New Models - Holden Vectra
First drive: Holden's upper-class Vectra
Holden has launched an all-new, larger and more expensive Vectra
20 March 2003
HOLDEN'S has announced its new generation ZC Vectra range will comprise three models, two body styles, four transmissions and two engine sizes when it goes on sale Down Under in April.
DRIVE IMPRESSIONS:HOLDEN hopes to introduce a whole new type of buyer to the Lion brand with its new Vectra. And it will need to, because the company is expecting to sell less than half the number of Vectras sold in the model's heyday - thanks to a significantly higher price.
Vectra's price tag, however, isn't the only thing that's moved upmarket.
As different to drive from its predecessor as it is to look at, the new Vectra is also substantially larger, said to have grown by half a car segment size externally and by a whole size inside.
In fact, Holden says Vectra's interior makes it as big as the first generation Commodore, which was last sold in VL guise.
Not only larger, the new interior is also dark, very geometrically laid-out and highly European in both appearance and feel.
First, in base CD form, there are the firm but supportive seats, which comprise friendlier upholstery and feel more comfortable in CDX and are simply excellent in leather-clad CDXi form.
All models feature a soft, nicely textured dash board material, simple trip computer via a Barina/Astra-style dash-mounted screen, tactile multi-functions on the (height and reach adjustable) steering wheel and indicator operation via the right-side stalk, which intuitively flashes three times only upon a soft touch (like C-class and A4), or self-cancels when fully engaged, like a 7 Series.
The leather, three-spoke steering wheel in top-spec CDXi is particularly classy, but proper door handles, good pedal layout, accommodating seating position and well laid-out, tactile controls also add to a feeling of solid engineering.
This is backed up by a solid armoury of safety features, including standard twin front and side airbags and an endless list of electronic gadgets. Stability control, however, is available only in CDXi.
But it's the driving itself that really rams home the fact this Holden truly is a European product. Feeling solid and unshakable at all times, there's never a question of this car's structural integrity.
Forget anything you knew about the previous Vectra, which was accomplished in its own right - the new car feels far more European in its ride, handling, balance and stiffness.
In fact, so vastly different to drive is the new Vectra that it's impossible to draw comparisons with the excellent new 9-3, with which the ZC shares its underpinnings.
Which is to say that, dynamically, it's up there with the best front-drivers in the business. Certainly no Renault, Peugeot, Volkswagen, Audi or Alfa driver would be disappointed, but Vectra still loses out in the inevitable comparison with BMW's envied 3 Series.
See, while torque steer is kept under extremely good control and ultimate cornering grip is excellent, the fact remains that Vectra's front-drive chassis cannot match the BMW dynamically and must rely heavily upon artificial driver aids to prevent overpowering its front wheels.
In essence, while body control and the ride/handling compromise is exemplary, its chassis must work harder to achieve similar results.
This is especially the case in the torque-laden V6 models which, unlike the somewhat breathless 2.2-litre four-cylinder models, offer more power than a Commodore and a seamless band of acceleration anywhere between idle and redline.
In comparison, the four-cylinder similar to that found in Astra SRi feels a little overworked in the Vectra (1391kg in CD sedan manual form, 1535kg as a CDXi hatch auto) and, though the adaptive five-speed auto with manual override is superb, always requires plenty of gearbox rowing.
Which is one reason we think the V6 Vectras will prove more popular than their less powerful siblings. Another is the thinking that if one chooses a prestige Holden, at least it should be a six-cylinder.
Wherein lies the rub with the new Vectra. Holden's ability to sell the mid-sized model from a positioning above its larger, volume selling Commodore will be interesting, the company's conservative sales estimates notwithstanding.
While the CD models should appear attractive enough even beside the likes of Mazda6, Camry and Liberty, the V6-powered CDX/CDXi models may prove even more popular with the growing number of Euro shoppers.
As a sensible alternative to the more expensive front-drive Europeans, ZC Vectra deserves to sell well. But there's no escaping the fact that many prestige buyers want status - something they don't necessarily associate with the Lion brand.
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