Vauxhall Sintra (1997 - 1999) : FORGIVE US FOR OUR SINTRAS
Tuesday November 8
Models Covered: (5dr MPV, 2.2, 3.0 petrol, 2.2 diesel [CD, CDX])
BY ANDY ENRIGHT
"Shame on you, Vauxhall. With the Sintra MPV, you have produced Britains worst car, according to its owners. And to prove that it was no fluke, you have also built the second worst, the Frontera. Its a sad tale of over-priced, overbearing dealers and atrocious build quality every single area of its assembly receives the heaviest possible criticism.
And its about as reliable as an alcoholic, even if it doesnt drink like one." Its difficult to come back from criticism like that from Top Gears JD Power review, and in defence of the Sintra its best to point out that Vauxhall responded promptly. Not by improving what was already there, but by consigning it to the history books and launching the excellent seven-seater Zafira.
Whilst the Sintra was equipped with a generous level of equipment, it wasnt really what the UK was looking for in terms of refinement and sophistication. Referred to as MPVs in this country and minivans in the States, the Atlanta-built Sintra had just a little too much van about it for its own good. The Sintra pioneered an interesting engineering technique known as 'shrink wrapping'. Here, the interior trim is fitted more tightly against the body structure, increasing cabin space and reducing the need for van-like dimensions.Another useful by-product of this approach is the way that it freed up extra luggage space behind the third row of seats. The cabin can accommodate up to seven people with the usual MPV complaint that they then have nowhere to put their luggage.
There is, however, more than is the case in nearly all the competition; impressive when you consider that at the time the Sintra was the smallest seven-seater MPV you can buy. How things change. When it comes to equipment, the car's American parentage has very firmly worked in its favour. US-built cars are usually better value than their European and Japanese counterparts - and this one is no exception. Despite the bargain basement new pricing, the Sintra was one of the best-equipped cars in the sector, with twin airbags, ABS, alloy wheels and (most crucially given that great glass area) air conditioning fitted as standard. You'll find these on the entry-level CD model, but should you opt for the flagship V6 CDX and you can also expect a CD auto-changer with steering wheel controls, cruise control, an electric sunroof and the tilt-adjustable steering wheel missing from the baseline model. You also get power adjustment for the front seats, but the downside is that this prevents them from swivelling 180 degrees like those in the CD. The Sintra can be a five-seater, with three-bucket seats in the second row, or a seven-seater, with two additional bucket seats in row three. Entry and exit for all passengers is aided by sliding doors on both sides, more convenient in tight car parks than the Galaxy's more conventional arrangement, but at the same time having a distinct commercial vehicle feel. The Sintras most interesting interior feature were the lightweight magnesium seats which didn't require a fitness course before you could remove them.
The Sintras lack of critical acclaim has made it cheap, although this assertion should be tempered by the fact that cheap doesnt always equate to good value. Of the 2.2-litre models, the 5 seater CD can be yours from £3,600 for the first of the 1997 P-plate cars, whilst youll need to find another £100 for the extra row of seats provided in the seven-seat model. The 3.
0-litre model was lively and can be found for around £3,700, again on the same 1997 P-plate. Expect to pay around £5,100 for a turbo diesel on a 1999 T-registration. But first youll have to try and find one, as only 394 were ever UK-registered. All 2.
2-litre Sintra models are rated at Group 12 insurance, with the 3.0-litre being quoted at Group 13.
A Renault Espace, a Ford Galaxy, a Fiat Ulysse, anything but a Sintra. It would be negligent not to report that owners have almost universally slated the Sintra as being chronically unreliable. Being voted the worst car in Britain probably takes some doing, but the Sintra manages it with some élan. Problems have been reported virtually everywhere. Electrics, rust, CV joints, driveshafts, seat mountings, paint finish, and steering systems have all been reported as problematic. If you enjoy home maintenance, a Sintra could well make you a very happy customer.
(approx based on a 1998 Sintra 2.2i) Consumables for the Sintra are reasonably priced, with an air filter retailing at £15, spark plugs £13, and oil filter at around £4 and a cam belt around £40. A new clutch assembly will retail at around £375, whilst an exhaust system, including catalyst, is a very reasonable £380. Front brake pads are £80 a pair, whilst rear pads are around £45 a set.
An exchange alternator will set you back the best part of £300, and for an exchange starter motor youll be looking at £160. A headlamp? Thatll be around £140.
With a range of lively engines and a firmer ride than its US forebears, the Sintra promised something above the usual MPV float and wallow. Unfortunately the engines seem a little bit too good for the chassis and brakes. The trim feels cheap and ill-fitting, reinforcing the van-like driving impression. These facts are of secondary concern to the Sintras crash performance.
With a worst in class rating for head-on impact in the Euro-NCAP test, the Sintra was said to have been overwhelmed by the standard test impact, with the steering wheel ripping off its column. Worse was to come. The Sintra was the only MPV tested to get one of its stars flagged, indicating that Euro-NCAP felt there is a very serious problem with the car. In this case, the detrimental mark was given because the driver's head was forced back and up by the smash, threatening serious neck injury, if not a fatality. Overall, however, the car's entire passenger compartment was judged unstable in a head-on smash.
Most cars have an audience, however small, to which they could safely be recommended. In a sector as competitive as the full size MPV class it appears difficult, possibly even unethical, to recommend the Vauxhall Sintra. Its combination of woeful crashworthiness and wretched reliability condemn it as probably the worst car launched in the past ten years. One to avoid.
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