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New models - Holden - Vectra

First drive: Holden's upper-class Vectra

On test: The new Vectra has been adapted to Australian conditions.

Holden has launched an all-new, larger and more expensive Vectra

20 Mar 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.

In the absence of a base model GL, the new range starts with the CD sedan and hatch, powered by a 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine with either a five-speed manual or optional five-speed automatic transmission.

It then kicks up to the 3.2-litre V6 CDX hatch as an auto only, followed by the top-spec CDXi hatchback, which is available as both manual and auto.

While ZC is all new and there's a massive uprating of specification across the range, there is also a huge ramp up in the admission price.

The cheapest Vectra is now the $34,990 CD sedan, a massive $9500 above the old GL sedan.

At the other end of the scale is the CDXi hatch, which has no equivalent in the old range. In auto trim it is just $10 below $50,000, placing it in Holden's view up against competition like the entry level BMW 3 Series, Audi A4 and Volkswagen Passat.

Standard Vectra specification across the range now includes four-channel anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic brake-force distribution, cornering brake control, emergency brake-force distribution and electro-hydraulic power steering.

CD spec includes dual front and side passenger airbags, eight-way adjustable driver's seat, nine-speaker CD sound system, remote audio controls on the height and reach adjustable steering wheel, cruise control, remote central locking, power windows, alloy wheels and air-conditioning.

Neither air-conditioning, power windows or a passenger airbag were standard on the old GL.

The new CDX adds front foglights, different 16-inch alloys, six-stack CD player, velour seat trim, woodgrain accents, trip computer, leather steering wheel and dual eight-way adjustable seats up front.

The CDXi tops off the list with a sports bodykit that includes unique front and rear sports bumpers, rear spoiler, twin branch sports exhaust, black bezel headlights and dark lens tail-lights.

The sports theme continues with a unique suspension tune, 17-inch alloy wheels and the ESP Plus stability system 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.

Inside there's black leather sports front seats with heating, dual-zone climate control and a unique three-spoke leather steering wheel.

Technically, the Vectra is worthy of the tag "all-new", an over-used phrase in the car business, but it is certainly apt for the Opel-designed Vectra.

A staple of the European fleet market, the latest Vectra is underpinned by GM's new Epsilon front-wheel drive architecture, which is also being employed by the Saab 9-3.

Over the top of that are two angular and arched body shapes - a four-door sedan and five-door hatchback, which measure up 60mm longer in the wheelbase and 101m longer overall than the old car. There's also an exemplary 0.28Cd aerodynamic drag co-efficient.

The new bodies are also rated to be 74 per cent above the old model in terms of torsional rigidity and 62 per cent better in terms of bending stiffness.

But extensive use of aluminium and other lightweight materials has kept weight growth to a minimum.

Engine power is provided by the current 2.2-litre aluminium engine, producing 108kW at 5600rpm and 203Nm at 4000rpm in this spec, up 4kW and 3Nm on the old car.

The bigger news under the bonnet is the new 3.2-litre V6 engine, which is about 600cc bigger than the old V6. It produces 155kW at 6200rpm and 300Nm at 4000rpm, up a substantial 30kW and 50Nm.

Each engine gets its own five-speed manual and optional auto transmission, the latter up one ratio on the old unit and also fitted with a semi-manual mode called "Active Select".

Mechanical spec is completed by MacPherson strut front suspension, new design multi-link independent rear suspension, four-wheel disc brakes and electro-hydraulic power steering. Extensive use of electronics is made possible by the now widely used CANBUS technology.

New Vectra CD sedan 2.2: $34,990 (man) $36,990 (auto)
Old Vectra GL sedan 2.2: $25,490 (man) $27,190 (auto)New Vectra CD hatch 2.2: $35,990 (man) $37,990 (auto)
Old Vectra GL hatch 2.2: $25,490 (man) $27,190 (auto)New Vectra CDX hatch V6: n/a $43,990 (auto)
Old Vectra CD hatch V6: $33,990 (man) $35,690 (auto)New Vectra CDXi hatch V6: $47,990 (man) $49,990 (auto)
(No old model equivalent)


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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