A pair of 2.2-litre turbodiesel engines are the choices for UK Antara buyers. They come in 161- and 181bhp forms and the less powerful is offered with either front- or four-wheel drive, while the 181bhp unit only comes with all-wheel drive as standard. There’s also a choice of six-speed manual or automatic gearboxes, though we’d stick with the manual for its lower emissions (175g/km versus the auto’s 205g/km) even if neither is as good as the class best. Choose the auto ’box with the 161bhp engine and performance takes a dip, with 0-62mph in 12.0 seconds compared to the manual’s 9.9 seconds. This performance indicator remains at 9.9 seconds regardless of whether you choose front- or four-wheel drive with the 161bhp engine. The all-wheel drive-only 181bhp engine option sees of 0-62mph in 9.6 seconds as a manual and 10.1 seconds with the automatic gearbox. More importantly than these figures, the Antara feels brawny and able when worked through the gears. There’s 258lb.ft of shove 2000rpm on tap in the 161bhp diesel and a hefty 295lb.ft in the more powerful engine, which is plenty for off-road driving, towing and overtaking, as well for relaxed cruising on the motorway. Both engines are hushed and the Antara is pleasantly quiet place to whole away a journey. The only blot on the landscape is the manual gearbox’s shift is baulky and responds best to a slow, heavy hand.
An SUV is not going to out-point a hot hatch on twisty roads, but the Antara gives this its best shot. Excellent body control means little body lean or sway as the car changes direction and the steering has quick reactions and good feel. There’s also plenty of grip in hand to see the Antara round corners with much left in the bank should the driver need to change line in an emergency. This is not the usual behaviour of a 4x4 and makes the Antara a great ally when pressing on across unfamiliar territory or enjoying a favourite road. The pay-of for the Vauxhall’s driver-pleasing ability is a ride that falls on the firmer side of the comfort equation. It’s not jarring and the Antara copes very well with motorways, but around town there’s a definite firmness that can make a sleeping policeman an obstacle to avoid. However, the Vauxhall has well weighted controls, is easy to park and its brakes have strength of feeling to them not always present in an SUV that may well end up being used for towing.
We’ve no doubt the Antara will last every bit as well as any of its rivals and the engines and transmissions are proven entities. Construction is good and the quality of materials used throughout is excellent, though the look of some plastics does not confer the same classy appeal as a Volkswagen Tiguan or Nissan Qashqai. However, panel gaps are close and tight and with Vauxhall’s 100,000-warranty there should be no cause for complaint with the Antara.
A full spectrum of airbags comes as standard with every Antara model, so there are twin front, side and curtain ’bags. There’s also ESP traction and stability control for all versions, while hill descent control keeps things under control on slippery downhill sections for both the front- and four-wheel drive models. Go for the all-wheel drive models and you get trailer stability control to help avoid any swaying or snaking when a trailer or caravan is attached. Two Isofix child seat mounts are supplied in the rear seats and the front passenger airbag can be deactivated to allow a child seat to be fitted in the front.
The high-set driving position of the Antara is as expected of this class of car, but the Vauxhall also provides better over the shoulder vision than most rivals’. This makes the Vauxhall easier to park in tight spots than some of the competition. However, the front of the car can be tricky to judge for parking due to the slope of the bonnet. There’s also a good range of driver’s seat and steering wheel adjustment, so every driver should find it easy to get comfortable. Rear seat passengers are also well looked after thanks to generous space for heads, legs and shoulders, so it’s possible to carry three adults in the back of the Antara without risking complaints. Some boot space is sacrificed to create more passenger space, so larger luggage needs will require careful packing in the Vauxhall. The rear seat splits 60/40 and folds flat, so trips to the garden centre are not off limits.
Vauxhall has improved the Antara into a decent choice in the compact SUV class, but for those most concerned with economy and emissions there are more compelling choices in this sector. The Antara offers decent 44.6mpg combined economy and 167g/km carbon dioxide emissions in 161bhp front-drive form, while the four-wheel drive version of this engine emits 175g/km (205g/km with automatic gearbox). Economy for the 161bhp all-wheel drive model is 42.6mpg or a much less impressive 36.2mpg with the auto transmission, while the 181bhp engine affords 42.6mpg average economy regardless of which gearbox you prefer. Emissions of 175g/km for the manual and 205g/km for the auto are only middling for the 181bhp engine. Making up for this, the Antara is sound value for money thanks to affordable prices and all models coming well equipped. All have air conditioning, four electric windows, CD stereo and MP3 connection, alloy wheels and roof rails. Go for the four-wheel drive model and you gain rear privacy glass, climate and cruise controls, heated front seats and larger alloy wheels. The top spec SE comes with leather seats, Xenon headlights, a tyre pressure monitoring system and rain-sensing wipers.