Old spice

The poor old Cavalier is beginning to present a strong case for the introduction of automotive euthanasia. A peerless fleet competitor when it first appeared in its present guise several years ago, its age is now beginning to tell. Even so, Vauxhall continues to add extra dimensions to the range, and there are more promised in the near future.

The latest addition is powered by a neatly-proportioned 2.5 V6. It is attractively priced (at £16,085, the manual version is around £900 cheaper than GM's own accessory shop on wheels, the 2.0 Cavalier Diplomat) and it makes all the right sounds. For the money, its specification is appealing, too, with ABS, driver's airbag, electronic traction control, remote alarm and deadlocks as standard. A V6 Diplomat, with full leather trim and air-conditioning, comes on stream this autumn. Six-cylinder rivals such as the BMW 325, Audi 80E and Mazda Xedos are all several thousand pounds more expensive, but have the benefit – particularly in the BMW's case – of greater chassis sophistication.

It is not the first time that Vauxhall has inserted a potent engine into a chassis which can't really cope. The wonderfully responsive 150 bhp, 16-valve two-litre was sadly miscast when it first appeared in the Astra GTE – great in a straight line, but a touch wayward anywhere else.

In the latest Cavalier's defence, Vauxhall is not promoting it as a sports saloon, even though, with 170 bhp, it is reportedly capable of almost 150 mph (Vauxhall claims 146 for the manual, 144 for the four-speed automatic).

The V6 is targeted at the cruising classes, and its motorway manners are impeccable. It is quiet and civilised at workaday M25 speeds, pleasantly raucous when you choose to make use of its considerable accelerative abilities. Vauxhall paid more attention to mid-range flexibility than out-and-out sprinting prowess: even so, it will reach 62 mph from rest in under eight seconds in manual trim. Unfortunately, manual models are likely to be rarer than a Hartlepool United goal during the initial build programme as Vauxhall expects demand for the £16,839 automatic to be greater. Consequently, during the test run, we only had chance to try the latter. The transmission has three modes – 'sport', 'economy' and 'winter', the latter actuated via an illuminated button decorated with a snowflake. It's an option only really necessary in the event of sheet ice or avalanches. In 'sport', the engine holds on forever and a day, changing up smoothly at just beyond 6000 rpm under full throttle. Around town, in 'economy', upchanges can, occasionally, be a little jerky.

Despite the V6's inherent muscle and the alluring, rasping soundtrack, this is not a car which incites you to attack B-roads with gusto. The front wheels patter uncertainly as you accelerate away from tight corners, though the level of torque reaction is appreciably less than that which blighted the 150 bhp Cavalier (still available, and badged as the SRi 16v) at the time of its launch. In addition, the steering is unresponsive and provides little feedback.

If you spend your life pounding up and down smooth multiple carriageways, the Cavalier V6's price and equipment might appeal, as will the quoted fuel consumption expectations. Vauxhall reckons the auto will return 24.4 mpg in the city, rising to 42.8 at 56 mph. With prudence, most right feet should be able to achieve something between 30-35 mpg.

While the V6 may have its limitations wearing these antiquated clothes, it must be considered a success in itself. In the case of the Cavalier, you have to admire Vauxhall's honesty. It has accurately assessed the car's strengths, and its marketing stand point makes perfect sense. S A