Remember the butch looking, Vauxhall Frontera? Well, it’s 30 years old and the off-roader that never ventured off-road has all but disappeared in recent years…
The evolution of the lacklustre Frontera was due to a wishful misguided synergy between themselves and Japanese automaker, Isuzu. The idea was simple… tap into Isuzu’s 4×4 engineering treasure chest and gain a strong foothold in the Jeep market at a fraction of the cost.
Vauxhall’s sluggish ‘all-wheel-drive leisure vehicle’ was first unveiled to the public at the Geneva Motor Show, just as Chesney Hawkes was doing his best to convince everyone he was the One and Only in 1991, which he wasn’t and, strangely enough, neither was the Frontera.
To be precise, there was two of them; namely a Frontera Sport and the ‘pipe and slippers’ five-door long-wheel-base version, both of which didn’t look too shabby and, at the time, cost a Lot less than a Chelsea tractor.
The gamely Frontera was slaughtered by scribblers and critics alike but did its best under difficult circumstances, offering a decent range of power units to choose from including a 2.0-litre three-door Sport, 2.4-litre five-door and incredibly noisy 2.3-litre turbo-diesel five-door that made the average Perkins sound like an EV.
Rewind 30 years and the old girl wasn’t a bad looking thing either with a sensible interior and standard functional dashboard that Vauxhall tended to offload in most of their cars of that era. Unfortunately, the good news ends there… the Frontera was painfully slow with a 0-60 of around 13 seconds whilst drinking fuel like it was going out of fashion. The ride wasn’t much better either with antiquated transit style rear leaf springs virtually guaranteeing a future visit to the orthopaedic surgeon at some point.
Things did improve slightly in September 1993 when the 2.0-litre engine gained previously non-standard electric windows and some much-needed fuel injection. Apart from the upgraded dashboard and passenger airbags, little changed until 1998 when a new 2.2-litre TDI and 3.2-litre six-cylinder discretely snaffled from the Monterey was added to the second generation of the Opel Frontera which was launched in autumn.
You were, however, able to switch between rear-wheel and four-wheel drive conveniently at the push of a button while driving and, for the first time, the Opel all-wheel drive was combined with a four-speed automatic transmission (for DTI 16V and 3.2 V6).
Bizarrely, the company still firmly believes it laid strong 4X4 foundations and ‘triggered a true all-wheel-drive boom across Europe’, which of course it didn’t, but did manage to sell itself in the US as a Rodeo Sport, Amigo and the trendy Frontier in South America. For a mud-plugger that was seen all over the world in some version or another, including being sold in Japan as the Honda Jazz, it’s gone AWOL pretty quick.
And get this, in 93/94 the Frontera was the best-selling off-roader in Europe – strangely, the largest single market being Germany with over 320,000 units registered there.
The open-topped Sport version remains a desirable machine but like most classic Vauxhalls, rarely spotted in the wild…
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