Missing the Marque: Opel / Vauxhall Antara

GM Europe misses an open goal…again.

Image: autoevolution.com

Which vehicle would you regard as the first modern crossover or, to use the American term, Crossover Utility Vehicle (CUV)? Automotive historians on both sides of the Atlantic might cite either the 1977 Matra-Simca Rancho or 1979 AMC Eagle, but the former was front-wheel-drive only(1) while the latter, although highly capable with its permanent 4WD, was simply a jacked-up AMC Concord. I think the title should rest with the 1994 Toyota RAV4, a purpose-designed model with front or four-wheel-drive. Honda followed up a year later with the CR-V(2) while Land-Rover entered the fray in 1997 with the Freelander.

European automakers were slow to realise the potential for this new vehicle type and it took a decade for competitors such as the Volkswagen Tiguan and Ford Kuga to arrive. Even the all-conquering Nissan Qashqai was not launched until 2006, although it then quickly established itself as the definitive mid-sized crossover and UK market leader.

GM Europe decided to hedge its bets somewhat by not designing its own market entrant from scratch, but instead basing it heavily on a model that GM’s South Korean outpost(3) was developing for Chevrolet, which would become the Captiva in production. However, perhaps mindful of the Sintra debacle of the previous decade, GM Europe decided to design a new exterior and interior that would be more attuned to European tastes. The new mid-sized crossover would be called Antara(4) and sold as an Opel in continental Europe and Ireland, and as a Vauxhall in the UK. It would be built, not in Europe, but in South Korea.

Image: netcarshow.com

Having been previewed by a three-door concept carrying the same name at the 2005 Frankfurt motor show, the production Antara was launched in late 2006 as a 2007 model. It was 4,575mm (180”) long and sat on a wheelbase of 2,707mm (106½”), making it roughly the same size as the third-generation RAV4 launched the previous year. The petrol engines offered at launch gave some clue to the Antara’s non-European origins: these were either a 2.4-litre inline-four or a 3.2-litre V6. At least there was a 2.0-litre diesel option for those with an aversion to high fuel bills.

The 2,405cc petrol engine was the ageing GM ‘Family II’ unit, the design of which dated back to the 1970s. Its power output was satisfactory at 138bhp (103kW) but its maximum torque was just 162 lb ft (220Nm). It was only made available in the entry-level model with a six-speed manual gearbox and it had a prodigious thirst, quickly negating any savings made on the purchase price.

The exterior design was very much in the contemporary GM Europe style, as was the interior. While there was still a passing similarity to the Captiva, the only externally visible component shared between the two models was the windscreen. Unlike the Captiva, however, the Antara did not offer third-row seating, limiting its practicality for some potential buyers.

Autocar magazine tested the Antara in July 2007 when RHD versions became available. The test car was a 2.0-litre diesel with optional five-speed automatic transmission. The reviewer described it as “very much a soft-roader,” meaning that “most of the time, the Antara isn’t even four-wheel-drive; it’s front-drive, but an electro-hydraulic diff can divert up to 50 per cent of the power to the back wheels as necessary.” This should have been ideally suited to its intended customers.

Image: topgear.com

The 1,991cc diesel engine produced maximum power of 148bhp (110kW) and torque of 236 lb ft (320Nm). It was “reasonably refined”, but “sometimes you’re caught outside the power band, and no amount of kicking-down through the auto ‘box helps.” The reviewer still found the automatic preferable to the “notchy” five-speed manual gearbox. Body control and ride were both rated “good” and the Antara was rated “a comfortable mile-coverer.” Unfortunately, the steering was described as being “as vague as a…teenager’s conversation,” although this was attributed in part to the conversion to RHD and efforts to improve crash safety.

While the Antara was well-equipped, the reviewer reminded readers that there was now lots of choice in the medium crossover market segment, including the “RAV4, CR-V, Freelander, X-Trail, Qashqai, 4007 or Outlander” and the Antara “isn’t the best of this batch.”

The Antara sold in modest numbers in Europe. Its best year was 2007, its first full year on sale, when 26,067 found buyers, but sales declined sharply thereafter, falling to 9,148 in 2010 in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis.

GM Europe overhauled the Antara in 2010, introducing a new Euro 5-compliant 2,231cc diesel engine. This was available in two power outputs, 161 and 181bhp (120 and 135kW). The corresponding figures for maximum torque were 258 and 295 lb ft (350 and 400Nm).

Image: drivemag.com

The aged Family II petrol engine was replaced by a more modern 2,384cc ‘Ecotec’ unit that delivered maximum power of 165bhp (123kW) and torque of 170 lb ft (231Nm). At the same time, the always-irrelevant 3.2-litre V6 was dropped. The Ecotec petrol engine was not offered in the UK, so buyers only had a choice of the diesel in two power outputs, coupled to a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. An entry-level FWD (only) model was introduced.

Efforts were made to reduce levels of NVH(5) and improve the precision of the steering. The suspension was revised to reduce roll and improve ride quality. The exterior was given a light refresh, the below-par cabin fittings were improved, and there were modest additions to standard equipment, including an electronic parking brake. None of these changes was transformational for the Antara’s perception or prospects.

Autocar tested the revised Antara in January 2012. The reviewer opined that the raft of suspension revisions suggested that “GM was less than happy with the manners of the original Antara.” While the improvements were worthwhile, the Antara “certainly isn’t the best compact SUV in its class.” The manual gearbox was still “obstructive” but the automatic transmission was “well matched to the engine and allows the Antara to advance with soothing authority, especially as it now handles rather tidily.”

Image: eurekar.co.uk

The interior revisions were a mixed bag, mostly better but it still “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.”

In summary, the Antara was adjudged to be “not worthy of the standards set by the latest European-engineered Vauxhalls – nor the best of the opposition.”

Sales of the revised Antara rose to a post-facelift high of 18,763 in 2012 but faded away thereafter and production ended in March 2015. The unsold inventory was not exhausted until early 2017. Total sales over twelve years were 126,853(6) units, broken down by year as follows:

Year: Sales:
2006 467
2007 26,067
2008 18,863
2009 11,611
2010 9,148
2011 8,737
2012 18,763
2013 15,380
2014 8,461
2015 6,746
2016 2,058
2017 552
Total: 126,853

Incidentally, the Antara had a much more successful career in the US, where it was sold by GM as the Saturn Vue from 2000 to 2010 and amassed sales of 623,377 units over that decade.

Unlike the aforementioned Sintra, the Antara wasn’t a terrible car, but it was nowhere near good enough to take on the best of the competition in a rapidly growing but fiercely competitive market segment. It was indirectly replaced by the PSA-based Opel / Vauxhall Grandland in 2017, a rather more convincing proposition.

(1) A number of modern crossovers are, of course, FWD only, so even the option of 4WD is clearly no longer a prerequisite.

(2) In 1994, Honda was, allegedly, sent a full set of design documents for the Freelander in error by Rover, its then British partner. The story has never been confirmed, but the CR-V and Freelander were uncannily similar in design and dimensions.

(3) Formerly Daewoo Motors.

(4) Antara has a number of meanings in foreign languages and cultures, including a type of clay panpipes native to the Andes and a note in Hindustani classical music. That said, it is safe to assume that GM Europe chose it merely for its phonetic similarity to other existing model names.

(5) Noise, Vibration and Harshness, a catchall auto industry term for the enemies to cabin refinement.

(6) All sales data from www.carsalesbase.com

Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

35 thoughts on “Missing the Marque: Opel / Vauxhall Antara”

    1. As a contender for the title of first CUV? You certainly may, Richard, although it’s a moot point as to whether it should be classified as a crossover, or simply a compact traditional SUV. It was, of course, simply a badge-engineered version of the long-running Nissan Terrano II.

      In any event, it’s a vehicle that I (and, I would imagine, almost everyone else) had completely forgotten about. Now that you have reminded me about the Terrano II / Maverick, I think it’s worth a piece on DTW. Watch this space…

    2. Seconded on more attention to the Terrano II. I’m not sure of timelines and such, but it certainly played a significant part in making offroaders ‘housetrained’ as it were, before being completely forgotten. As such, it paved the way for the most despicable automotive trend in existence, the SUV, but we’ll gloss over that for now.

      I think the Antara shows traditional GM thinking, if amended from the likes of the Sintra: we’ve got something for this, let’s just half ass it onto the market and see how it goes. They made something of an effort to adapt it for Europe, but not enough. For all its faults, I think VW did this better: they took longer to produce the Tiguan, but it was a bespoke design (inasmuch as anything from VAG is ever bespoke, that is).

  1. Good morning Daniel. Regarding names, the antara is written and spoken alike the word η αντάρα fem. in our language that means a cloud of dust. It has been mentioned in the prophecies, ‘there cometh thy cuv antara to spreade cloude and duste upon car forme.’ Oh I the humble peasant, ask for forgiveness.

    1. Good morning Giorgos. Ah, the perils of vehicle nomenclature, previously described here on DTW:

      What’s in a Name? (Part One)

      Incidentally, my Google keyboard insists on amending your name to ‘Good God’. Make of that what you will! 😁

    1. Without the benefit of my Theology lecture notes, my recollection is that Moses had a Triumph, Jesus had an Accord, and his old mother had a Fiat.

    1. Indeed you might, PJ, but I would suggest that the Vitara is, like the Maverick, a small SUV rather than a crossover per se.

    2. I think I’d agree with Daniel about the Vitara, certainly in its earlier incarnations. I had one as a loan while my own car was being attended to once, and it was a deeply confused vehicle. The ground clearance, slightly unnerving cornering behaviour, and seating position all suggested some genuine utility characteristics, but the example I encountered had a petrol engine and a sleepy automatic gearbox. The result was a device too awkward and clunky for shopping/school runs/commuting, but too weedy and lacking in controllability for farm or site use. Pity, with a turbodiesel and a manual five speeder (six if you want to be fancy!) it could have been a useful little thing.

  2. The Opel Antara is an typical example that neither GM nor Opel understood the rules of the european car market. So the Antara was never considered as a real Opel. Opel forgot their virtues in not offering AGR-Seats or modern LED headlights.
    Together with the high weight and low tech engines, the korean background and its cheaper Chevrolet twin, no one wanteds to give his cheque to Opel. A cheque with a too high amount for a non european characterless car.

    First CUV ? Maybe the Subaru 1800 Station Wagon or the Toyota Tercel 4WD.

    Antara was a the opelized name of Antares – my suggestion.

    1. My suspicion is that GM didn´t understand Opel and tied their hands. The more GM USA applied control to Opel the more they lost their way. The more they lost their way the more suits in GM HQ thought more control was needed. The other thing is that GM USA needed some “loser” models in the Opel range to justify the tax-reduction accountancy they used for all the years Opel just scraped a loss after 1999.

  3. An early, admittedly somewhat left field contender for the first CUV: the Renault Colorale Prairie (1950-1957). Not quite a station wagon, not quite a van, not quite a sedan. It’s not four wheel drive of course, so…

    1. That sounds to me more like a proto-MPV than a proto-CUV, but the dividing line between the two is hazy at best.

    2. At that point many cusp-of-the-war models could be mentioned. Is Volvo’s PV series not just a proto version of the modern electric CUV C40?

      The truth is that the shape of the CUV is really nothing new and was especially common pre-war (I’d even argue the Traction Avant is more akin to a modern CUV than a hatchback), but the pretense of off-road worthiness is what makes the modern CUV what it is today, regardless of whether AWD is offered or not.

    3. The Colorale is a sui generis oddity, a “dual-purpose” vehicle without a saloon equivalent. Optional 4WD too.

      It’s claimed that the Chevrolet Suburban was the Colorale’s inspiration, which is credible. So, just possibly was the Škoda 1202, which might just fit in with this collection of misfits, along with the Volvo Duett.

      Prophets without honour, all of them.

  4. Of course the Antara did well in the US – I’ve travelled in a Saturn Vue and it was excellent. We were, I should add, in a state where you judge a car by its’ air-con…m

    1. Is it just possible that the second generation Saturn Vue was the reason for the Antara’s creation?

      For Europe a lightly differentiated Captiva – also straight outta Bupyeong – would have sold just as well – or badly. It would also have made a cleaner transition from the Frontera, a vehicle I regard more fondly, although I suspect others may see it as also “Missing the Marque”.

  5. I love GM; they’re the biggest clown show in the industry after the death of Leyland and it’s defective offspring, although FCA always tried very hard to be the best at being the worst.

    2007 and it launches with a 2.4 litre and 3.2 petrol that could probably muster just over 300bhp between them, finger on the pulse of the industry as ever GM. 5 speed manual too!

    1. Your first sentence almost had me snorting my coffee! They could have learned from Leyland, but oh no…

  6. What is the difference between mpv-suv-cuv? Thank you Jonathan. Really, I am not aware of.

    1. Human categories overlap so the boundaries of these classes are hazy. An MPV is a vehicle with a van-like profile (“monospace”) and seldom with 4wrd. The H-point is higher than a passenger car-based estate. A SUV was a three or five door 4wd with a declared emphasis on off-roading (off-road biased) and always with 4wd. A CUV is a more road biased thing that looks a bit like an SUV. The interior trim is pretty much as a passenger car; the exterior is “faux off road” and the drivetrain may be fwd, 4wd or a switchable system. They all have raised h-points compared to trad passenger cars.

  7. Oh dear, we got the ‘original’, the infamous Holden Craptiva. Derided as being the worst vehicle ever to carry the Holden nameplate, and infamously prone to acts of spontaneous combustion – just look on Youtube.
    To my mind this raises the obvious question – why did GM bother rebranding Daewoo as GM Korea? Just so much corporate ego-stroking, I guess; judging by this miserable effort their product was, if anything, worse.
    Interesting discussion on ‘first CUV’. I have nothing to add; judging from what I around me see here they seem to be the new shape of car. Even have one in our garage.

  8. I’d argue that the first such vehicle was the 1984 Jeep Cherokee, designed by AMC on a car like chassis.

    1. Don’t forget New Zealand’s contribution, the Trekka – based on the original Škoda Otavia. 1961 if memory serves me right?

  9. I would argue that the CUV as a vehicle is more of a cultural phenomenon than a truly physical distinction. For me, the Matra Rancho gets the honor of being the first because despite its Simca-based underpinnings and FWD it portrayed the image of being a “larger-than-life” offroader which is exactly what CUVs are all about (e.g the silly Ford Ecosport). I’d argue that as CUV trends continue modern examples are becoming less and less of CUVs because the offroad “cosplay” aspect is declining in a big way. Hyundai group really wants us to think of its new E-GMP cars as CUVs, but you can’t tell me the Ioniq 5 and EV6 aren’t just oversize hatchbacks. They look like normal cars, have no offroad pretense, and are barely taller than a standard saloon (which have been getting lower in ride height anyway, perhaps to offer more distinction from CUVs).

    As for SUV vs CUV, American petrolheads like to use the element of body-on-frame construction to define a ‘true SUV’ though as even more utilitarian vehicles like the new Hyundai Staria move to unibody platforms the distinction means less and less; that said, according to that theory only vehicles like GM’s GMT T1XX (e.g. Chevy Tahoe/Suburban, Cadillac Escalade, etc.) are ‘real SUVs’ while even a Range Rover or the new RWD Ford Explorer would be a ‘CUV’ because of their unibody construction. I’m not sure what to make of that since it seems inevitable that all but the most industrial of vehicles will eventually move to unibody, thus spelling extinction for the ‘SUV’ according to that definition.

    All that said, returning to the topic at hand the Antara was always an odd product to me. While it was no doubt styled independently from the seven-seat Captiva, it shared its chunky, heavy looks and always felt clumsily styled and proportioned for an Opel (whose products were otherwise clean and sophisticated). We Americans got it as the second generation Saturn Vue and I’d say it was a rather retrograde step compared to the angular, millennium-fresh first generation car that still used Saturn’s iconic plastic body panels and could come with a brilliant Honda V6. In its stead the Vue II was quite a bit heavier, had worse visibility, and had GM’s infamous early High Feature V6, renowned for timing chain tensioner failure on this side of the pond. It was sold on as the fleet-only Captiva Sport when Saturn died which was rather apropos of its globally generic image in my eyes. Was this one of GM’s final big badge-engineering projects? It seems so ’80s to be selling the same car everywhere with nothing but a badge job, but the Antara was certainly sold across many, many brands.

    1. Oh, yes, the first generation Vue was available with a 3.5 Honda V6! I would say that buying Honda engines could be one of the most weird decisions ever made by GM. Well, GM is very predictable about being unpredictable.

      Regarding the first CUV, I has to be an Audi. Watching their commercials they seem to have invented everything.

  10. Could this be the most generic SUV? It certainly is one of the more forgettable. I even thought it was called ‘Antera’, instead of Antara.

    1. Judging solely by the number of brands it was sold under, I’d say yes.

  11. Confusingly, the Antara was sold in Brazil as Chevrolet Captiva and, for around two years (2008-2010), it was the middle class’ aspirational dream, together with the Hyundai Azera.

    Then it was quickly superseded by the Hyundai Tucson in the bucket lists and parking lots.

  12. Looking at the CUV crossover as a modern vehicle type, I also view the Toyota RAV4 as the first out of the blocks, followed by the spindly looking first Honda CR-V and almost simultaneously, the Subaru Forester. The latter and the Outback wagon which preceded it by several years, turned Subaru from an also-ran to generating respectable sales numbers in North America. If not everywhere else, as it was a greedy little devil for a litre of unleaded.

    My brother and wife who had rather liked their jacked-up Plymouth Colt Vista 4WD station wagon, aka Mitsubishi Chariot, bought a very early Forester in late ’97. Found it quite good.

    I’m not familiar with the Antara/Captiva at all. Doesn’t sound like it was much cop anyway from the comments. The GM original Saturn Vue was a wheezer with its standard engine, but sold well due to GM’s ubiquity in the marketplace in Canada. Middle to late ’90s Japanese vehicles seem to have been very well screwed together, so they became the sales leaders as these crossovers began to spread widely.

    The Nissan Pathfinder, a variation of the original European Ford Maverick I only ever saw on BBC TV dramas, somehow avoided looking as if it were eight foot tall and only five foot wide, and as others have remarked, was at least quite compact — it rode competently unlike the truck it was based on by using a coil-sprung live rear axle instead of cart springs, and some would nowadays think of it as a crossover, but it wasn’t really. It was more in the Ford Explorer vein which was a huge seller in the USA until its Firestone tires burst. The RAV4/CR-V/Forester all had independent front and rear suspensions, so the Jeep crowd looked askance at them as being unsuitable for heroic rock-climbing and mud-wallowing. Ford scrambled to keep up with the Japanese and brought out the Escape with Mazda’s help in 2000 as another unit-body all independent suspension crossover, and it rather outdid the Saturn in quality terms.

    From my personal vantage point, the sales of crossovers boomed because they didn’t look like minivans/people carriers and had high hip points – the woman of the house forced their purchase for both style and visibility in traffic reasons plus getting kids and grandparents in and out of the vehicle easily. All within a non-gargantuan package. But the distaff side of household vehicle purchasing decisions is rarely mentioned on DTW.

  13. These parcels of shite were utterly atrocious. Wilfully under engineered. GM at their absolute worst. We went from the bombproof but archaic Frontera, built well in the UK, to this feeble Korean car. Warranty claims were horrendous. The Opel version was compromised due to the styling studio having restricted height in the car lift, limiting what could be styled. Vauxhall sent a team to Korea to advise on build. Every suggestion was ignored, witness the rotting tailgates. The whole powertrain disintegrates. They drink fuel. They have no redeeming features.

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