Road Impressions

The Vauxhall Nova 1.3SR

The Budget having encouraged more economical cars it was, I suppose, not inappropriate to replace our fuel-demanding Alfa 6 temporarily with a Vauxhall Nova, which, relating this to the MOTOR SPORT readership, Luton’s efficient PR Department made the top-model 1.3SR model. First impressions, London to Wales, were that this was another reasonable substitute for many of the qualities one looks for in a large car and most certainly that General Motors’ smallest felt more like the average small car than a super-mini.

It lacks little in speed under UK limits, has very good acceleration for a 1.3-litre car, and the comfort of the seats, the generous glass area, the pleasantness of the five-speed gearbox (except when it baulked when bottom gear was needed) and road-holding and cornering above the norm, even for a FWD configuration, made the miles roll by more easily than in many previous small saloons. The Nova has the convenience of the hatchback in this three-door model, coupled to the now-expected 40/60 folding back seat facility, and the turning circle is notably small for a FWD car, in spite of the pedals not being offset. There is even room to park one’s “off-duty” foot to the left of the clutch pedal.

Initial criticisms were confined to the inability of the rear suspension to absorb road shocks without a very noticeable thump, the impairment of driver vision at junctions due to thick screen pillars, and the irritation of an exposed steering-column joint that tried to push my left foot off the clutch pedal if this were being depressed on a right-turn. Later, my wife’s eyebrows were raised by the blending of a red internal body finish with brown-and-beige check tweed seat upholstery, but that would be a matter of choice, as Vauxhall offer a wide range of colour combinations. Although this is a three-door car, the very wide doors, with not quite adequate “keeps”, make entry to the back seat easy. This is intended to be further facilitated by plated rails on which the bottom anchorages of the seat-belts slide but this was to some extent negated because the belts were reluctant to retract automatically into the pivoted arms that “offer” them to the front-seat occupants. They were also the most awkward and stiffest belts I, as a driver, have so far encountered, and if you have to belt-up, at least let it be easily accomplished. However, this is a lesser evil than the inconvenient headlamps dipping on the Fiat Uno 70S and, as you dip more often than you belt yourself in, the Nova is ahead here. I soon got used to the seat-belt but it as awkward always to have to use the key to open the full-length hatchback.

Having said that, I have almost nothing but warm praise for this GM super-mini. It provides very good performance for its compact size, feels, as I have emphasised, larger than its dimensions, is extremely willing and jolly to handle, and runs quietly, only a little more obtrusive from engine roar on a Motorway, but even then quite “live-with-able”. Wind noise is commendably low and at a cruising speed of 60 mph this must be about the most refined in its class. The highest ratio of the 5-speed gearbox is an extra speed rather than an overdrive gear, and can be used to reduce fuel consumption without any accompanying shortcomings. Reverse gear engages easily. Once on the move the manual steering is light, with good castor-return. The test car was well suited to its 155/70 R13 75S Michelin MX-L tyres. The heating, ventilation, and instrumentation are exemplary, the latter with very clear-to-see orange needles on black dials, for fuel, heat, oil-pressure, charge and with the same colour needles for speedometer and tachometer, and the hands on the quartz clock lower on the panel. There are two chunky stalk controls, with lamps and turn-indicators from the lh one, wipers on the right. The engine needs the choke, rather awkwardly angled from the fascia, for cold starts; it can be run up safely to 6,600 rpm. This neat alloy cross-flow head ohc 75 x 73.4 mm (1,297 cc), 70 bhp transverse power-unit has the edge on performance over the recently tested Fiat Uno 70S of about one mph (to some 103 mph top pace) and about 1 1/2 sec on the usual 0-60 mph assessment, but I would say the Fiat has more “character”, being in the cheeky mould of the Turinese small-cars. But the Nova is great fun to drive and the SR is the sporting version, evidenced by the deep front skirt, making it look like a Victorian aunt afraid to show her knees, and the neat rear spoiler. The number plates are high set, to avoid the worst of the dirt. The SR’s up-rated suspension can be felt on bad roads, causing some body rattle. The SR’s standard equipment includes an internally adjustable exterior mirror (one on the n/s is an extra), rally-type front seats, sports (steel) wheels, and tinted-band screen, etc. There is a locking fuel-cap for the 9.2-gallon fuel tank, front-door bins, a divided console bin, full-width under-fascia parcels shelf and a non-lockable but large cubby with an easily-opened lid with cup holders. The Hella quartz headlamps were effective, but the dip gave a bad black patch to the right. The test-car had a Philips’ stereo-radio and rear-seat belts, the latter an extra, and there is, of course, rear wipe / wash with the expected efficient Vauxhall switch-gear, etc. The Griffin-badged horn-push is in the centre of the horizontally-spoked steering wheel. The rear-hinged bonnet is opened from a rh under-fascia lever and, propped up, reveals accessible fillers, dip-stick, and Delco “Freedom” battery. The distributor is driven directly off the n/s end of the Opel-style “upstairs” belt-driven camshaft. Whether you regard this intended Polo / Fiesta swallower as an American car, because it’s GM’s baby, as a Spanish car because it is made there (the data-plate was inscribed “Espana S.A.-Opel Corsa”), as a German job because it is basically an Opel, or as British, for Vauxhall Motors sell it, the fact is that the Nova SR is in every way a very competent package, at the basic price of £5,404.43, with removable sunroof, alloy wheels, headlamp washers, and two-coat metallic paint available as extras. Economy being the super-minis’ big point, I will conclude by reporting that this Nova SR gave me 33.9 overall mpg, largely under short-haul cold start conditions.

The claimed drag co-efficient of 0.35 no doubt aids the Nova in giving good performance figures. With the competence of the Nova and the Astra and equivalent Opel models I find it surprising and sad that the great General Motors Corporation of America is now enlisting the aid of a Japanese automobile manufacturer in its pursuit of a World small-car, especially as GM’s experience in this field dates back to well before WW2 with the 40 mpg Vauxhall Ten and the Opel Kadett. — W.B.