UK CAR Road Test Vauxhall Calibra 4x4 Turbo

Vauxhall Astra 1.6 16v Sport width=

Vauxhalls super coupe

Once upon a time we all loved coupes, The Ford Capri sold in droves across Europe, despite jibes that it was only a Vauxhall Calibra 4x4 TurboCortina in drag. Even BL had a go with the laughable Marina Coupe.
That these type of cars were based upon  modified saloon underpinnings meant they where always derided by the cognoscenti, but for many of us the advantages where obvious, extra style without premium prices.

Of course the makers of old did also often help the image along by offering a version, with a lumpy power plant not available in saloon form. Thus happy owners could drive a tame 1.6, which looked for all the world like a hot  3 litre.

Tastes and fashions change of course and the Coupe was washed away under a relentless barrage of hot hatchback's

In 1990, Vauxhall took what was for them a bold step, and brought back the coupe. Its underpinnings are pure Cavalier, the press may have mocked,  (what do they know, they don't have to pay to service their test cars) But the public (who do pay) Flocked.  

The lower end models never had the speed to match the swoopy looks, but that's always the way in a range to suit multiple pockets, But you could still dream of the top dog version and anyway they both go at the same speed when posing in traffic.  

The downside of course is that the big makers will now fit every motor and trim they can into every car they can, and with a growing interest in saloon car racing, even the beast version found itself in direct competition with it own saloon sister which takes a little of the gloss off.

But only a little.


Its easy to see why the Calibra was so successful, it really is a good looking swoopy car, Thought's of Cavaliers never enter your head when you look at it. The style around the rear windows is unmistakably of Cavalier, Vectra lineage but there's not many styling clue's on the exterior which shout Vauxhall at you. Its definitely a better looker than Fords later Probe, butcher, meaner and yet swoopier too.

Big alloys, fat low tyres, twin square exhaust and discreet 4x4 turbo boot badges are the important parts here though. They whisper this is the top banana version, and I'm going too embarrass someone from the lights. They are made all the more discreet by the "Titanium" - grey to you and me paint work.


Vauxhall's Turbo 2 litre engine may not have the image andVauxhall Calibra Engine reputation of  something like say a Sierra's 2 litre Cosworth Turbo, but in standard trim the peak BHP is almost identical at just over 200 screaming donkeys, and they are not any smaller because this one has Vauxhall on the cam covers. Either way its more than enough to make the Calibra go in a most shall we say "entertaining" manner.  

Like all old Turbos, it takes a bit of winding up before the Turbo starts to help out, but once it spools up and joins the party the fun begins. Acceleration 0 to 60 is in the low sixes, just short of  super car standards, but they are few and far between, in the real world this will see off every hot hatch in town without approaching the redline. Away from the lights, the 4x4 will grip hard and launch the Calibra forward in a frenzy of clutch frying acceleration whilst your  hot hatch is still spinning it's front tyres, and will keep pushing it on to a claimed 150mph. With the engine working hard it is quite noisy, it doesn't sound strained until it nears the red line, but its does get boomy when pushed hard.

This big on-off urge doesn't mean the Calibra is undriveable off the boost. On the contrary it shuffles around at low revs with little fuss, and behaves perfectly well around town. 

The clutch is heavier than you will find in a normal Cavalier and seemingly triple the weight of a Vectra, but it has got a lot more power to keep hold of. It does have an easily modulated action and its weight only heightens the feeling that a lot of power is about to be unleashed.

The Gearbox matches the clutch nicely , heavier than you expect in a Vauxhall, but solid and positive in the change. It does have a extra trick up its sleeve, namely an extra gear. This does work out quite nicely with a peaky engine, you get five closely spaced ratio's to keep the turbo working when your in the mood, and when your not you slip it into the huge Sixth the engine boost falls off the noise dies away and the Calibra sidles along with fairly parsimonious fuel economy. The Computers showing as near as dammit a 30mpg average, which really is hard to believe with this much performance available. Maybe the previous owner was a vicar!

All the speed in the world is no good , if you can't stop it or steer it.  I couldn't complain about the brakes which haul you up most efficiently and are sharp without being grabby. 

The chassis  though does show a few signs of its low rent underpinnings. Whilst it has undeniable stability endowed by the 4x4 drive system, its perhaps not quite as agile as it looks, it has huge grip, but the steering could be a little more responsive. 



I may be being a little fussy Vauxhall Calibra Interior here but any thrills it generates are from the engine and the chassis seems tuned on the conservative side to keep hold of it all safely. It does go very well but it could be a little bit sharper. Huge tyres don't tend to ride rough surfaces very well and these ones are no exception. Once the roads smooth out it rides well enough but it does roll a tad  on bends, personally I would have settled for an even rougher low speed ride and less Roll.  

No amount of exterior surgery is going to impress if the interior is straight out of an Astra Max van. 

Luckily Vauxhall did some of their best work on the inside. There is nothing cutting edge, or new edge or any edge about the interior but it works very well. Some of the trade mark Vauxhall corporate dustbin parts still find their way in. The control stalks and headlight switch are the usual rubbish, Excellently simple and efficient in concept, cheaply executed. and the Astra sport steering wheel, nice in the Astra but a little out of place in here.

The dials are the familiar standard Vauxhall dash shapes tarted up with white faces, my minds not made up about white dials in daylight yet, but at night they glow grey???? which is well cool.

Leather sport seats enclose your back, sides and backsides, but nicely Vauxhall haven't skimped on the leather and the doors and walls on the cabin are swathed in pleated masses of it. All black interiors may be old hat and some say depressingly dark, but all black leather interiors still work for me. Leather Seats Despite my reservations about white dials they do seem to work quite well as highlights in this Sea of Black Leather.  As Vauxhall's go, this interior has got to be one of the nicest to be in. The seating position seemed just right from the off and the relationship between pedals, seat and steering wheel and wheel angle seemed just right too, which for me was a first in a Vauxhall.

As coupes go this one is probably as, if not more, practical than most others on the market and being a Vauxhall it probably  won't destitute you trying to run it,  It does have a Jekyl and Hyde character. Flash, fast, loud and no doubt thirsty when the Turbos singing, quiet, smooth, economical when its not. Two cars for the price of one.  

I doubt if there is a more stylish and more practical coupe out there that can offer 150mph,  six second  0 to 60, 4x4 , and six speed gearbox with reasonably service costs, and certainly not at a Calibra price's. 

Please send your comments to UK Car using the contact us on the left.

Vauxhall Astra 1.6 16v Sport For all Vauxhall cars specifications and data from: click here.