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Vauxhall Signum 3.0 CDTi V6 elite



When assessing a new car the question a road tester must always ask is: 'What is it meant to be and what role is it meant to fulfil?'

This avoids many of the pitfalls of comparing models that do not compete, thinking that the £10,000 supermini you are currently driving isn't as good as the £50,000 luxury sport utility vehicle tested last week. This helps give the reader more objective and informed advice.

However, it is also a challenge when the car in question does not sit easily into any of the established market sectors. I wrestled with this process when driving the range-topping Vauxhall Signum 3.0 CDTi Elite.


For some fleets with a solus Vauxhall deal, or perhaps a dual-badge fleet that includes Vauxhall, the only difficulty will be which Signum model would best suit the driver – likely to be a senior sales rep or manager.

However, if Vauxhall is to succeed with the Signum it needs to convince user-choosers that it is the best car on which to spend their vehicle allowance. And this is where things begin to get tricky for the Signum.

At the launch of the car, Vauxhall's marketing people set about telling the assembled throng of motoring writers that the potential Signum driver would be handing over the keys for their Lexus IS, Alfa Romeo 156, Volvo S60 and even the General Motors-owned Saab 9-3, as that is where the Signum competes on price.

However, many of these cars, such as the Lexus, Alfa and the latest Saab 9-3, are renowned for their driving appeal. The Signum, with its Vectra origins (it is almost identical to the fleet workhorse as far back as the B-pillar) majors more on refinement, space and cruising ability – the areas where the Vectra is strong.

The other difficulty for Vauxhall is to convince a driver already used to a semi-premium badge on their car that a Vauxhall would be a worthy alternative.

The trouble is that despite many volume manufacturers providing improved levels of quality, with the latest models from Vauxhall, Ford, Toyota, and Honda showing evidence of this, much more now hinges on the car's badge.

These volume brands are producing cars on a par with, and often better than, the semi-premium manufacturers, but there is evidence to suggest many drivers are still hung up on often-outdated notions of badge perception.

It happens in all walks of British life: the clothes we wear, the shops we buy from and the cars we choose. Sociologists call it 'luxury fever', where sporting designer labels is of primary importance, irrespective of quality or value.

Another aspect which we have discussed with Vauxhall and agree to disagree on is the price of this V6 diesel model.

Vauxhall argues it is priced to undercut models from other manufacturers offering V6 diesels, which in many cases it does. However, across the industry, comparing equivalent petrol and diesel, the heavy oil price premium for most manufacturers is between £1,000 and £1,500.

Indeed, in the Signum range, the gap between 2.2-litre petrol and 2.2-litre diesel is less than £1,000, with a power gap of about 30bhp. But if you compare the two V6 models, the 3.0 CDTi is £2,750 more than the 3.2-litre V6 petrol model, with a similar power gap between the two.

Vauxhall might argue it is priced in line with rivals, but that just makes it look like it is pricing it at the highest level it can.

For company car drivers in the higher income tax bracket, the financial advantage for benefit-in-kind tax (BIK) in choosing diesel is about £12.50 a month. For those drivers not bound by a diesel-only policy the excellent 3.2 V6 petrol engine should find a few friends – but it may only be a few. Figures for the first few months of sales show that the car has had a slow start with sales averaging about 400 units a month, missing the original target of 8,000 a year.

Perhaps as a nation we have a worse case of luxury fever than we first thought.

Behind the wheel

THE Signum is not meant to be a saloon, hatchback or estate. Indeed the Vectra range will soon have a full complement of those body styles. With no replacement for the Omega in sight for now, the obvious place for the Signum is to occupy the spot at the top of the Vauxhall range.

It is a hatchback with a full tailgate, but not really in the conventional sense. But while the front end is mostly Vectra GSi, the rear design does stand out and the way the tailgate glass meets the rear light clusters with no bodywork in between helps give it its own identity.

The rear passenger compartment is designed for two rather than three, although three adults will fit. Our Elite model came with the Travel Assistant as standard, which as well as forming a centre arm rest in the rear, hides a fridge, small storage compartments and a holder for a portable DVD player. The materials used for this piece of equipment feel out of place, seeming hard and brittle to the touch while the seats are clad in leather.

Rear seat passengers have a vast amount of legroom thanks to the stretched Vectra wheelbase and the seats move forward and backwards with reclining seatbacks.

Top-of-the-range Elite trim means the Signum has plenty of equipment for its £25,745 on-the-road price, including heated front seats, cruise control, overhead storage and 17-inch alloy wheels.

From the front seats, the Signum is much the same as the Vectra, and this comes through in the way it drives. The ride is comfortable and composed, while the main barrier in the way of enthusiastic driving is the steering. It is reasonably direct most of the time but feels lifeless when you compare it with Vauxhall's target cars – the Lexus, Alfa and Saab.

The whole package does not feel sharp enough to compete when driver appeal is one of the main reasons for choosing a car.

However, its 3.0-litre common rail diesel engine has plenty of torque and allows the Signum to gain speed briskly, yet discreetly. The dash to motorway speeds always feels less dramatic than the speedo indicates, and the six-speed manual transmission makes for remarkably muted motorway cruising.

Driving verdict

As a driver's car the Signum fails to excite and for the price there is plenty of other exciting machinery on offer.

However, ride comfort is good and the Signum fitted with the 3.0 V6 diesel is an exceptionally effortless motorway cruiser.

Model: Vauxhall Signum 3.0 CDTi V6 Elite
Engine (cc): 2,958
Power (bhp/rpm): 175/4,000
Torque (lb-ft/rpm): 273/1,900
Max speed (mph): 137
0-60mph (sec): 8.4
Fuel consumption (mpg): 38.2
CO2 emissions (g/km): 200
Price (OTR): £25,745

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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