It is only twenty years since the world’s press welcomed the Opel Vectra C. We consider it again today.
The Vectra C made its public debut at the 2002 Geneva Salon. The styling continued the themes of the 1999 Opel Astra G and so managed to form the heart of a range of crisply styled Opels that included the 2003 Meriva (a jewel of a car) and the 2004 Tigra, concluding with the Zafira B of 2005.
It’s very much a car of its time. The Vectra C shares some of the clean surfacing and crisply defined edges that also feature on the admirable 2000 Ford Mondeo, but the closeness of the launches would indicate that this was a coincidence.
Designers at Ford and Opel were probably reacting to the shocking success of VW’s 1997 Passat, which changed perceptions of what a middle-market car was supposed to be like. Opel had experience in this form language and the Vectra C draws heavily upon the styling of the 1999 Opel G90 concept car, so it wasn’t something they just jumped on. It’s actually a lot cooler than VW’s B5 Passat. The chiselled edges are quite unlike the Passat’s softer transitions.
The Vectra is more of a packaging-led car than the corresponding 2000 Mondeo Mk3. Opel’s designers evidently wanted more headroom in the back of the Vectra, whilst Ford’s team went for a lower, smaller greenhouse. It’s really a matter of which compromise you prefer: more room or sleeker looks. When you look first at the Vectra and then the Ford, the Mondeo does seem very much more planted.
It’s interesting to compare both the Vectra and the Mondeo to their upper-crust peers from Audi and BMW. Ford and Opel seem to have aspired to the austerity of the 1994 Audi A4 B5 Typ D rather than the fussiness of BMW’s 1997 E46 Three Series. If design rigour was your thing, then you were well served by the middle market. BMW’s sales weren’t hurt much by its frilly E46 but perhaps their design staff felt like outliers. I find nothing to look at in the E46. It’s as banal a design as one can imagine, just a notch above not that bad. Complacent?
As usual with Opel, the Vectra C could be driven with any one of a long list of engines. I count twelve of them, from a lowly 1.6 up to a tarmac-tearing 3.2 litre petrol V6. Today, the equivalent car comes with just seven (or perhaps eight) power units. The estate had a usefully long wheelbase, which ought to be on your shopping list if you can’t live with an LWB Citroen CX.
These days, the Vectra C has begun to take on some period charm, a product from a time when something like austere good taste could be expected to hit the mark. As with Mercedes and BMW, the constant chants from critics led designers to move away from rationalism (or complacency) and towards more overt expressiveness. The Insignia A is by no means an offensive bit of shapework – I got used to the blade styling feature on the side, and the graphics and sculpting hold together well. However, it is not a progressive bit of design whereas, ironically, the austerity of the Vectra C clearly is. It is world away from the Vectra B, while not attempting to be a critique of its predecessor.
The Vectra C featured improved packaging, interior quality and driving character without throwing the baby out with the bathwater in making these enhancements. The Insignia A is a car that sacrifices quite a bit of practicality in the name of styling: the low roofline, high waistline and oddly-shaped boot are not the work of designers soaked in Ulm Hochschule philosophy. Rather, is more indicative of a car designed with one eye on up-sexing Buick, the marque name carried by the Insignia A in the US market.
The Vectra C adhered to Opel’s ideals of robust practicality and decent, contemporary styling, just like the Omega A and many earlier Rekord and Ascona iterations. For me, the austerity makes the car worth looking at repeatedly, much like its peer from Merkenich. The follow-up cars are all nice enough, yet lack the heft and focus of these millennial models.