Two for the price of One



/II he fact that the development cost for the new Omega range ran out only £80 million short of the £800 million that BMW paid to acquire the whole of the Rover operation provides an indication of the value that General Motors Europe is putting on its new executive saloon.

In justification, GM could argue that it is getting two cars for the single investment, because the Vauxhall Omega. in its various guises, replaces the Carlton and the flagship Senator ranges at a stroke.

There are 24 models in all, 12 saloons and 12 estates, and four trim and equipment levels plus a special ‘tax juggler’ option, called Select, on price-crucial entry level and diesel models, which allows buyers to apply set value options packages to their choice.

The decision to move away from engine capacity as one of the key tax threshold markers means that Omega powerplant choice opens at two litres, with a reworked version of the 16-valve 2.0i four-cylinder from which top end power has been sacrificed in favour of improved torque and flexibility. The 2.5 Ecotec quad-cam, already seen in the Calibra and Cavalier, is also an option, but the Omega version benefits from a new multi-intake manifolding system that shifts peak torque 1000 rpm further down the rev

range. The top engine, replacing the old straight six, is a bored and stroked 3.0 version of the V6, which develops 210 bhp and a whisker under 200 lb ft of torque. As a result, the flagship Elite model has a claimed top speed of 149 mph and will accelerate from rest to 60 mph in 8.3s.

Although better in turbo form, the GM diesels in the departed Carlton never did much to further the cause of the oil burner in executive cars. For the Omega, the company has turned to BMW and bought in a Bavarian built 2.5-litre diesel, with turbocharger, intercooler and a sophisticated, electronically linked throttle control. There are no plans for an out-and-out performance version. The unfortunate

timing of the Lotus Carlton remains a bit an embarrassment. It is, however, almost certain that tuners such as lrmscher will be offering a little extra in due course.

The key objectives for this car have been refinement and low stress driving. That doesn’t mean the Omega is an executive suite sofa. The new chassis is both supple and responsive, with sharp steering and impressive ride quality, even over some of the badly broken surfaces we encountered on the appraisal in Portugal.

All models have MacPherson struts at the front, as before, but with a longer front cross member to improve control and front end stiffness. At the back (rear-wheel drive has been retained), all models get an improved version of the decoupled, multilink arrangement, first seen on the Carlton GSi 24v. The work put in on noise suppression has generally paid off, although the snarl of the V6s, albeit subdued, could be made to intrude, especially when hurrying the auto box variants. The 2.0, which is expected to account for half the model take-up, is a very smooth and refined package, as is the BMW diesel, which should prove to be a valuable tool with which to unpick the prejudices that still dog such engines in the UK. S B