GENERAL MOTORS now have a diesel version of the new 1.6-litre overhead camshaft engine, first seen a year ago in the front wheel drive Cavalier and subsequently used for a high performance Astra derivative. The basic diesel engine is manufactured in Germany and is shipped over for the fitting of ancillaries and assembly into one of four body options — Cavalier 5-door hatchback or 4-door saloon (at Luton) and Astra 3-door hatchback or 5-door estate (at Ellesmere Port).
With a maximum of 54 b.h.p. being developed at 4,600 r.p.m., the cars are hardly fliers, but modern technology, used to the full in the development of this power unit, ensures that the rough noisy running associated with diesel power is all but eliminated. The cars are smooth to drive, cruise quite happily at well above the legal motorway limit and have the benefits of the excellent ride, steering and handling for which the front wheel drive Vauxhalls have become renowned, even if the slightly heavier weight of the diesel engine and its ancillaries, such as up-rated starter motor (to cope with the 23:1 compression ratio) and a heavy duty battery, marginally reduces the initial responsiveness.
The well finished trim is identical with the mid-range petrol equivalents ("L" in Vauxhall language) and the cars carry the high levels of equipment now generally expected in all but the lowest forms of motoring life.
At the moment, these are the only UK-built diesel-powered cars (ignoring London taxis) available. Economy is obviously one of the major factors to be considered by prospective purchasers of a diesel car and government figures for urban cycle, steady 56 m.p.h. and steady 75 m.p.h. fuel consumptions are 39.7/54.3/38.1 and 39.8/55.4/38.7 m.p.g. for the Cavalier and Astra respectively. Prices start at £5,145 for the Astra 3-door and rise to £5,700 for the Astra estate, with the saloon and hatchback Cavalier in the middle at £5,414 and £5,530 respectively. — P.H. J.W.