Manufacturers such as Audi, Chrysler, Mercedes and Lexus, which have built their reputations on building large cars, appear to have wised up to this phenomenon and are concentrating on bringing out smaller cars, for example Audi's forthcoming A2 supermini, Chrysler's Java and the Mercedes A-class. The emergence of the 4x4 and MPV has also bitten deep into the executive car market.
But Peugeot has just revealed its new 607 and at Frankfurt International Motor Show, Volkswagen took the wraps off its prototype executive coupe, the Concept D, and Volvo announced it would be unveiling its luxury executive car in January. And now Vauxhall, the undisputed leader in the mainstream large car market, is launching a new Omega. Long live the executive car.
The new Omega arrives on October 19 following a redesign costing £100 million and looks set to continue the massive success of the model which has been the number one choice for fleets since the demise of the Ford Scorpio. Since 1994 more than 600,000 Omegas have left the Russelsheim production line in Germany, with 22% being sold in the UK.
Steve Bryant, assistant brand manager at Vauxhall, said the new car was coming on to the market with a 'head start' on its competitors. 'Throughout 1998 we sold 16,297 Omegas, up 33% on the previous year, and only second behind the BMW 5-series on 18,128, but ahead of the Mercedes E-class with 14,683 units,' he said. Until the end of July this year Omega was the best seller in its class with 9,617 sales, ahead of the BMW 5-series on 9,595. These positions reversed in August with the BMW outselling the Omega by just 60 units. We expect the new Omega to maintain its market leading position in the face of new competition,' Bryant said.
Vauxhall claims there have been 'far-reaching' changes to the car, with 3,000 of its 8,000 individual parts redesigned or modified.
The changes have also been made with renewed emphasis on ensuring quality. A tweaked version of the 2.2-litre petrol engine available in the Frontera heads the list of technical improvements, offering more torque than any other engine in its class and joins the existing 2.0-litre 16v, 2.5 V6, 2.5 TD and 3.0 V6. The new Omega also has the DSA (Dynamic Safety) chassis, higher performance brakes, active head restraints on the front seats and a mechanical rear seat-back locking system for the estate.
Interior comfort is enhanced through the 'intelligent' dual zone electronic climate control for the driver and front seat passenger sides of the car and is supported by air quality and sunlight sensors to maintain the most comfortable in-car environment. The new Omega is available in both saloon and estate across the range. There are five spec levels, GLS, CD, CDX, Elite and the sporty MV6.
All come with active head restraints for the front seats, front and side airbags, three-point automatic seat belts, height adjustable head restraints for all five passengers and ABS brakes. The GLS has central locking, electronic air conditioning, 16-in alloy wheels, heated windscreen washer nozzles, electric driver's seat height adjustment and a height-adjustable steering column.
The CD sees the addition of a radio/CD, alarm, front fog lamps, and driver and passenger tilt and lumbar adjustment on heated front seats a well as electric seat height adjustment for passenger. CDX adds a CD autochanger, cruise control, electric sunroof and xenon headlamps with washers. The Elite 2.5 V6 and 2.5 TD comes with a Bose sound system, automatic self-levelling rear suspension, 17-in alloys and metallic or pearlescent paint. Top of the range Elite 3.0 V6 has leather seat trim, or a no-cost option of leather sports seats and the latest audio/navigation system in readiness for the launch of a satellite-aided Siemens navigation service in 2000.
The sports MV6 has special suspension settings coupled with a reduction in drive height, 17-in alloys, special tyres, sport seats and an aluminium-look centre console. Cosmetically, the new Omega differs from its predecessor by having a new bonnet line, a chrome-surround radiator grille integrated into the bonnet, new clear-glass headlamps and the front bumper has been restyled. Styling cues for the estate include new tail lights and load space is up to 1,800 litres. For the saloon it is 530 litres. From next spring an airbag system will be available which recognises whether the passenger seat is occupied. A second sensor will detect the presence of the Vauxhall Fit child seat, checks it is correctly installed and then deactivates the passenger airbags.
The new Omega will also be available in a dual-fuel, LPG option from launch in the 2.0-litre model, as it was in its predecessor. But again in the spring of next year Vauxhall plans to introduce a 2.2-litre engine LPG option.
In return for its investment Vauxhall has increased prices of the new Omega by an average of less than 1%. In some cases prices are reduced. The 2.0i16v CD saloon is down by nearly £500 and the new 2.2i 16v engine in CDX trim at £23,105, more than £600 less than the previous 2.0i 16v model. Prices across the range go from £19,525 to £31,650.
I test drove the 2.5TD and 3.0 Elite variants and there was little between them in drive quality, which is a compliment to the diesel. Performance is almost on a par, although the diesel proves a little slower off the mark. But one fact is consistent, the ease at which the New Omega can be driven. It's a point-and-shoot car.
The superlight steering takes the effort of manoeuvring such a landship and even negotiating winding and narrow mountain roads in the Lake District was a breeze. The cherry on the cake is that the quality of materials and construction are excellent. Everything has a rock-solid solidity to it without being harsh. You feel as if the car will outlive you.
Vauxhall has not made any drastic changes to the Omega because it does not need to. But the changes are of sufficient quality and at such a price that the car will undoubtedly retain its position at the top of the executive sector.