A Fast Trip in a Slow Machine: 2009 Opel Vectra 2.2 Wagon

By Roger Boylan

06.27.2009

savoy-alps-leman

I knew we were in trouble when, after flooring the accelerator to pass a lagging eighteen-wheeler on an uphill grade, I glanced into the rear-view mirror and saw a Toyota Yaris on my tail. After a micro-eternity I managed to pass the truck and pull into the slow lane. The impatient Yaris hurtled past, itself being bullied by a diminutive VW Polo. Both must have been making 80 m.p.h. easily, and either would have been an improvement  over the automotive slug I was driving: an Opel Vectra wagon with all the get-up-and-go of a tractor mower.

I was driving it in the Swiss and French hinterland of Geneva. Having spent several years of my youth in that lovely city, I took my 16-year-old daughter there on a recon to meet old friends and lay the cultural and social groundwork for her, should she some day be interested in studying there, or working at the U.N., or both.

geneva-south

I’d requested a medium-sized car from Hertz at Geneva airport, and expected a Ford Mondeo. But there I was with a Vectra wagon. It was a handsome enough vehicle, silver and streamlined (closely related to its Saturn Aura/Astra cousins), with gobs of room inside and comfortable cloth-clad seats; but as soon as we drove off, we noticed (and this was through a haze of jet lag) that the car creaked and groaned like a clipper ship rounding Cape Horn. Creaks came from the seatbacks, from the seatbelt buckles, and from the dashboard; suspension groans accompanied us over every speed bump; mysterious cracking and snorting noises could be heard at times when we were sitting in traffic, or parked. Of course, it was a rental car, and it did have 10K kms. on the odometer, but I would have expected a German car to be better built.

opel

But, not wanting the boring hassle of exchanging one mediocre car for another, we set off on road trips within Switzerland to Gruyeres, Lausanne, Montreux, and Begnins, and across the border in France to the high Jura, Annecy, and toward the Alps to Chamonix and nearly as far as the Italian border.

Gruyères church

Gruyères church

Only when it was cranked up on the autoroute did the Opel prove itself a true German car, running effortlessly and creak-free at speeds up to and, I’m afraid, over, the official limits of 120 k.p.h. (70 m.p.h.) in Switzerland and 130 (80) in France. (The manufacturer claims a top speed of 131 m.p.h.) But when we needed a touch more oomph for passing, as described above, we were suddenly back in an underpowered ’50s slowpoke, albeit with a smoother ride and more sophisticated gearbox: The Vectra had a fairly effortless six-speed tranny, but with its 2.2-liter, 154-h.p. engine lugging a full-size wagon’s curb weight, no amount of driver input could goose it into getting out of its own way if it didn’t want to. And it didn’t want to, except on downward grades.

Switzerland

Switzerland

Still, this gave us all the more opportunity to admire the spectacular Alpine scenery, and I had constantly to remind myself that we were in no hurry. At least the brakes worked well, and steering and cornering were excellent, as we discovered in the many switchbacks on our Jura climb; this bespoke a German heritage. The accessories, too, were good: satellite radio, GPS, CD player, and MP3 hookup were all present and accounted for, and easy enough to use after an intensive exploratory session, and the A/C blew cold when needed–which, fortunately, was only about half the time. On the other hand, I never could find a comfortable driving position, and the Vectra had a most annoying little rubbery turn-signal stalk that never seemed capable of holding the signal for more than three clicks either way. And whenever our speed dropped below about 40, there were those creaks and groans again. I swear my old ’82 Datsun B210 ran quieter.
800px-autoroutesuissea1All in all, driving in France and Switzerland is a pleasure that most drivers should experience (but preferably at the wheel of something other than an Opel Vectra). We were struck, for example, by the immaculate condition of the expressways on both sides of the border. In France most autoroutes are privately constructed toll roads, a boon for maintenance costs. In Switzerland, a hefty road tax, levied via an annual window sticker, or “vignette,” helps keep the thoroughfares well-paved and clear of debris. Getting lost on your way to major destinations is almost impossible, so clear and meticulous is the signposting. And there are plenty of laybys and roadside eateries to sustain the long-distance driver.

So don’t waste any more time: go, and happy driving. But make sure your car rental agency doesn’t slip you an Opel Vectra on the sly. Insist on something really sleek and powerful, like a Toyota Yaris.
opel2

COPYRIGHT Autosavant – All Rights Reserved

Author: Roger Boylan

Aside from being the only Autosavant writer with a Wikipedia page, Roger Boylan is an American writer who was raised in Ireland, France, and Switzerland and attended the University of Ulster and the University of Edinburgh. His novel “Killoyle” was published in 1997 by Dalkey Archive Press and has been reprinted four times. In 2003, a sequel, “The Great Pint-Pulling Olympiad,” was published by Grove Press, New York. Roger’s latest novel, “The Adorations,” in which a Swiss professor named Gustave, Adolf Hitler, Hitler’s mistress, the Archangel Michael, and a journalistic sexpot meet at the intersection of history and fantasy, has been published as an e-book and is now available on Amazon.com and other online bookstores. Boylan's light-hearted memoir, "Run Like Blazes," has also been published as a Kindle e-book and is also now available on Amazon.com.

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6 Comments

  1. What a sublime trip. Nevermind the car, look at those views!

  2. Most Europeans find the 2.2 adequate, but there is no torque in the bottem end, so I can see how many might find it lacking, especially American drivers.

    Americans like torque and the Vectra 2.2 doesn’t have it.

  3. Sounds like a great trip, despite the mode of transport. Next time, try a Passat wagon. Plenty of pop. With the V6.

  4. Specs for the Vauxhall sedan version of the Vectra with the same engine is rated at hitting 100km/hr in 8.6 seconds so this car is hardly slow. Most cars for rent in Europe, which have 1200-1600 cc motors, put out 80 hp/ 90 lb ft. even if they are 400 lbs lighter. That would include the Yaris.

    Such cars will hit 100 km/hr in 13 sec and be lucky to top out at 100 mph.

    It could well be that the Polo and Yaris drivers, who were far more familiar with the roads and road grades, were in 4th gear spinning at 4000 rpm.

    Or you were “lugging” more than a couple hundred pounds of “luggage”?

    Still the Vectra 2.2 has 164 lb ft of torque at 3800 rpm which is about as much as the inline-4 would put out in a heavier US spec Honda Accord. The Vectra sedan weighs in at 3100 lbs.

    As others have said the locale rather than the mode of transport seems to have been inspiring enough.

  5. It seems you don’t have much choice at those European rental car places. It’s not like the U.S. Where there are hundreds of cars to pick from at theairport lot.

  6. Did you downshift gear when passing truck? You have to do that, you cannot pass on 6th or even on 5th quickly. 2.2L is not a small or weak engine by Europens standard, it is pretty big displacement in Europe. I had Toyota Carina with 1.6L (4AFE) and did not have problem with passing, because I used stick to control the car. And well I could not find a comfortable position eigther (but Opel is supposed to be a German car!). And Toyota had soft suspension. It did not have enough torque at low RMPs so I tried to keep it aroud 3,000 rpm just to be able to move the car.

    I drove Saturn Aura with I4 and AT and it had more than enough torque at low rmps and did not creak and crack. But yours was station wagon so it may be a different story.

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