From time to time, DTW fulfills its duty as the automotive website of record. That means occasionally running an item that, on the face of it, may not set so many pulses racing.
However, I would like to nonetheless make a small effort draw your attention to a car which is important because of and despite its ubiquity. It is relatively easy to write about the extreme and the intense. As a result the vast middle ground where life is lived is neglected. I actually once tried to keep a diary of ordinary experiences (I had more time on my hands in 2009) and noted the problem of seeming to lionise the mundane, merely by noting it.
The same applies here to some extent: I don’t wish to present this car as any kind of sine qua non (see this for one of those) just by “curating” it. That said, you’d be overlooking something if you did not take this opportunity to read on.
“Motoring journalists fear the average car. We love writing about great cars, pulling out our superlatives. And, secretly, we like writing about bad cars as well, because we can be as rude as possible. The problem cars are the ones that fall in between the extremes, because there are only so many synonyms for the acceptable…..”, so said Car in April 2002 when writing about this vehicle, so I am not alone.
Opel launched this iteration of their fleet and family favourite at Geneva in 2002, so we are falling back 17 years into the past, quite some trip, midway into the first term of Bush Jr, the same year as Heathen, I note. The Mk2 Mondeo had been on sale for two years; the Passat had just been facelifted to make it a B5.5 according to some nomenclatures; Skoda’s Superb appeared too; Renault’s Laguna II had been a year on sale; finally Toyota’s Mk1 Avensis neared the end of its first incarnation.
So, all in all, a market full of quite fresh cars and almost all of them competitive. I have no figures to prove this yet I am quite confident the Avensis sold strongly to the end of its run.
Note, this is also the year of the BMW E65 7er, with its decidedly unusual boot-lid and controversial and soon-revised headlamps.
It was into this market Opel chief Martin Smith had to send a competitor, riding on the Epsilon platform (shared with the smaller-looking 2003 Saab 9-3). In so doing it gained stature its predecessor lacked (good and all as it was) and to my eyes drew on both the neat, industrial design ethos of the Rekord E and the experimental Art & Science theme being developed by Simon Cox (think of the 2000 Imaj).
Opel’s press pack for the launch chose words like “taut, distinctive, elegant and understated”. Car (ibid) chose to call it average, inoffensive and plain in their 2002 review. I have a theory that if you told people the 1983 Margaux was just a bottle of red from the super-market they would not notice the quality. Similarly, I think the fact this car wore an Opel badge meant the goodness of the design went far under the radar.
The “car with a premium heart” (from another Car article) manages to retain a lot of dignity almost two decades on. This one is a series 2 with the revised headlamps – the first versions came to the same conclusion as the Ford Fusion and for the same good reason. Either version is visually consistent. For my money the saloon is slightly better than this hatchback. The saloon C-pillar just avoids a Hofmeisteresque kink on the forward edge and widens towards the boot and it clearly has a boot. It’s formal while the hatchback (appropriately?) has sportier emanations.
I find myself looking at this car (and especially the four-door) admiring its cool, technicalesque design which meets all the expectations for seriousness that Audi at one point raised. As a driver’s car it did the business too while also being relaxing at 160 kmph between Jena and Kassel: “The steering initially feels good. Reactions are keen and proportional; turn-in is surprisingly eager. And speed-sensitive power assistance means that the faster you go the firmer it gets….”
That part is less interesting than the effort so obviously expended to strike a balance between appealing to many and still retaining enough character to stand apart from its predecessor and its many and talented peers.