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First drive: Vauxhall Vectra - on sale September



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Times are changing at Vauxhall. The manufacturer, which just a few years ago was berated for having a characterless and uninspiring model line-up, has started to produce cars that are making people sit up and take notice.

The latest round in an offensive that has already seem the Astra critically acclaimed and the VXR performance range praised is the new Vectra shown here as the Saturn Aura, one of GM’s US brands. When it comes to the UK in September it will be little changed from the Saturn, which, although aimed at the North American market, has European influenced design cues, according to GM.

The most noticeable Vauxhall trait is the Astra style front lights and angled front bumper, which together with the high waistline and 19-inch alloy wheels, give the car a distinctly familiar look.

The Aura however, features LED rear taillights, which are unlikely to be carried through to European specified cars.

The new Vectra will have a longer wheelbase than the outgoing generation, which will increase cabin space, particularly the rear passenger leg room.

It should also mean improved road holding and comfort. The interior is due for a big overhaul with more high quality plastics, an improved centre console design and new instrument clusters – following the trend for volume cars to move upmarket.

The European market is unlikely to see the 250bhp 3.6-litre V6 unit that powers the Aura – the range topper is more likely to be an all-new turbocharged 2.8-litre unit to replace the current 210bhp 3.2-litre).

The rest of the petrol line-up is also set to be revised with a new Twinport engine replacing the current entry level 1.8-litre. The diesel range will remain largely unchanged with the 2.0-litre DTI unit being replaced by a lower output variant of the 1.9-litre CDTi.

A performance VXR version is expected to be added to the range after the initial launch, following in the footsteps of the VXR Astra and VXR220. It would be powered by a tuned high-output version of the 2.8-litre unit, delivering somewhere in the region of 250bhp, putting it ahead of the Mondeo ST200 and alongside the likes of the Alfa Romeo 156 GTA.

One feature of the Aura that could be carried over for this model is the six-speed automatic gearbox, which features a manual tap up, tap down shift control.

In the company car market, safety will be a big selling point of the Vectra, which gets side and curtain airbags, ABS with traction control and a version of GM’s electronic stability control system, known as StabiliTrak.

The current Vectra, launched in the UK in 2002, sold 48,450 units last year, still almost 12,000 behind its main rival the Ford Mondeo (60,441). Vauxhall retailers will be hoping the new Vectra will help them turn those figures in their favour.


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Driven: Vauxhall Astra GTC 2.0 CDTi SRi

Two door handles and a roof aerial are the only bodywork items the GTC has in common with other Vauxhall Astras.

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