Vauxhall Frontera ♦ Vehicle Test ♦
A decade ago, everyone was clamouring for 4x4s and manufacturers were falling over themselves to get new vehicles on their dealers’ forecourts. Some already had a suitable pedigree and were able to ramp up their right-hand-drive production with ease; others found themselves starting from scratch and had to resort to badge engineering to avoid missing the boat.
Among them was Vauxhall, whose Frontera was based on an existing platform from the company’s GM stablemate Isuzu. Beset by quality problems in the early days, this only ever seemed like a stop-gap as the company developed a 4x4 of its own, but, as the years went by, the Frontera became a fixture. Certainly, no-one could have believed it would still be going strong in 2003 – but it is, and it shows no signs of being replaced.
Nowadays, indeed, the Frontera has found a niche for itself as a real off-roader at the sort of price that normally limits your choice to vehicles that can’t tow much more than a small caravan or climb much more than a slightly raised kerb. There’s not a lot of real stuff available at less than twenty grand, even if you’re skilled at getting car salesmen’s trousers down, but the basic Frontera keeps the price low – though it does so by stripping away an awful lot in the way of what you’ll have come to regard as standard equipment on even an entry-level 4x4.
Assuming you can cope with the absence of ABS, air-con and the like, the latest Frontera will reward your parsimony by doing the important things well. It’s always been a bit of a plodder (except in crazy V6 form), and the 2.2-litre diesel unit does little to change that, but you soon settle into an easy-going driving style that suits the relaxed power delivery. Just as well, because you don’t want to ask too much of the vehicle’s suspension; it was off the pace in 1993, and the various updates it’s had since then have only ever been about keeping the leaders in sight.
The first Frontera Estate was better off-road than on it, and this remains the case today. Its coil-sprung back axle does the hard work, but there’s enough flexibility there to tackle uneven ground – and, even on standard tyres, it’ll keep moving on wet grass. An optional limited-slip rear diff is available to help this, though you need to push hard to bring it into action.
Bolted to the engine is a gearbox that feels a bit notchy at first, but whose action comes with practice. An auto is available, but we can’t imagine the diesel being much fun with the power loss that would entail – and for off-roading, you certainly want the control that comes from a manual box.
When it comes to towing, the Frontera is must commonly seen with a caravan or horse box behind it. Middleweight trailers are its limit, with a max braked weight of 2800kg, but it’ll haul them with as much competence as you could hope for.
If you need to pull more, there are vehicles costing not a lot extra that will take 3500kg. When you factor in the cost of bringing this version of the Frontera up to spec, indeed, the difference becomes very marginal – though you shouldn’t have to work very hard to get the dealer to knock the odd grand off your bill.
What you get for the money is a vehicle that still has enough appeal to be worth a look – it’s long in the tooth, but it does the simple things well. As an all-round prospect, so many others do it better – but when it comes to getting the basics right, the old stager from Luton still has a thing or two to show the johnny-come-latelies.
Decent value for a real off-roader that’s very well proven. But it’s an old design, and the spec list is only average
+ Simple, straightforward and capable of great things off-road
- Verging on the prehistoric; most other 4x4s outclass it all-round