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New Car Test - Holden Vectra CDX

It's such a great car you could screw on an Audi or VW badge and expect to pay tens of thousands more!

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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At some stage we've all heard somebody question the value-for-money of a brand name product: "You're only paying for the badge," they preach. Well, the all-new Holden Vectra CDX 5-door hatch bends this concept through 180-degrees; you could replace its Holden badges with an Audi or VW logo and expect to pay tens of thousands over the CDX's $43,990 retail price...

The new ZC-series Holden Vectra feels like a prestige Euro more than it has any right to, given its price - from its up-to-the-minute chassis and suspension design to its wonderful engine, this is a car that impresses from the moment you jump in. And despite being classified as a mid-sizer, the Vectra offers passenger space akin to a full-size family sedan of not so long ago.

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Onboard, the CDX Vectra (available only as a 5-door hatch) offers more than adequate front sprawling space while the 3-seater rear, although quite good overall, is a tad limited in headroom; if you're taller than the average adult, it's likely your head will brush against the hoodlining.

There's no questioning the car's abundant and practical load carrying area - at 480-litres, the Vectra's cargo area is simply enormous. And then you flip the ski-port or both 60/40-split backrests forward to reveal nearly 1000-litres of cargo capacity! What's more, load access is very good.

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Equally as impressive as the vehicle's flexible cargo area is its overall comfort and the cohesion of its features; everything falls to hand nicely. The standard plush fabric seats are very comfortable and, thanks to comprehensive steering wheel and seating adjustment, the driving position is exceptional. And you like a car that has its share of smart features? Well, the Vectra has plenty. The centrepiece is the LCD graphic dashboard display, which can be configured to show time/date, ambient temperature, audio settings, comprehensive trip computer functions, climate control functions and warning/check messages. Further evidence of smart design includes the comprehensively illuminated switchgear and the intelligent body computer; the rear numberplate illumination remains on for a period after closing the hatch, plus the power windows remain powered for a period after switching off the ignition, for example.

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Your $43,990 also buys you woodgrain accents (exclusive to the CDX), electric driver and front passenger seats, adjustable front lumbar support, a sliding centre armrest (which, unfortunately, makes access to the handbrake lever awkward), four reading lights, illuminated vanity mirrors, power windows and mirrors (also heated), cruise control, remote central locking, immobiliser, a leather steering wheel and gear selector knob, trip computer and headlight angle adjustment. In short, there's not much that's left out.

The sound system is a Blaupunkt 6-disc in-dash CD/tuner wired to nine speakers; sound quality is quite muddy. The steering wheel is equipped with several audio system control buttons for safe operation, and note that the CDX gets conventional rotary knob controlled heating and cooling - much easier to use than the digital climate control system found in the top-line CDXi Vectra.

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Safety features include four airbags, retractable pedals, active front head restraints and adjustable height seat belts with pre-tensioners and force limiters for the front and rear outer seats. Furthermore, the new Vectra feels very solid with torsional rigidity increased by 74 per cent and bending stiffness increased by 62 per cent; it's a vehicle that offers great crash protection.

The only gripe we have with the interior are the column stalks. First, the wiper stalk remains in its default position regardless of wiper status, which makes it difficult to 'feel' where the wipers are set. Second, the indicator stalk flashes the blinkers only three times unless you give it quite a decisive action. It sounds simple enough, but everyone that drove the Vectra during our test made the comment that they hated the indicator operation - and even after a few hundred kilometres of driving, we still screwed up occasionally. Only occasionally, though...

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The new Vectra offers a very controlled ride with minimal NVH. Poised on MacPherson front struts - featuring aluminium uprights and control arms - and a 4-link IRS, the car absorbs large irregularities with very little discomfort, while there is little vibration transmitted to the cabin. There is, however, a bit of road noise from the rear and the ride is more taught than many other mid-size vehicles; the sporty Vectra CDXi rides firmer again.

Handling is very neutral - no doubt aided by cornering brake control and traction control systems. The only thing missing on the CDX is the top-line CDXi's ESP Plus program (which applies the brakes at up to three wheels to prevent excessive oversteer or understeer during hard cornering). Chassis stiffness feels very good at all times.

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The speed-sensitive power assisted rack and pinion steering arrangement offers good feel at all steering angles and has an ideal ratio. Equally as proficient is the Vectra's braking system comprising EBD, ABS and EBA controlled four-wheel disc brakes (ventilated at the front). The brake pedal is progressive and we experienced no signs of fade during our test.

And the CDX's 3.2-litre V6 powerplant is a sweetie that offers more than adequate thrust.

With double overhead camshafts, 4-valves-per-cylinder, multi-ram variable intake manifold, direct fire ignition with selective knock control, electronic throttle control and a 10.0:1 compression ratio it is one of the sweetest V6s in the business; no joke. And it offers plenty of grunt, too, with 155kW at 6200 rpm and 300Nm at 4000 rpm (up a massive 47kW and 97Nm over the base 2.2-litre Vectra four-cylinder models). No surprise, therefore, the Vectra V6 scoots along exceptionally well when you put your foot into it.

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The CDX is offered with only one driveline configuration - a 5-speed automatic/semi-automatic, which performs very well overall. Left in Drive, the trans shifts at all the right points and is supremely smooth during most driving conditions, but it can be jerky in slow speed traffic conditions; the trans automatically selects neutral at idle when the brake is applied (in order to save fuel), and it tends to re-engage with a jerk. And, although a good marketing feature, the transmission's 'active select' mode is not particularly useful in the majority of driving conditions - the engine offers so much on-demand torque, gearing is not so critical.

With just a little bit of a torque converter stall off a standing start the car can quite easily shift its 1530 kilogram mass to 100 km/h in an easy 8.0-seconds flat - much to the surprise of the owners of certain 'performance' cars! And all of this can be achieved with excellent overall fuel consumption. We recorded an average of 11.0-litres per 100km in traffic conditions we'd usually give cars a concession of a litre or so per 100. What's more - thanks to the engine's sophisticated selective knock control - everyday normal unleaded fuel will suffice as a "temporary alternative", but premium unleaded will give optimum performance.

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The 61-litre tank gives the car an exceptional touring range - particularly on the open road, where it's impressive aerodynamics (just 0.28Cd) allow it to attain fuel economy in the 6s.

Since its introduction to the Holden line-up, the Vectra has always flaunted Euro styling, but the new model would genuinely look quite at home in a carpark crammed with BMWs, Audis and Mercedes; it's a strikingly elegant vehicle. Its high waistline gives a solid appearance while the beautifully smoothed top surfaces aid aerodynamics and give a very sleek look. The mirrors, bumpers and door handles are all colour-coded, there's a chrome grille surround and distinctive (and very effective) headlights teamed with lower fog lights. The wheel arches are also capably filled by 16 x 6.5-inch alloys wearing V-rated 215/55 rubber; note that the sportier CDXi gets 17s with lower profile W-rated rubber.

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Overall, we reckon the Vectra CDX looks really top-notch - and from all the stares, so do many other motorists...

Without question, the Vectra's scoresheet is very strong - its prestige feel, comfort, practicality, punch and build quality are right up there with the top category of manufacturers. The big question, though, is can it justify its $43,990 price tag?

While this initially looks like a tough call given some of the ultra-cheap medium size sedans on the market, the moment you start comparing the Vectra with vehicles of similar capability and quality it suddenly shapes up as a ripper bargain. In the Euro segment, the cheapest competition is the Renault Laguna V6 (from $46,990), Alfa 156 V6 auto (at $59,950), VW Passat V6 auto (from $55,800), Citroen C5 Exclusive (for $56,900) and the aging Peugeot 406 SX auto (from $55,800). The only comparable vehicles that under-cut the price of the Vectra CDX are the Nissan Maxima (at about $40,000), the Mazda 6 Luxury hatch (only a four-cylinder and $41,270) and the Subaru Liberty Heritage (again only a four-cylinder and $41,890).

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So there's the punch; if you want a mid-size six with Euro styling, quality and engineering, the Vectra CDX must surely be your Number One bargain.

Why You Would...

  • Cheapest car with a prestige feel
  • Brilliant V6 - smooth, torquey at all revs and economical
  • Transmission performance is excellent in most conditions
  • Feels very composed on the road
  • Immensely practical with huge load area
  • Very comfortable
  • Well thought out controls and body computer
  • Attractive styling

Why You Wouldn't...

  • Not cheap when compared to many other non-prestige medium size sixes
  • Stalk controls unnecessarily difficult to use
  • More than usual road noise from the rear
  • Transmission performance less than ideal in some circumstances

The Vectra CDX was provided for this test by Holden Australia.
www.holden.com.au

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