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Car reviews - Holden - Vectra - CDXi 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Equipment level, solid chassis behaviour, slick gearbox
Room for improvement
Price, weird ergonomics

16 Jul 2003

THE CDXi is the top model in the new generation Vectra medium car range, It's V6 only, it's hatch only and it's $50,000, or as close as dammit.

That's an incredible price to pay for what is a mainstream fleet car in Europe

But that is the very hefty penalty Holden suffers for selling European-built product, which brings with it attendant exchange rate difficulties.

It is an issue that the company is grappling with for the future, looking for alternate (read cheaper) sources of production for its light, small and medium-sized cars which are developed by GM's European mainland subsidiary, Opel.

But right now Holden's only choice is to charge a small fortune for the Vectra CDXi and try to convince us it is the equivalent of a BMW 3 Series.

But patently, that is not the case.

The CDXi is incredibly well equipped, very well built and very enjoyable and comfortable to drive, but it has neither the ultimate chassis panache or the prestige value of a BMW. It is a Holden after all.

But if there is something that really puts a dent in this car - apart from price - it is that Opel has been too clever by half with some of the ergonomics and controls. It simply defies logic and intuition.

There's those weird two-stage indicators that blink three times at the touch up or down of the stalk. Push the stalk all the way to the end of its arc and the blinker stays on. Trouble is you can find yourself over-compensating and accidentally indicating to go the wrong way. More than one driver following the Vectra must have been confused as it proceeded in a straight line alternatively indicating to go left then right.

And it's an added concern that in each of the three Vectras we sampled the weighting and response of the indicator stalk varied each time.

The wiper stalk was also infuriating. Push it down and the wipers will go once, up goes faster, faster, faster, down slower, slower, slower. But you can often push right through and make the wiper go again rather than stop.

More concern. The cruise control operation is on the end of the indicator stalk and more than once it was activated while turning - sudden acceleration in the middle of a crowded, wet roundabout is not my idea of fun!

Then there's the trip computer, which operates off the wiper stalk. It's a very detailed piece of gear with date, external temperature, current time and air-conditioning settings.

Drill down one level and you've got more information: range, trip consumption, consumption overall, instant consumption, speed average, trip distance and settings and return functions.

Heaps of stuff but a chore to access, necessitating too much time with your eyes off the road because the screen sits at the top of the centre console.

At least those stalks are chunky, rubbery items and mounted on the correct side of the steering column.

Separated from the screen by a metal band that runs across the dash and the six-CD stacker AM/FM radio sits the air-conditioning controls. See if you can figure out how to change the vent settings without consulting the instruction manual.

Over on the driver's door there's a rectangular switchblock that includes a unique way of operating power windows via a sliding switch. Fiddly and time wasting. What's the point?

It's all stuff owners will eventually adapt to and familiarise themsleves with, but the sheer concentration of annoying gizmos and executions is surprising. It smacks of techno for techno's sake, rather than being the best idea.

The pity of it all is that this is a really well built and engineered car in most other respects. It is fast-ish, comfortable, roomy, secure and very well appointed.

The new Vectra should be pretty impressive, because the fundamentals are the right ones. It is based on a new GM front-wheel drive platform called Epsilon that underpins a bunch of different cars from the various divisions of the world's biggest car-maker - the new Saab 9-3 being another example on sale in Australia.

The new Vectra sits on a 63mm longer wheelbase, has a wider tread and higher roof, a vastly stiffer body and a much more aerodynamic shape (0.28 Cd) than its predecessor. It is now about the same size as the first generation Commodore.

It has been able to achieve all this without adding much weight, thanks to the extensive use of aluminium and other lightweight metals.

Then there's the MacPherson strut front suspension, new design multi-link independent rear suspension and four-wheel discs. Thoroughly conventional stuff.

Where it gets more interesting is the extensive use of electronics made possible by the now accepted CANBUS integrated electronics system which zaps messages and responses around the car, feeding off the data gained by more than 40 sensors.

There's four channel ABS, Cornering Brake Control, Electronic Brakeforce Distribution, electro-hydraulic power steering, electronic throttle and ESP Plus, which in contrast to conventional electronic stability programs that brake the inside rear wheel to prevent understeer, acts on as many as three wheels for more stable performance.

When GoAuto first sampled the Vectra in Barcelona last year at the world launch - albeit in 2.2-litre four-cylinder sedan form - we were left unimpressed by the lifeless steering, intrusive and non-switchable stablity system and the lack of sophistication to the ride.

At the time we put in the rider that definitive judgment would have to wait until after the car got onto Australian roads and local Holden engineers had made adjustments. After all, they managed to transform the previous Vectra from a fleet hack derided in Europe for its lack of character into an enjoyable drivers' car.

We're glad we qualified our comments. Unique local suspension and steering specification have endowed the new Vectra with a far more sophisticated and collected behaviour than when we first sampled it.

The CDXi gets sports tune and 17-inch wheels, so it is quite firm but rides well, despite what feels to be limited suspension travel, with only big bumps upsetting it.

Thankfully, it does not seem to have lost the level of balance the old car had. It steers extremely well, with no rack rattle and just a hint of torque steer. The traction and stability control is not so intrusive and it is switchable.

This supple chassis is mated to an impressive drivetrain. The new 3.2-litre V6 replaces the 2.6 from the old generation, delivering 155kW at 6200rpm and 300Nm at 4000rpm, roughly equivalent to the 3.8-litre V6 found in Commodore.

It is the very definition of the modern double overhead camshafts 24-valve engine, such is it quietness and refinement.

Indeed, this is an impressively quiet car full stop. Cruise along the freeway at 100km/h at 2000rpm and the thing is hardly making noise, despite the twin branch sports exhaust and low profile tyres. There's no noise off the mirrors - it's exceptionally well engineered from that point of view.

But the engine is not especially flexible. You really need to push back to second gear in the lovely auto gearbox and get well up in the rev range to find real response for passing or punch off corners. No doubt the 1535kg kerb weight plays a role here.

We didn't mind the gearbox's semi-manual shift function, although the feel was pretty synthetic, where some manage a more mechanical connection. And typical of this car, it would down and upchange for you if it judged you were outside the rev paramaters.

And so to that impressive equipment level. There are dual front and side passenger airbags, dual eight-way adjustable seats up front, six-stack CD player, remote audio controls on the height and reach adjustable leather steering wheel, black leather sports front seats with heating, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, remote central locking, power windows, 17-inch alloy wheels and front foglights.

It's a lot of gear - certainly a lot more than a $50,000 BMW 3 Series has fitted to it. But there's one the latter has the Holden just can't buy for any money, and that's the spinning propellor badge and the prestige that goes with it.

Good car the Vectra CDXi, but it's not a great price.

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