In much the same way that if you haven’t got an iPod and a Facebook account with at least 100 friends, a car manufacturer without an SUV is about as fashionable as a pair of nylon strides.
Vauxhall is the latest to join the party, with the Antara joining the ranks at roughly the same time as its Chevrolet Captiva cousin. However, this is not virgin territory for Vauxhall as it offered the robust Frontera in the 1990s.
The Antara is a five-seat SUV which forgoes extreme off- road ability in favour of a more comfortable on-road drive – pretty important as the vast majority of SUVs never venture far from the beaten track.
This crossing-over of talents is fuelling a massive boom in the market.
Naturally, Vauxhall wants a slice of this market and will be hoping to steal a march on key rival Ford which won’t be launching its model – the Kuga – until next year.
So what does Vauxhall bring to the party?
The Antara is a good looking vehicle, managing to blend some stylish lines yet still offer the bulk that buyers of these vehicles demand.
This means a raised ride and seating height, and tall cabin with plenty of room.
There’s also a huge boot for buyers to pack their lifestyle accessories in to.
The overall feel of the cabin is one of solidity, with good-quality materials and the familiar centre console which appears on the Vectra and Astra.
There are plenty of storage boxes dotted around the cabin and a decent level of standard equipment.
So far, so good.
But on the road the Antara disappoints.
The 2.0-litre diesel engine looks strong on paper, offering 150bhp and 236lb-ft of torque from 2,000rpm, but it is also noisy and unrefined.
This engine is not the same excellent CDTi unit that you’ll find under the bonnet of an Astra or Vectra. For the Antara the diesel engine is a result of a tie-up with GM in South Korea.
There’s a fair degree of noise intrusion into the cabin at idle, while on the move the engine sounds and feels like a diesel from several years ago.
It’s mated to a five-speed manual gearbox which has a terrible action – feeling clunky and apparently unwilling to engage the next ratio.
Once up to motorway speed the Antara cruises well with the engine spinning at low revs, and the stiff suspension keeps the car flat and poised.
But switch to A and B-roads and you notice that the steering is incredibly over-assisted.
You barely have to touch the steering wheel and the Antara will change direction.
These roads also highlight the stiff suspension – it has been designed to cut down on the body roll that is an inherent problem with vehicles with a high centre of gravity, but over rougher roads it jars and makes for an uncomfortable experience.
In terms of looks and build. the Antara performs well, but the driving experience lets it down.
P11D value: £20,765
CO2 emissions (g/km): 198
BIK % of P11D in 2007: 29%
Graduated VED rate: £205
Insurance group: 12
Combined mpg: 37.7
CAP RV (3yr/60k): £8,325/40%
Monthly lease (3yr/60k): £438
THREE RIVALS TO CONSIDER
All four models are entry-level diesels, with the Honda looking good value, coming in at under £20,000. The Vauxhall costs nearly £1,000 more than the CR-V at the front-end but offers a more powerful diesel engine, with 150bhp compared to 140.
EMISSIONS AND TAX RATES
No surprise that the CR-V is the cheapest in benefit-in-kind tax as it has the lowest front-end price and lowest emissions. It will cost a 22% taxpayer £87 a month in BIK tax, just £1 a month cheaper than the RAV4. The Land Rover is £106 a month and Vauxhall £110 a month.
Around £500 separates first from last, with the CR-V likely to cost £2,600 to service, maintain and repair over three years and 60,000 miles. The Land Rover and Toyota are close behind, although the Vauxhall is the only model to top the £3,000-mark.
CR-V: 4.36 (pence per mile) /£2,616 (60,000 miles total)
A respectable performance from all four, dispelling the myth that SUVs are all thirsty monsters.
The CR-V is the pick of the crop once more, returning a claimed average of 43.5mpg. The Toyota returns 42.8mpg, with the Freelander and Antara both offering 37.7mpg.
CR-V: 10.19 (pence per mile)/£6,114 (60,000 miles total)
The Honda, Toyota and Land Rover are all predicted to retain 45% of their cost new after three years/ 60,000 miles, according to CAP. As a result, the Honda’s low front-end price secures it victory. The Vauxhall is predicted to retain 40% – and it is the most expensive to buy.
CR-V: 18.58 (pence per mile)/£11,148 (60,000 miles total)
With the lowest front-end price and wins in every running costs category, the CR-V completes a clean sweep, costing a fleet under £20,000 to run over 60,000 miles. The Toyota is close behind but the other two are left well behind, particularly the Vauxhall at 5ppm off the Honda.
CR-V: 33.13 (pence per mile)/£19,878 (60,000 miles total)
Freelander : 35.54/£21,384
With the highest running costs and most expensive driver taxation levels, the Antara finishes last.
It’s a stylish vehicle and is well made and equipped, but is let down by the driving experience.
Next to go is the Freelander – it cannot compete in running cost terms against the Japanese duo.
It’s a close call between the Toyota and Honda – both are stylish, well made vehicles and both are very close financially, but the CR-V’s better on-road performance sneaks the victory.