Clarkson on: the Vectra
You know what the Vectra's main problem is? Well I'll explain. As you drive around, there's nothing to distract you from the awful realisation that you're a dullard, in a four- door, family saloon car.
This morning, I've been for a spin in the new Nissan Primera and must say that as a device for moving you from place to place, it's probably a little bit worse than the Vectra. The engine shouts itself hoarse but never actually takes its jacket off and gets stuck in. The ride is only just on the right side of awful. And the quality of materials might just about do in a Chinese toy factory, but is woefully short of the mark for grown ups.
However, you aren't ever given the time to think about these things. You just sit there, over-awed by the centrally mounted dials, the utterly fabulous satellite navigation system - the first time I've ever said that - and the jaw dropping reflection coming back at you from the shop windows.
Such is the aesthetic appeal of the Primera, you simply don't care that it's a four-door Nissan, and that it's shaking all your fillings out. Think of it as George Clooney. Can he act? Who gives a damn.
Ford pulls off a similar trick with the Mondeo. Sure, it couldn't match the Nissan in a Conran design competition, but there's an intrinsic rightness to the steering and the suspension. So, as you barrel from corner to corner, revelling in the poise and the grip, you forget that you're in a Marks and Spencer suit, with elbow patches.
And let's not forget the Renault Laguna. Who's going to notice that it's Mr Conventional when it comes with a starter button, a credit card instead of a key and a dash more French than a burnt British sheep?
The Vauxhall Vectra, on the other hand, has none of these things. It's just a plain, normal, middle of the road, middle England, four-door Cliff Michelmore.
Back in the Sixties and Seventies, if you had a car, it was a four-door saloon. If you had a shop, or a dog, it was an estate. And that was it. The Cortina enjoyed a 115 per cent share of the market whereas today, the Mondeo takes just three per cent. That's why Ford and Renault and Nissan are trying so hard. They know the saloon car is dying.
Why? Well back then, the company car was a big deal. My Dad worked for a timber company and no matter how much he dreamed of a TR4 or a Maserati, he got an endless parade of four-door Fords, Anglias, Classics, and then a selection of Cortinas.
"It's just a plain, normal, middle of the road, middle England, four-door Cliff Michelmore"
Today's timber salesmen, however, don't want company cars because of the tax liabilities. So they take the money instead and quite the last thing they're going to buy is an automotive British Rail sandwich. They don't have to either, because there's a wide selection of exotic alternatives - from the mini people carrier to the Japanese coupe, to the off-roader, to the convertible, to whatever they damn well want.
Got a catholic attitude to birth control? That was no problem back in the sixties - you just hammered children into the back, and the front and the boot if necessary. And you kept on hammering until one of them suffocated. But it's so much easier today. If you have suffered in the past from over- productive wedding vegetables, you could have a Fiat Multipla or, if your eyes are still working, a Zafira.
Firing blanks? Well what about a Mazda MX5 or a Honda S2000 or even a second- hand Mercedes SLK?
Live in Manchester? Well you'll be needing a roof then, so consider the Hyundai V6. My Dad simply wouldn't have been able to do this, partly because his firm had an account with Ford, but mainly because there was no such thing as Hyundai back then. Korea was a war, not a country.
But Vauxhall just doesn't seem to have realised this. It seems to think that we're all living in a world where there's nothing to do in the evening but watch one of the two television stations. It doesn't realise that we now have a choice in everything we do; where we send our children to school, which bus company we want to use and when, exactly, we'd like a flight to New York.
You can't even buy a cup of coffee these days without being grilled on exactly how you want it to be served, whether you want a tall, grande or gigantico and whether you should go to Starbucks, Nero or the other one who's name has gone from my mind.
The days of instant coffee, slopped in a cracked saucer and furnished with horrid HST milk have gone. But that's what Vauxhall seem to be offering with the new Vectra. It is a car. And it will move you around when asked to do so. But it has no flair, no individuality, nothing that makes you go "hmmmm. I fancy a bit of that".
If my company gave me one of these, I'd drive it at full speed into the boss one night. And if they offered money instead, I'd buy something else. Anything else. It really is a case of meet the new Vectra. Same as the old Vectra. And as a result, you're still not safe at the airport's car rental check-in desk.