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Vauxhall Vectra

If you've got a load on your mind, then maybe Vauxhall's latest offering will help you think straight. This is the new Vectra estate, and Auto Express was given access to an early pre-production example to see whether the Griffin's load-lugging newcomer is tough enough to carry it off.

The Vectra estate is crucial for Vauxhall, as it will be a major player in the ultra-competitive fleet market. On first impressions, the range represents good value and the class-leading load space will be a huge selling point. Our only criticism is we feel its styling could be a bit more adventurous.

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If you've got a load on your mind, then maybe Vauxhall's latest offering will help you think straight. This is the new Vectra estate, and Auto Express was given access to an early pre-production example to see whether the Griffin's load-lugging newcomer is tough enough to carry it off.

The car has been developed with a specific brief - to offer the quality and luggage-holding ability of models which are a size bigger, but at a price that will match key rivals such as the Ford Mondeo and Citroen C5 estates. With prices kicking off at £16,045 for the entry-level 1.8-litre models, the bulky Vauxhall appears good value.

You certainly get a lot of metal for your money. It's built on an extended Vectra wheelbase, identical to the Sig-num, and as such offers excellent passenger space and an enormous boot. Offering up to 1,850 litres of load area with the seats folded down, the Vectra boasts 50 litres more room than the Omega estate. As such, it goes straight to the top of its class in terms of outright boot volume, beating the Mondeo by 100 litres. It's practical, too. The tailgate cuts deep into the rear bumper to give a low load lip, while the rear door is wide and easy to lift.

An electric tailgate, similar to that of the Honda Accord, will be offered as an option from January. Also new on the extras list is FlexOrganiser - a system of nets and dividing boards to stop cargo rolling around in the boot - and Adaptive Forward Lighting, which illuminates extra bulbs to see around corners.

Ahead of the load area, the estate is the same as a standard Vectra, with the dashboard carried over from the saloon and a 60:40-split rear seat. Options from the Signum, such as Twin Audio, which allows front and rear passengers to listen to different CDs or radio stations, plus the Travel Assistant table and fridge set-up, add to its flexibility. So in terms of its interior, the car is well thought out. But what about the outside?

Without doubt, this new Vauxhall has presence. Although of similar dimensions, it looks much bigger than the Vectra hatchback thanks to its high roofline and thick D-pillars. There's an element of sister firm Saab's influence in the styling, too, especially with the chunky rear lights. It's not an exciting design by any stretch of the imagination, but the car does have a solid, well executed feel to its appearance.

Our test model - the first available - was a range-topping 3.2-litre Elite, although the diesel-engined variants are expected to make up the bulk of sales when the range hits showrooms next month. In pre-production form, there were still a few chassis elements that were not finalised. However, in terms of ride comfort and body control, it felt little different to a standard Vectra - pleasant to drive, but not thrilling. The cabin is serenely well insulated, and has the most cosseting ride quality this side of a large executive car.

It's a promising start for the vehicle that Vauxhall hopes will account for at least 15 per cent of total Vectra sales. And in the meantime, this new estate is definitely worth thinking about...

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