gear shift -- will reach in excess of 180 kilometers an hour. The 3.0-liter automatic just tops 200 kilometers an hour, and is a fair bit quicker on acceleration. The Sintra handles very tidily and rides well too, which means it's not the lifeless experience car drivers might expect from a mini-van. Overall, the 3.0-liter is the better bet because it offers refined and relaxed motoring at the point where the 2.2 is beginning to get noisy.

The driving position is close to being like that of a car. A height-adjustable seat and angle-adjustment on the steering column help you get comfortable, and there is plenty of room all round. Familiar Opel controls and dials are featured alongside easy-to-use switches on the center console, making any driver who is used to driving Omegas or Vectras feel perfectly at home.

One thing Europeans will benefit from is the American standard order for everything electric. Air-conditioning, twin front airbags, anti-lock brakes, electric windows, alloy wheels and remote-control central locking are included in the price of both models.

The cheaper model should start at around $28,500 when it goes on sale next spring.

There is a lot of effort and technology hidden well away from inquisitive eyes, much of it concerned with saving weight -- one of the reasons the Sintra is able to boast very impressive combined fuel consumption figures of 9.6 liters per 100 kilometers for the 2.2 and 11.5 liters per 100 kilometers for the 3.0 V6.

Extensive use of magnesium and aluminum has resulted in a reduction of more than 50 kilograms from what would have been the total weight if standard materials had been usedn`In the case of the rear seats, for example, magnesium frames keep weight to a minimum, making light work of changing the seats around to add luggage space.

There's really very little to dislike about the Sintra. It goes about its business efficiently, and while the styling is a obviously a matter of personal taste, the generous interior space will please everyone. All of which augurs well for the latecomer.

Paul Chadderton is editor of Auto Express in Britain. He contributed this article to The Moscow Times.