23 October 1998

SOLID OMEGA

CAN FIND ITS

OWN WAY HOME

A change from our usual diet of 4x4s and estates

as Andrew Pearce passes on impressions of

Vauxhalls Omega from a 1300-mile Euro jaunt

WHEN you need to move people and equipment across Europe with maximum mobility and minimum fuss, the car is still a better bet than an aeroplane. Particularly if the destination is Germany, where motorways still have all their teeth.

So a car it had to be to reach this years tractor multitest, held as always south of Frankfurt. But which? Vauxhall kindly offered an Omega in mid-range CDX trim, replacement for the late-loved Senator and the companys management express. The omens looked good – a feisty 2.5 litre V6 with 170hp; a handsome, understated shell offering plenty of room for bodies, tools and camera gear; and to take the strain, an autobox, cruise control and full interior climate management. Oh, and Philips Carin satellite navigation. All yours for £23,320, plus £2500 for the gearbox and Carin. Maybe not average farm transport, but a better tool for the job than a lightly-dented diesel pick-up.

&#42 Impressive stuff

An early morning cross-country hack to the Chunnel provided the curtain raiser. Scooting through empty Kent lanes showed the Omega to be blessed with a fine chassis. Sensibly-weighted steering delivers accurate turn-in to bends with a little less feedback than optimum, fast direction changes happen with little roll or fuss, high levels of dry road grip from all-independent suspension combine with electronic traction control to keep the rear end firmly in line. Tight yet compliant springing can lose its composure to a big pothole or railway crossing, but never degrades to harshness. This is all unexpectedly impressive stuff from a big rear-wheel drive saloon.

Select sport from the four-speed autoboxs shifter button and the wider spread of change points lets the engine gallop. Out of bends the 24-valve V6 shovels the car forward with noticeable authority, winding out towards its limits with a metallic snarl that just keeps to the business-suited side of respectability. Drop out of sport mode and upshifts are earlier, calming progress but highlighting the engines shortage of low end pulling power – 167lbf ft torque at 3200rpm suggests the motor will need to be revved to perform, and so it turns out. Drive flows to wide 255-55 boots through a wholly respectable four-speeder, which while serving up Jeeves-like changes never quite rises to the almost telepathic heights of the auto in Volvos V70.

Heading out from Calais gives time to look around the cabin. Varying shades of grey plastic deck the doors and dash along with sundry slivers of wood-effect panel. It might sound iffy, but the quality is good and the end result proves (largely) tasteful. Dominating the dash are climate control pushpads and a multi-function LCD display, while under the drivers nose a cluster of big white-on-black nested dials report on engine vital functions.

The seats are firm and in CDX trim, come with part-electric adjustment – the full powered monty is reserved for Elite level. Electric or not, comfort is good and the driving position fine, despite the lack of column reach adjustment. Front or back the legroom is generous, headroom ditto. All thats lacking is oddment stowage space.

&#42 Off its leash

Outside, the drab industrial flatlands of the coastal fringe slip by. In here climate control holds temperature steady, the speedo shows 85mph and theres just a rustling of wind and a murmur from the engine linking you to reality. A few hours of this then its into Germany at Aachen, and time to let the Omega off its leash.

No prisoners are taken in the outside lane. Doze along in a Brit dawdle and suddenly the mirrors are full of Porsche, BMW or Mercedes, lights flashing and all impatience to get back to a 120mph cruise. No worries for the Omega, though – its not particularly high geared (100mph is a shade under 4000rpm), it picks up speed pretty smartly in sport mode and will kick down into third well beyond the ton, so can run with the pack up to a claimed 135mph top whack.

Blast past the cars Russelheim birthplace and wind down to journeys end. For the next week the big Vauxhall ferries testers between hotel and the DLG test station, splashing through unseasonable murk with the climate control keeping windows clear and occupants cheerful. Then its back to Blighty, cruising wherever legal at speeds which would turn a British magistrate purple and have our growing forest of speed cameras popping their sneaky little flashbulbs in rage.

And what about Carin, the £1500 direction-finding oracle? It works, given a willingness from the driver to interpret the odd hazy instruction. Spend a few minutes knob twiddling to load your destination, choose the route type (main roads, no main roads, optimise for time or distance) then sit back and follow spoken directions. Invaluable for pinpointing a street or petrol station in an unknown city, Carin is a GPS-based wonder that has to be a boon to time-pressed business peopleP.

Two days later the Omega goes back to Luton. Over 1320 miles the V6 has swallowed unleaded at 27.3mpg. Lasting impressions are of a civilised, fine-handling and quiet saloon, more than able to handle loads, people and long hauls.