Used Holden Vectra review: 1997-1998
January 23, 2009
When the arrangement between Holden and Toyota fell over, ending Holden’s access to the Toyota Camry, the company turned to its European cousins for a replacement mid-sized car. The Vectra was relatively new even in its homeland when Holden went calling, so it was a very current model when it arrived here as part of Holden’s Euro thrust.
Along with the smaller Astra the Vectra has helped Holden develop a Euro image with an Aussie flavour, one that has worked well with local buyers. The Astra has been an outstanding success and the Vectra has done some solid business.
Following in the tyre tracks of the Apollo, Holden’s rebadged version of the wide-bodied Camry, the Vectra presented a fresh contemporary face to the Australian car buying public.
Designed and developed by Opel the front-wheel drive Vectra was every bit the contemporary European. It was a hit in its home market where it quickly became the top seller in its market segment, and backed that up here with a solid performance against the Camry, Magna and Ford Mondeo.
While it wasn’t an adventurous design it was pleasant and easy on the eye, its aerodynamically shaped rear view mirrors that flowed from the bonnet a stand out feature of the exterior.
It was a similar story inside where the sweeping dash was well laid out with easy-to-read gauges and controls organised sensibly within easy reach of the driver.
Unfortunately, while the interior was airy and welcoming it wasn’t as roomy as the Apollo it replaced, which meant it wasn’t as roomy as its main rival.
If you ran the tape over the Vectra you would find that it was 318 mm shorter than the Apollo and 63 mm narrower.
Although Opel offered three body styles, sedan, wagon and hatch, Holden offered only offered the sedan and hatch versions here. Both the four-door sedan and five-door hatch could be had in base GL or upmarket CD versions.
Holden chose two engines from the vast range of engine options Opel had on offer. The base engine was a 2.0-litre double overhead camshaft fuel-injected four-cylinder unit which produced 100 kW at 5600 revs and 188 Nm at 3200 revs, the other a 2.5-litre double overhead camshaft fuel-injected V6 boasting 125 kW at 5800 revs.
Although the four-cylinder wasn’t quick it was smooth and refined, which was perhaps more important to the market for this type of car.
Its performance was hampered somewhat by the tall gearing Opel preferred for the standard five-speed manual gearbox, which restricted its straight line zip – it took 9.7 seconds for the 0-100 km/h sprint – but it was a decent highway performer where the gearing was much more suitable.
A four-speed auto was optional, which made the Vectra a little more comfortable round town where you didn’t have to work the gears.
A well-proven combination of MacPherson Struts at the front and a multilink independent rear set-up gave the Vectra safe and assured handling. Disc brakes featured at each corner with ABS standard across all models.
Despite being the entry level model the GL was well equipped. It came standard with cloth trim, driver’s side seat height adjustment, height adjustable seat belt anchorages, childproof door locks, 60/40 split-fold rear seat, AM/FM sound, adjustable steering column, full instrumentation, alarm, ABS, traction control and a driver’s airbag.
When you stepped up to the CD you also got standard air-conditioning, power windows, cruise control, trip computer, and alloy wheels.
In the shop
In the main the Vectra is quite reliable and robust, but it does have a few problems that regularly crop up.
Rough running and stalling are known problems with the Vectra and the usual causes are the crank sensor on the engine, which can be erratic in its timing output or the IAC, which fails allowing the idle speed to drop too low the engine then stalls.
The JR Vectra has now reached the mileage a major service is needed, including a timing belt change. Ensure the belt has been changed on cars that have accumulated more than 100,000 km.
The interior trim stands up quite well, but the paint is known to fade and oxidise. Red is the worst colour and it becomes an annoyance when you have to wash and clean the car regularly to keep it looking pristine.
In a crash
With a well-balanced chassis, and ABS and traction control standard, the Vectra has a good primary safety package. Add to that a standard airbag for the driver, height adjustable seat belts and the total safety package is commendable.
In the 2004 Used Car Safety survey the Vectra was rated significantly better than the overall fleet average for occupant protection, and average in its impact on the occupants of the other car.
Clint Ebessen’s parents gave him the 1998 Vectra they bought new. They wanted something small, but which also had plenty of room, and were impressed by the road test reports at the time. Clint says it’s quiet and comfortable and he loves the electric features like the radio, which increases in volume as the speed increases. It has had its problems, however, including regular episodes of power loss, which was fixed with updated software; the idle speed control failed which would cause the engine to stall.
Craig McErvale bought a Vectra new and says it had its good points, but that they were heavily out weighed by bad ones. Firstly he says it was economical around town and on the highway, was very sure footed, and had great mid-range torque and was always keen to overtake. Gearing for town and traffic driving wasn't good and the seats were too hard with little support. Combine this with no footrest made you very fatigued after a couple of hours behind the wheel. Quality issues soured his experience with the Vectra. After the first year the engine developed a ping and the only way to get rid of it was to use premium unleaded, six months later the engine 'dropped' a lifter, and it made a horrible noise until the oil pressure built up. The worst thing, however, was when the red paint oxidised within two years. Eventually Holden repainted the car.
• Neat European styling that doesn’t date.
• Nicely appointed, airy interior.
• Well balanced handling.
• Comfortable ride.
• Economical four cylinder engine
• Tall gearing better suited to highway than town.
• Fading paint.
In a crash
Safe and solid mid-sized car that handles well, but is plagued by some niggly quality problems.