Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Vauxhall Vectra: From the Ashes of the Cavalier

Stifle the sobs and take your somber black suit out of mothballs, because there has been a death in the Opel/Vauxhall family. Well respected in the business arena and equally popular with parents everywhere, the Vauxhall Cavalier recently passed away peacefully on the production line. In its last will and testament, the old-timer bequeathed all its family interests to its ambitious new successor, the Vectra.

Costing over ?1 billion ($1.5 billion) to develop, Vauxhall's prodigy is new in virtually every detail. It's looking to rapidly make up the ground its aging ancestor lost to its rivals.

The new Vectra took its dearly departed relative's place in showrooms a couple of months back, and it's just starting to show its true colors. The Vectra appears here in 2.0i GLS guise, and that puts it right in the line of fire of such opposition as Ford's Mondeo 2.0-litre GLX, the Renault Laguna 2.0i RXE, and Citroen's Xantia 2.0i SX. To put paid to such a fearsome threesome, the Vectra needs outstanding practicality, comprehensive equipment, polished cruising refinement and a liberal sprinkling of driver appeal. But can it mix the right quantities of these ingredients into a recipe for success?

Glance fleetingly at the new Vectra from General Motors and you'll probably look away again just as quickly: At first sight, its lines closely mirror the commonplace Cavalier, meaning most people don't give it a second glance.

Vauxhall didn't want to alienate customers by drastically changing the familiar shape, but closer inspection reveals the company has made some very clever refinements. From smoothly tapering nose to tidier tail, the Vectra is far smarter, enhanced by wheels that amply fill their arches and details like the unusually sculpted wing mirrors that flow out of the hood panel.

Inside it's a similar story. The cabin doesn't look dramatically different, but it's considerably better than before. Out goes the already impressive Cavalier dashboard, and in comes an obvious descendant of the Omega's. It's built from premium-grade soft-touch plastics and feels capable of taking an infinite number of knocks without ever suffering. With gently swooping lines and a coherent collection of slick instruments and uncluttered dials, it's thoroughly user-friendly.

There are also some nice touches, like the high-mounted display that shows the time, date and your radio frequency, and the controls for that radio, which are neatly set into the steering wheel.The driving position doesn't prove quite so accommodating, though. It's not really the fault of the seat, which, although rather hard, has height and extensive lumbar-support adjustment. The steering wheel is the culprit, as it always was in the Cavalier. Unbelievably, it's still fixed, and too low for this driver, making it difficult to get entirely comfortable.

At least there's no major problem with space. Taller testers confirmed that leg and head room is fine up front, and they had no problems in the rear either. Two can enjoy a relaxed journey in the backseat, although the seat back is a little too upright, and the seat itself is quite hard. When a third climbs aboard there's still space to spare, although the shaping of the backrest's edges means outer passengers don't sit entirely at ease. The central armrest doesn't help comfort for the middle traveler, but he or she does at least benefit from a clever pop-up third headrest. For safety, there's a central lap harness and two full shoulder belts that boast height adjustment, as do those up front.

Vauxhall has made plenty of allowance for stashing the bits and bobs that five travellers invariably carry with them: There's a good-sized glove compartment, small bins in both front and rear doors, retractable cup holders in the facia and a tall, lidded compartment between the front seats that doubles as an armrest, but unfortunately tends to get in the way of gearchanging. The trunk is gigantic as well, and you can devote additional space to luggage by folding one or both halves of the split seat back. The base is also split, so you can still carry a passenger.

Like the body shell and cabin, the Vectra driving experience is a marked improvement over, rather than a transformation of, the Cavalier's.

Its 2.0-litre 16-valve engine was also used by the Vauxhall Cavalier, but it's now equipped with a variable intake manifold designed to boost pulling power at lower revs. It's also now governed by switchable traction control.

The Vectra certainly lugs with vigor in the rev range's early stages, but with high gearing intended to refine highway cruising and boost economy, it nevertheless feels a touch more lackluster than the rest lower down. It saves its best for the upper reaches, where it shows true grit, but sadly gets rather boomy here.

An improvement is noticeable in the gearshift department, because the change feels more precise than the outgoing model's, but is still rather rubbery and notchy.

The natural habitat for most Vectras will, of course, be Europe's highways, which is why the car has been set up to suit them. The engine spins relaxedly at the legal limit, and there's barely a whiff of wind noise.

But the comfort and calm is marred slightly by the ride. Despite its newly designed suspension, which features a sophisticated multi-link system at the rear, the Vectra tends to thump over bumps and makes more of imperfections than you expect it to. Away from the highways, the suspension doesn't give a great account of itself either. Whether tootling around town or attacking an A-road, the ride gets decidedly choppy, but while definitely firm it's never intrusively uncomfortable.

When a bend beckons, the Vectra feels much more in command than the model it replaces. There's a good deal of grip, and it's far less nose-heavy than its predecessor. The improved power steering is also better weighted and more direct, although to be honest it still doesn't feel as good as the others in this respect. Stopping is a less fraught experience now, too, because the brakes feel strong and responsive.

The overriding impression is that the Vectra is a very safe and acceptably enjoyable car to drive spiritedly, but it just doesn't quite have the balance, crispness and control of rivals like the Mondeo.

Nice try, GM.

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