Opel Vectra (2.0 (1999) Driven
Pop quiz: Which is the best-selling midsize (2.0-2.5) sedan in the Philippines? If you guessed Cefiro, Galant or Accord, you're in for a surprise. It speaks not Japanese, but German. The Opel Vectra. The reason? Price. The Vectra carries a cash price tag of P855,000. In case you haven't noticed, Japanese 2.0 cars start at a whopping P908,000 for the Accord M/T, and soar to around P1,200,000 for the Galant 2.5 VR. That pricing leaves an immense gap from the 500-600 thousand you would pay for a 1.6 liter Japanese car. The Vectra jumps in eagerly to fill in that space.
On paper, the Vectra does offer good value for money. Consider what comes as standard on the base 2.0 CD Sedan. Twin-cam 16-valve engine, 4-wheel disc brakes with ABS, dual airbags, seatbelt pretensioners, anti-theft system with immobilizer and keyless entry, CD sound system, split-folding rear seats, driver-adjustable headlight aim, front and rear fog lamps, and one particularly neat feature, a multi-function display incorporating trip computer, stopwatch and stereo controls. Naturally it also has 15-inch alloy wheels and tires, aircon, all-power features, front and rear reading lamps that the Japanese cars have. If you're worried about the warm-dog-breath aircon that you may have experienced in previous German cars, the Opel comes with an "Asian Road Package," with more powerful aircon, more durable suspension and improved dust filters. Curiously, even the 2.0 has standard traction control, which may seem like a neat feature, but then one becomes suspicious: why need traction control on a front-drive car with only 192 Nm of torque? More on that last point later.
Its warranty package is also a step above the competitions', with 2 year, 50,000 km coverage including all parts and labor, even those subject to normal replacement like engine oil and oil filters, spark plugs and light bulbs. It also has a confident 10-year anti-rust warranty.
If you opt for the more expensive CDX variant, you get a substantially more powerful 2.5 24-valve V6 developing 170 bhp at 5800 rpm and 234 Nm at a low 3200 rpm. You also get climate control, different wheels, wood trim and steering wheel controls for the stereo.
The Vectra also comes in an attractive wagon bodyshell. It looks even better than the sedan! Passenger space is still cramped, of course, but there's much more room for your luggage.
So the car has good spec on paper and a good warranty. Time to see and drive the car. On first sight, the car is attractively designed, looking lithe and compact from the front three-quarters. The rear end looks neat, too, with black strips below the taillights breaking up the monotony. Color choices are more varied than the default Japanese silver, dark green, dark blue and maroon. They have a bright green, a light blue, and a funky-looking purple.
How about the interior, then? If the car looks compact on the outside, then it's because it really is compact, and this apparent in the interior. The Vectra is sized more like a Corolla or Lancer inside. It's capable of seating only four adults in comfort (even Philippine-sized adults), and five only if you're really good friends.
The driver space is tight but comfortable. Controls are complete if not up to the ergonomic perfection of the Japanese. The front console is rather cluttered, with similar-sized and -shaped buttons thrown in together. You might be upset when you find out that there's no glovebox, as all the space has been taken by the CD changer. Park and headlights are the usual German rotating knob on your left, with the lamp-aim adjuster below that. Stalks on the steering column control the turn signals and the multi-info display. Need to know the fuel consumption or kilometers left before you run out of gas, or your latest lap time? Just click the right-hand stalk to find out.
Not that you'd want to do too many circuit laps in the Vectra. The engine is smooth but noisy, emitting a pleasingly raspy sound. The 2.0 inline-4 is one of GM's workhorses, powering everything from Astras to Omegas. It develops a modest 136 bhp, but torque is robust at 192 Nm (about equal to the Cefiro's 2.0 V6, and the Accord's 2.0 inline-4), available at a low 3200 rpm. (Part of the credit is due to a variable-length intake manifold. It includes a catalytic converter, so unleaded is the required diet.)
The downside is the transmission. The 5-speed manual is rather rubbery and lacks the smooth click-into-gear of Japanese manuals. The 4-speed automatic is not much better, either. Coupled with the 2.0 engine, the transmission is jerky and not very responsive, even when you depress the "S" button on top of the gear knob for the "Sport" setting. It doesn't downshift unless you floor the throttle, and even then only after pausing for a second. When it does downshift, the car jerks forward, tossing all passengers forward. In reaction, you release the throttle, and the auto upshifts! You're then back where you started. Oh, well. Truthfully, though, I haven't yet met an automatic that I liked.
The chassis has the stiffness and firm ride that we've come to associate with German cars. We test drove the car on Quezon Avenue, through the curved section of G. Araneta towards Del Monte, then through a subdivision back to Quezon Avenue, a route which provided a reasonable sampling of roads which you might experience in city driving. Bumps and potholes are absorbed without any fuss. Brakes are adequately powerful. Turn-in is reasonably smooth and the car responds well to steering inputs. Building up to and maintaining a speed of about 100 km/h on a curved road is achieved with the same ease as in an Accord or Galant.
We also had a back-seat test passenger, and he observed that the seats were cramped and the cushions quite firm. The ride was bumpy at the rear, though, bordering on the uncomfortable.
What is rather appalling, however, is the Vectra's placement when compared with more than a hundred other cars in a British J.D. Power survey. The Vectra placed dead last-worse than any other car! Reasons cited were a sickeningly wallowy ride, unstable handling when the road is wet, poor traction (making traction control necessary), interior bits falling to pieces, and poor dealer service. Admittedly, dealer service at the Opel dealership we visited in Quezon Avenue was quite friendly and seemingly trustworthy. Whether the other horrors of ownership will come true, though, remains to be seen. The two-year all-in warranty is comforting, but it won't fix handling or a poor ride.
Clearly, where the Vectra falls short of the Japanese competition is in refinement. Plastics are unpleasantly hard, and the switchgear is cluttered and confusing. Ride and comfort are acceptable for a short drive, but may turn sickening after an extended trip. The engine is strong, but the transmission needs more work. Where the Vectra comes ahead is value for money, previously a Japanese strong point. It is a car worth considering, albeit with a lot of caution. The bottom line: Time to wake up, Japan!
By Jason K. Ang