It's been the best-selling car in its class across Europe almost from its launch in October 1995, with 300,000 sold here to date and with private buyers consistently taking it to pole position in its sector.
But 70% of Vectra sales are into fleet, and at the end of 1998 the Association of Car Fleet Operators Car of the Year was No 4 in a corporate chart dominated by user-choosers.
Fleet decision-makers are led principally by wholelife costs and manufacturer support, user-choosers by packaging and driving enjoyment. The latter group is also heavily influenced by the UK motoring press, which has been consistent in its tepid praise of the Vectra as a driver's car, generally giving its arch rival the Ford Mondeo the edge.
From T-registration onwards, however, Vauxhall will be expecting its Vectra to be easing ahead of the Mondeo, because more than 2,500 changes have been incorporated in New Vectra to improve not only its value-for-money performance, but also its reputation with company car drivers. 'Raising the Standard', Vauxhall calls it. Or, as Vauxhall's executive director, marketing and sales Ian Coomber phrased the new Vectra strategy at its press launch in Denmark last week: 'This is putting the record straight. Our target is to challenge Ford for leadership in the UK, and we believe we can turn the company car driver on with this car.'
And that means fleets can expect a heavyweight promotions campaign long after the official UK launch date of March 18. For instance, representatives of some of Vauxhall's major solus, restricted badge and preferred supplier customers, including IBM, the DSS and SmithKline Beecham, got their hands on new Vectras before the press, this week more corporate clients were due to be test-driving in Denmark, and there will be a series of Drive '99 events at UK racing circuits.
And there is a real air of confidence at Vauxhall. Vectra brand manager Ulf Quellman told us: 'New Vectra is a car we are very excited about. This is much more than just a facelift and a few new colours. We have made significant strides to make Vectra even better.'
The design objective, Quellman said, was to give the car more presence and to increase the perception of 'visual quality'. Indeed, first impression is of a more substantial car - a look most apparent from the rear, where volume has been increased by the squared-off, body-coloured rear bumper extending to the edge of the tyres.
The chunkiness has been aided by the adoption across the range of 15in wheels as standard equipment, instead of 14in, and by colour-keyed side mouldings and rocker mouldings. The emphasis is on width rather than height, and it's all so much tidier. At the front the all-chrome grille is linked to new see-through halogen headlights. These are 20% brighter than those of the current Vectra generation, but 'just like daylight' xenons will be offered as optional equipment later in the year.
Bumpers are also body-coloured and feature projector-style fog lamps. Vauxhall made a big deal of the Vectra's sculpted side mirrors at the launch in 1995. Fleets were quick to point out that while they looked good, the range of vision wasn't - they are now 12% bigger. The central, high-mounted LED brake light has also been repositioned up and away from the driver's rear sightline.
There's evidence of a tidy-up inside, too. Funereal blacks and greys can still be specified, but there is also a light beige interior, matched with a dark brown dash to reduce windscreen reflections. Chrome door handles also add a brighter touch, and on Vectras without a sunroof there's a moulded overhead storage pocket - at last, somewhere to put the sun specs. The trip counter has been moved so that it can be read more easily, and the centre console has flatter switches.
Re-sculpting of the front seatback has given rear passengers a welcome 30mm extra legroom. ABS, TrafficMaster traffic information system (now upgraded to include key A-roads as well as motorways), driver and passenger airbags, lumbar support front seats, steering wheel mounted remote audio controls, tilt steering, rev counter and tinted glass are standard on all models.
Special editions, aimed at the retail market, were Arctic in saloon and Tourer in estate. These are now Club, and include air-conditioning and alloy wheels along with twin airbags and front centre armrest. Envoy starts the price list at £14,695 on-the-road including 12 months' road fund licence and first registration fee, and the rest of the trim - LS, GLS, CD, CDX, SRi - have slight price rises over the outgoing model to reflect increased standard specification (see sample price list, above). A 2.5-litre V6 GSi can be ordered from March 18, but final specification and prices have yet to be announced.
Among the options, automatic transmission for the petrol models costs £950, LPG Dual Fuel for the 2.0-litre petrol is £1,950, OnStar satellite navigation (Fleet News October 22, 1997, and February 19) available with the £700 CCRT700 CD autochanger unit is likely to cost another £700 on top, electric sunroof (standard in LS) is priced at £425, and leather trim £1,075.
The equipment upgrades and styling revisions are important, as is a new double zinc coating process which has led to the anti-perforation warranty being increased from six years to 10 years. But these may not be as key to Vectra's fight for fleet market dominance as the chassis and suspension refinements. It is in these areas where Vauxhall is confident of winning over drivers turned off by the previous car's safe and predictable, but uninspiring, handling.
Snow and ice on the Danish roads in fact raised safety and predictability further than usual up the list of journalistic priorities for a press launch, although on cleared major roads the added refinement and chassis response were obvious, and there was noticeably less body roll and road noise - larger wheels and tyres help (they also mean heftier, more efficient, brakes) and there are bigger front and rear anti-roll bars.
Our first drive was in a 1.8 LS hatch, the 16-valve ECOTEC of which is lighter than its Vectra predecessor's, giving an 11% fuel saving. This engine is the retail favourite, and in non-sporty (wide ratio) LS and GLS will achieve 38.2mpg. The SRi 120 isn't far behind, though, at 37.2mpg
The 1.8 suits the new, stiffer chassis. But the improvements step up a gear with the 2.0-litre variants. All of them, the 136bhp petrol, the 82bhp direct injection 2.0 Di 16-valve diesel and its turbo 100bhp/47mpg stablemate 2.0 DTi, get the uprated anti-roll bars, shock absorbers and springs from the V6 versions.
The move has been made with the UK corporate market in mind, as the 2.0-litre models are expected to head for fleet heartland. Based on our relatively short experience of all of these on ice-free Danish roads European customers should be excused for demanding these UK-exclusive set-ups, too.
Vauxhall also seems to be nudging buyers from the 1.8 to the 33.6mpg 2.0-litre petrol, as the OTR prices are the same and the 2.0 has the added advantages of being convertible to LPG (24.8mpg), of having electronic traction control as standard, and incorporating balancer shafts, first felt in the Astra. It's a smoothie, and one of our favourite 2.0-litre engines. It now appears to have the chassis to do it justice. Meanwhile, Vauxhall is anticipating a smooth changeover to new Vectra - numbers of old stock are said to be 'low', although there are incentives lined up to help shift the outgoing car.