23 October 1998




Vauxhalls Frontera was the latest 4×4 to get an update this

autumn. Peter Hill was on hand to note the changes

IT takes a keen eye to spot Vauxhalls latest Frontera. Main clues are a more shapely line to the rear side window, larger rear lights and a bolder front end – as befits a vehicle of this character. Yet every panel is new; its a subtle, and effective, makeover for a familiar friend and one that understates the measures that improve the cars character, behaviour and overall appeal.

For one thing, there are new engines and transmissions. The 2.2 litre, 136hp petrol unit is used again, though in revised form with counter shafts balancing vibration and new fuel injection improving response and performance. There is also a throbbing V6 to set the pulse racing and help the Frontera pick up the mantle of upper class 4×4 from the discontinued Monterey.

But the new car is also first to use GMs latest turbo-diesel, a 2.2 litre direct injection four-cylinder power plant giving 115hp at 3800rpm and torque output that peaks at a lowly 1900rpm.

The Frontera has been blessed with a number of diesel lumps, of varying appeal, in its time. First a 2.3 litre Opel, then a 2.8 litre Isuzu, followed quickly by a 2.5 litre VM.

Despite having the least capacity, the latest offering is the best yet, reckons product marketing manager Phil Harwood.

"There will be a bit of a psychological barrier to overcome because, when it comes to engines, buyers tend to think the bigger the better," he points out. "But this new engine delivers as much power and torque as its predecessors, and delivers higher levels of torque over a wider rev band."

That should reduce the amount of gear changing necessary to keep the pot on the boil and in any case, as a run round an entertaining off-road course proved, the motors clever engine management system responds quickly to help the Frontera climb steep inclines, even at tickover.

Moreover, the engine is lighter, needs oil changes at only 10,000 miles (twice the interval of the previous unit) and has its filter handily located in the oil cooler on top of the engine. It needs less fuel too, judging by the 31mpg combined driving figure – a 19% improvement on the previous performance.

For the first time in a Frontera, an automatic gearbox offers the prospect of a lazy, relaxed driving style. The four-speed auto is paired with the V6 petrol for waft appeal but is also available with the turbo-diesel – and a surprisingly effective combination it makes.

&#42 Thinking for itself

Smooth changes and no risk of grabbing the wrong gear on difficult off-road forays, plus a choice of modes to determine when shifts are made, adds up to a convenient package thats worth considering. The gearbox also thinks for itself; for example, it will hold off shifts a touch to get the engine up to operating temperature more promptly.

Both auto and five-speed manual gearboxes can be used with low-range transfer for off roading, with four-wheel drive engagement now taking no more effort than stabbing a dash-mounted button. Automatic front hubs mean there is no need to step from the comfortable cabin to fiddle with mud-stained wheels.

Other hardware changes? An extra link improves location of the live rear axle over the full extent of its travel and, up front, the independent wishbone suspension pushes the wheels further apart for a better stance and improved straight line stability on the road.

"Using a live rear axle, rather than going independent, suits the Fronteras working role in terms of load capacity and durability," says Mr PHarwood. "But independent front suspension has advantages in terms of ride and steering response."

Separate chassis and body structures, rather than unitary construction, are used again for much the same reason.

"Get a Frontera on full opposite axle articulation and then look at the gap between the body and the chassis-mounted bumper," Mr Harwood urges. "Then you get an impression of the twisting forces that 4×4 bodies made in a one-piece structure have to cope with."

No such mechanical machinations are evident from behind the wheel, of course. Instead, new Frontera drivers will find a quieter environment – as much as 50% quieter, reckons Vauxhall – a largely similar dash with controls and instruments subtly repositioned, and the familiar Frontera driving position which is lower and less upright than in many a 4×4.

&#42 Increased desirability

That may not give quite the same commanding view across neighbours fields or the road ahead. But there is heaps of room to stretch long legs and less inclination to roll in the seat during spirited cornering. Ride quality is firm, but not uncomfortably so, and reassuringly stable when pressing on. The switch to rack and pinion steering (from recirculating ball) improves feel and precision at the helm, too.

Vauxhalls new Frontera may not set new standards of style or trendiness. But nor will it frighten off those who like its understated looks. It should be as rugged as ever and, for many, the latest package of changes, not least the new engine and transmission options, will measurably increase the cars desirability.


&#8226 Models: Five-door estate; three-door Sport

&#8226 Engines: 2.2 litre 4cyl turbo diesel – 115hp; 2.2 litre 4cyl petrol – 136hp; 3.2 litre V6 petrol – 205hp (estate only).

&#8226 Transmissions: Five-speed manual or (with diesel and V6) four-speed automatic; high-low transfer; push-button 4WD with auto front hubs.

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