Driven to Despair : Vauxhall Sintra

Mike Humble

An insurance accident assessor once said to me, in jest perhaps, that you potentially stood a better chance of survival being hit by a Sintra as opposed to being involved in an accident as a passenger inside one

A nasty fad that seems to have been knocked on the head with the coming of the SUV is the multi-purpose vehicle, or MPV for short. On the whole, most of them were crushingly boring and made punching yourself into unconsciousness a more enjoyable experience than shovelling in the Brady bunch for a miserable wet day out at Woburn safari park. However, there were exceptions – the Renault Espace (early type) and the Avantime were quirky, funky, clever and above all… interesting. On this occasion sadly, we take a look at a vehicle where its designers in their tireless quest for enjoyment and customer satisfaction used the experience of being thrown down a flight of concrete stairs as their benchmark.

Vauxhall, looking to get on the then busy MPV market sewn up by the likes of the Alhambra, Galaxy and aforementioned Espace, in true GM fashion, took the cheap option. Looking over the sea with binoculars, they spotted their American parents offering the Pontiac Montana and Chevy Venture ranges. By tweaking the trim, using engines from the ecotec ranges and glueing on a Griffin badge, we could have a rival to offer at a fraction of the development costs – winner. Well, it was certainly good value for money as well as looking reasonably smart thanks to the fitment of the then all new ‘V’ style grille – but the buck stopped there sadly.

From a driver’s point of view it had a lot going for it. The position at the wheel was lofty and commanding and its gearshift and pedal position were both good making it a comfortable thing to operate. You could seat up to eight and if you threw out the rear row of seats you ended up with a really spacious and useful load carrier too. Performance wise, the 2.2 petrol was ok but felt lacking with a full load, the V6 3.0 sounded fantastic and went like a stabbed rat but drank fuel like it was going out of fashion. The 2.2 diesel had some useful bottom end torque and, if driven with sympathy, could nudge 40mpg. Worryingly though was the diesel’s refinement, or rather lack of it if pushed to the max.

A Vauxhall Sintra seen nudging a car park bollard at the Luton branch of Somerfield caught on CCTV.

Reliability was very poor with the 2.2 petrol suffering from cracking exhaust manifolds and the diesel often suffering from electrical faults. But by far the worst problem the Sintra had was its shocking track record in terms of front seat passenger safety. Its original three star N-Cap rating was letterly cut back to two when it became known that during tests the dummies suffered broken necks, amputated feet and in some cases, the steering wheel could snap clean off. All this and the interior quality being absolutely rubbish compared to other Vauxhalls and rivals gave the car a bad name in the trade. After just three years on sale, the Sintra was very quietly killed off.

An insurance accident assessor once said to be, in jest perhaps, that you potentially stood a better chance of survival being hit by a Sintra as opposed to being involved in an accident as a passenger inside one. So have a good think of when you last saw one – they either fell to bits or got smashed to bits years ago.

I rest my case M’lud!

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