Vauxhall Vectra review

I’ve had two Vectras. The old one was an X-reg, I think known as the Vectra B. I now have a later one, KG reg, made in 2007. It’s sometimes called the Vectra C but apparently it’s also known as the Vectra Life.

Overall the newer one is better. It feels bigger, smoother, more powerful, more comfortable. More specifically, the headlights are much better: I can now see where I’m going at night, even over the moors, better than I’ve been able to do in any of my older cars, as far as I remember. Sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference: on the old Vectra the ignition keyhole was hidden somewhere under the steering wheel and you had to grope around searching for it. It was easier to put the key into the ignition from outside, while crouching in the gutter, before getting into the car. On the new one, the keyhole for the ignition key is just behind the steering wheel, conveniently visible from the driver’s seat.

This new car has the usual sticks to control indicators and windscreen wipers, but they’re covered with tiny little electronic switches. One of them adjusts the volume on the radio, but it’s much easier to just use the big “volume” knob in the middle of the radio. Another one adjusts the speed of the wipers: you can actually customise it, rather than just having to choose from a pre-set range like I’ve always had to in the past. I quite like that. I haven’t worked out what most of the other switches do yet.

I have a few gripes though. The pocket, or storage area, whatever you call it, in the driver’s door, is smaller and more awkward to reach than it used to be. There’s a “demister”, which makes a hell of a racket as if something’s about to burst, but doesn’t actually demist the windows. For Winter driving, I’ve gone back to kitchen roll: a sheet or two in my hand while driving, to wipe the windscreen and the driver’s window every few minutes. If you hold the whole kitchen roll by its end, you can reach out and wipe the bottom corner of the front passenger window with the other end, so you can see the nearside mirror. Only do this while you’re at a red light, though. Don’t try it while you’re gambolling down the motorway.

The only real problem is the gear lever. As with the old Vectra, the way you shift it into reverse is almost the same as the way you shift it into first, and sometimes you’re not sure whether you’re in first or in reverse until the car actually starts to move. The gear lever in the new car has an additional quirk too: sometimes, the knob at the top comes off in your hand. Underneath it there’s a little spring, sitting loosely around the top of the stick, held in place only by that knob: so when the knob comes off, sometimes so does the spring. And while the knob may still be in your hand, the spring may be anywhere on the floor of the car. You can still change gear without it, but you can’t get into reverse, or get out of reverse if you’re already in it. You just have to stop somewhere and search for the spring, and put it back on, along with the knob. It’s a particular problem at night. You get into the habit of carrying a torch in the car. In that pocket, or storage area, or whatever you call it, in the driver’s door.

Googling around, I discovered this is apparently a common problem with Vectras, widely discussed on internet forums. Some say use double-sided tape inside the knob: others say use glue. There are lengthy online discussions of the merits of different types of glue, and of the risks of glue dripping down into the gearbox. An AA patrolman tried tape on mine, but the knob came off again on the way home. My local backstreet garage tried glue. It’ll take about an hour to dry they told me. It fell off again that evening.

Oddly, neither the AA nor my local backstreet garage seem to think this is much of a problem. Just hold the knob on tightly while you change gear, they say. Maybe push downwards a little, just to be sure. But over the years I’ve had a few nice cars, and I’ve had a few sheds on wheels, and in the past I’ve always been able to just flick the gearstick about without having to think about it much.

It’s a shame. It’s a nice car otherwise: solid, chunky, smooth, comfortable, generally reliable, and with a decent radio. But a flimsy gearstick that’s likely to fall to bits at a busy junction does let it down a bit.

Mick Bruce
January 2016

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