The Antara is a modestly handsome SUV, but far from Vauxhall’s most polished product, and sales have been falling in recent years in the face of newer, fresher looking and more accomplished – not to mention higher-profile – soft-road opposition.
Vauxhall says this sales tumble came about because it deliberately stopped promoting the car in anticipation of the upgrades this latest model receives, but it’s also because it knew the original edition wasn’t up to snuff, figuring that a proper sales push would be more effective with a reworked Antara.
The makeover has been fairly extensive, even if the car looks pretty much the same as it did before, the chief identifier being a new grille.
Besides a pair of all-new diesels, the chassis, noise, vibration and harshness (NVH), and interior have all been reworked in a bid to civilise the Antara – and there’s now an entry-level front-wheel-drive version. One of the 2.2 CDTi diesel engines comes with 161bhp and 258lb ft with the peak arriving at 2000rpm. The more powerful version has 181bhp and 295lb ft at 2000rpm. So there’s plenty of torque underfoot, channelled to six-speed manual or automatic transmissions. The petrol option is no longer offered.
Chassis changes involve extensive retuning to reduce roll, sharpen steering precision and improve the ride, with hardware highlights including new MacPherson strut top bushes, a stiffer front anti-roll bar and hydraulically damped trailing arms for the multi-link rear suspension.
The steering gear is more rigid, while the NVH improvements run to hydraulic engine mountings, additional lamination of the windscreen and attention to everything from the front body frame to the door seals, the air intake and more. Read the list in full and it’s easy to conclude that GM was less than happy with the manners of the original Antara.
That the interior gets an electronic parking brake, more storage space, upgraded seats, new door trims, classier instruments and improved lighting suggests that it wasn’t completely happy with what was in the cabin, either.
And for the most part, this detail attention has been effective, as are the new diesel engines. The Antara certainly isn’t the best compact SUV in the class, but it isn’t the most expensive either – particularly as a front-driver, in which form it’s brisk enough to break 62mph in 9.9sec.
A shame, then, that the manual gearchange is obstructive (it’ll improve, says Vauxhall) and the central storage box forces you to crank your arm oddly when going for sixth, if not fourth, too, if you’re long of limb. More relaxing (if rather more money) is the 4x4 automatic. The gearbox is well matched to the engine and allows the Antara to advance with soothing authority, especially as it now handles rather tidily, both in two and four-wheel drive formats.
As promised, it rolls less and steers with greater precision, grips pretty well and resists understeer, the net result being what amounts to a high-riding estate that handles quite engagingly for one of its type, if with a firm ride.
And what of the revised interior? It’s mostly better, but it tries too hard to hide its cheapness. Bolt-heads at the bottom of the centre console cubby are evidence. In addition, the electronic handbrake is too fiddly, the centre stack dated and the optional sat-nav system obtuse.
The truth is that though the Antara is now a better car than it was and worth considering at its base price, this is really a Chevrolet Captiva and not worthy of the standards set by the latest European-engineered Vauxhalls – nor the best of the opposition.