Road impressions

Opel Manta GTE

The only real complaint levelled at the Opel Manta range up till now has been — where is the big-engined version? That obvious slot has now been filled with the GTE, a 120 m.p.h. 2-litre fuel injection model which tops the spread of GM's mid-range sports coupes, derived from the original Cavalier/Ascona. While the saloon has now evolved into the FWD J-car, the Manta (there is no Vauxhall designation) has matured into an excellent bargain for the sporting driver.

The 2-litre block is not a bored-out version of the 1800; instead, GM have borrowed an sohc unit previously seen in Rekords in Germany, which with Bosch LE injection produces 110 bhp and 119 lb/ft of torque. While the extra power is welcome, it has to be said that this is not a sporting unit, sounding flat and a little harsh at high revs. But this is not just an engine transplant: stiffer springs, Bilstein gas-shocks, and a stronger rear anti-roll bar make the car sharp and responsive without being uncomfortable in town, and once on a winding road it becomes a delight. We drove the car over the Irish mountain pass known as Molls Gap, and as corner succeeded corner, the eager turn-in and confident grip conspired to make us almost suspect the speedometer of over-reading. Overall balance is one of the GTE's strong points — it understeers by a sensible amount, but can be poised for the exit of a bend by prolonging the braking deep into the corner, thus tightening the line. Against the rules perhaps, but with the new higher ratio steering the driver can really play with this chassis on its 195/60 tyres.

Criticisms can be made in two areas: firstly it is impossible to heel-and-toe, which highlighted the obstructive second gear in one car that we tried, although the other showed no problems, and secondly overall gearing. The standard five-speed box has an acceptable change, but the final drive ratio has been raised from 3.67 to 3.44 to one, making top an overdrive. This means resorting to second more frequently than would be comfortable, since the revs need to he kept up to maintain the performance, and makes one wish for the older ratio, which would improve the respectable enough acceleration (0-62 mph in 10.0 sec).

Already attractive, the Manta GTE is made to look more purposeful by wide alloy wheels and flared sill panels, while Rococo seats are standard. The interior is well-equipped and functional, rather than luxurious, but then this is a car to be driven fast rather than one to luxuriate in.

Opel call their pricing "competitive", but the Manta will have few direct rivals in the sports coupe market at £6,645 for the Hatchback and £6,444 for the Coupe. GC.