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Vauxhall Signum 2.2 Direct Design - 5,118



IN October last year, General Motors revealed plans to makes its Vauxhall subsidiary an upmarket brand.

The move also involves Opel, Vauxhall's sister-manufacturer in Germany, and forms part of a major shift towards multi-brand marketing to be rolled out across Europe in the next few years, according to GM president and chief executive officer Rick Wagoner. You could argue that the Signum is a clear part of this strategy. From a driver's point of view, our 2.2-litre Signum Design does its job very well, with a supple ride, smooth, quiet engine, very comfortable leather seats, cruise control and satellite navigation system.

It can leap into the cut-and-thrust of city traffic without a worry. Build quality is good, with no rattles so far and because it looks very different, my friends have admired it and asked what it is, giving the car that all-important status on the driveway.

But the real purpose of the Signum's design is the back, not the front, with its reclining, moving seats and hatchback rear end, which manages to look practical and muscular at the same time. But further examination reveals some problems. As it can only carry two in the back in comfort – the middle seat is designed to flip over and act as a large cupholder, or home for a fridge/table/dvd holder called a Travel Assistant available as standard on Elite models – carrying more than four can be a problem.

Some might claim most people only normally carry two passengers, but the first time I used the car, I had three.

My friend who took the middle seat needed a pillow as support to make it to the end of the journey.

This doesn't make it a bad car, just a limited one. But I would be tempted by the voluminous Vectra Estate as an alternative, unless Vauxhall can introduce a version of the Signum with three seats in the back which would make it a much stronger proposition for me. Having said that, with the rear seats folded luggage space is excellent, and the Signum easily swallowed a Christmas tree for its journey from the garden centre to home.

Company car tax bill 2004/05: (40% tax-payer) £138 per month

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