Last year, the Vauxhall Vectra came within a whisker of lifting this award, but in the end we judged the price too high and the drive a trifle ponderous.
Now Vauxhall has addressed these issues with the face-lifted Vectra: in addition to the car's fresh new look, the drive has been reinvigorated and the price slashed.
We never had any quibbles with the Vectra's cargo-carrying capacity. Even with all the seats in place, the boot is big enough to cope with a couple of Dalmatians, while lowering the rear seat backs frees up enough space to carry a few labradors, too.
Maximising load space couldn't be simpler, because there's no need to flip up the seat cushions or remove headrests. Simply pull on a lever and fold the seat backs forwards on to the cushions to reveal a flat, expansive loadbay. The low load lip means it's a simple matter to slide in longer items.
In many estate cars, styling often takes a back seat function. Here, Vauxhall's stylists have attempted to inject some pizzazz by giving the car rakish headlights and a new sculptured nose. However, it's under the skin where the most impressive changes have taken place. In addition to the cosseting ride of the old car, sharper steering and retuned suspension have transformed the Vectra and it is now far more adept at coping with the vagaries of British back roads.
The 1.9-litre turbodiesel engine is also mightily impressive. There's none of the constant chatter that blights some diesels, with engine noise fading into the background at motorway speeds. This, together with impressive road and wind noise suppression, makes the Vectra an extremely refined and comfortable long-distance cruiser.
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