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New Vauxhall Antara first drive

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In advance of the official on-sale date in April, General Motors have just started their programme of European press launches for the Vauxhall/Opel Antara range in what was this week 'snowy Scotland'.

It is apt that European journalists will be visiting Great Britain and in particular Scotland as the UK is GM's biggest single market in Europe, we are the fourth largest market worldwide and Vauxhall sells more new cars in Scotland than any other brand - 27,000 last year, 7,000 ahead of Ford.

There is the choice of two trim and equipment levels, Exclusiv which will take 85% of sales and SE.

For the UK market there is one all new 2.2-litre, turbodiesel engine on offer but it is available with two power outputs.

Around 85% of Antara customers in the UK will choose the 160bhp unit used for both 2WD and 4WD models. Top performance option is the 181bhp unit for 4WD only models.

Vauxhall Antara running costs

The all new four cylinder direct injection common rail turbodiesel engine has CO2 emissions ranging from 167g/km for the front wheel drive variant to 175g/km for all wheel drive manual versions and up to a not insignificant 205g/km for the automatic models.

For company car drivers Benefit-in-Kind tax levels range from 25% to 27% for manual versions and 33% for automatic gearbox models. However Vauxhall say that the Antara will remain a 90% retail proposition.

First Year rate VED road tax charges are £250 for manual transmission models and £550 for automatics.

Vauxhall Antara drive

The new generation five door, five seater Antara uses the same core platform as the first generation models introduced four years ago as a replacement for the agricultural Vauxhall/Opel Frontera 4x4 models.

The platform has been revised, especially in the suspension department, with new settings to give it higher body roll stiffness with a more direct response steering meaning better balance and better stability.

The ride is set up for comfort rather than ultra sharp handling but it is better than having very firm and harsh ride characteristics for most 'real' customers.

The electronic stability control function includes active rollover protection and yaw control.

There is descent control for off road driving and as we found in snowy forest tracks in parts of Scotland this worked pretty well considering our test cars were equipped with standard on-road tyres.

The 4WD versions have an electronically controlled drive distribution system where conventional front wheel drive is in use most of the time but all wheel drive grip is selected automatically when needed.

It would be better and in keeping with some other good SUVs of this size to have a 4WD lock function where all four wheels can be locked to provide permanent drive in tough conditions. Better to be pre-emptive than reactive I always feel.

Vauxhall Antara engines and performance

The new 2.2-litre turbodiesel engine is first class in most respects. It is much quieter with less 'rattle' than many current GM/Vauxhall/Opel diesel units and thankfully this new unit is the forerunner to other new diesel units to come for other models.

The installation in the Antara is first class and noise intrusion and vibrations into the vehicle have almost been eliminated. Two new six-speed transmissions, manual and automatic, complete a very good drivetrain package.

I had chance to drive the 160bhp, 258lb ft version of this new engine in the two wheel drive model priced at £19,995. Around one third of customers choosing a new Antara are likely to go for this 'crossover' model.

Officially this model will return 44.8mpg. On test and driven only on-road the economy was 44.2mpg which was very good. The engine felt strong, responsive and very quiet - all very positive.

The CO2 emissions could be lower given what the latest 2WD SUVs and crossovers are capable off so 167g/km will mean £250 in road tax for the first year and then £180 for the second year onwards of ownership.

This version of the new engine will be the main seller but with the 4WD option. The official fuel economy drops to 42.8mpg and the emissions creep up to 175g/km but the road tax costs remain the same.

Unfortunately there were no models of this type for us to try at the European press launch. But I can see why it will be the main seller in the UK with Exclusive trim and equipment and priced at a very competitive £22,345 with a manual gearbox and £1,460 more if the auto box is chosen.

Good as it is I wouldn't go the auto route because of the higher emissions meaning a much higher road tax bill.

A big seller in Europe will be the 181bhp, 295lb ft version of the same 2.2-litre engine with 4WD. I tried this unit with both manual and automatic gearboxes.

The engine is really strong and responsive more or less right through the range. Both transmissions are claimed to return 42.8mpg. On test, the manual model returned 42.4mpg and the auto a poor 27.6mpg but that did include some light forest track driving.

First year road tax for the manual is again £250 and £180 for following years. However the auto blows the budget with £550 first year road tax reducing to £245 for the second year onwards.

Vauxhall Antara specification

The new Antara in whatever form is a much improved vehicle to drive. It looks better as well combining chunky purposeful styling with a sleek coupe side profile.

For safety and impact requirements it has a high belt line and bonnet but it doesn't look cumbersome - neat in fact.

The interior has been vastly improved as well. Built in South Korea perhaps some of the plastics are not as plush as the best of the European SUVs but they look durable.

Specification is high even for the best selling Exclusiv versions.

All models have air conditioning, electrically operated windows front and rear, electrically operated and heated door mirrors, good sound system, split folding rear seat, comprehensive array of airbags, fog lamps, roof rails and alloy wheels.

All wheel drive versions with Exclusiv specification gain even more 'goodies' including heated front seats, front and rear parking sensors, cruise control and of course electronically operated all wheel drive.

The SE versions gains include automatic wipers, headlight washers, Xenon headlights, extra brightwork, leather seat facings and 19-inch alloy wheels.

Overall the new Vauxhall Antara is a vastly improved package and competitively priced. With more people returning to SUV/crossover ownership it will be a very competitive addition to Vauxhall's much improved model line-up.

Vauxhall Antara MILESTONES

Vauxhall Antara 2.2-litre, 160bhp CDTI Exclusiv, Manual, AWD (best selling UK model).

Price: £22,345.

Engine/transmission: New 2.2-litre, four cylinder, 16-valve, high pressure, direct injection common-rail turbodiesel, 160bhp, 258lb ft of torque from 2,000rpm, new 6-speed manual gearbox, electronically controlled all wheel drive with descent control.

Performance: 117mph, 0-62mph 9.9 seconds, 42.8mpg Combined Cycle, CO2 175g/km, VED road tax £250 First Year then £180 for second year onwards, BIK company car tax 27%.

Insurance group: tbc.

Dimensions/capacities: L 4,596mm, W 1,850mm, H 1,761mm, load space 420-1,420-litres, towing weight tbc.

For: New engine and transmissions, competitive pricing, high equipment levels, comfortable ride, smart new looks, crosses over nicely between an SUV and a Crossover with two or four wheel drive model availability.

Against: Higher emissions than some latest vehicles in this sector so higher running costs, handling not the sharpest in its class.