First Drive: Vauxhall Antara

Vauxhall's revised Antara aims to offer a premium-level experience at an affordable price

As any car executive will tell you, moving with the times is key to survival. Market trends and customer buying habits change so often now that the you can’t stand still for even a moment.

When it was first launched, Vauxhall’s Antara allowed the brand to move into the expanding ‘soft-roader’ market. The car’s chunky looks and smart blend of Vauxhall design added a sense of familiarity to its go (almost) anywhere abilities thanks to the inclusion of all-wheel drive.

Second time around, and the Antara retains its trademark purposeful looks, although there’s been a general tidy up fore and aft: new lights, grille. It also gains an electronic parking brake and a new diesel engine in two states of tune plus the option of front-wheel drive. Mechanically these options fit well with the current focus on lower emissions and fuel consumption. A predictable but welcome refining of the car’s on-road behaviour also forms part of the update package.

Aside from the on-paper changes, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Antara is a spacious and accommodating car. What does come as a surprise is that it rivals some full-size SUVs for a general feeling of roominess, despite boasting a similar sized footprint to a conventional family estate.

The Antara’s cabin also boasts a more up market ambience than before. The use of higher quality plastics and contrasting trim materials have done much to boost the car’s aesthetic appeal.

There’s a school of thought that believes such a policy will help lure customers away from more expensive premium SUVs as some buyers choose to downsize for cost saving reasons. Certainly, the general fit, finish and overall feel of the Antara’s revised cabin lends considerable weight to this argument.

Out on the road the Antara corners well with a minimum of body roll and stops with little effort. The car’s ride is generally compliant but Vauxhall’s engineers have opted for a slightly firm setup to boost driver enjoyment. And, even with big wheels fitted, the Antara copes well with the usual urban hazards.

Normally at this point it would be time to talk about the car’s all-wheel drive performance. However, in line with an increasing number of rivals, front-wheel drive is now an option. Predictably this is a great choice for buyers who will never venture away from the security of Tarmac and are relatively undemanding when it comes to towing caravans or trailers. The trade off is a modest improvement in fuel consumption and CO2 emissions from the Antara’s 2.2-litre diesel engine.

For some, though, the attraction of all-wheel drive is easy to justify. In reality the Antara’s ‘on demand’ system offers the best of both worlds anyway. Only working when it’s needed, the system is smart, effective and quick to respond, meaning the driver needn’t worry too much about changing conditions. Ordinarily power is sent to the front wheels, but when a loss of grip is detected that balance can change to as much as 50 per cent to the rear wheels depending on the conditions. Factor in hill descent control and you’re all set for that muddy hill ahead.

Of course, none of this would be possible without the inclusion of Vauxhall’s new 2.2-litre diesel engine. This Euro 5 specification motor can be had with either 163 or 184 horsepower, with the former also available for front-drive variants.

Aside from power outputs, the engines also boast wallet-friendly economy credentials. The low power unit combines 44.8mpg with a CO2 rating of 167g/km. The high power option delivers 42.8mpg and 175g/km CO2.

Both prove exceptionally quiet and refined on the road and lack the noisy, rattly attributes that are still a feature of some rivals’ engines. Acceleration is brisk, especially with the 184 horsepower Antara, and the standard fit six-speed manual gearbox can be swapped for a six-speed auto – both new for the Antara.

Available in two trim levels and packing a considerable amount of standard fit safety and comfort equipment, Vauxhall’s revised Antara offers drivers a refined and enjoyable driving experience.

As an alternative to a conventional family car, the five-seat SUV’s practical cabin easily accommodated an active lifestyle, while the all-wheel drive element will be the icing on the cake for anyone seeking break away from the beaten track.

FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Vauxhall Antara 2.2 CDTi SE 184, £25,455 on the road. Antara range from £19,995.
Engine: 2.2-litre turbocharged diesel unit developing 184bhp.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission, driving all four wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 124mph, 0-60mph 9.6 seconds.
CO2 emissions: 175g/km.
Economy: 42.8mpg.

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