Archive : The state of the fleet car market

The Ford Sierra was meant to replace the legendary Cortina, but it had a bad start.

The car was launched at an unfortunate time, when Vauxhall’s Cavalier had had a year’s start and was scoring high marks for quality and reliability. And doubts about the Sierra’s well-leaked design led some companies to try the Cavalier. They liked it. The present Cavalier model was introduced in 1981 and recently underwent its mid-term facelift.

Like all cars bearing the Vauxhall badge it has been engineered and developed by General Motor’s West German subsidiary, Opel. Not surprisingly, it has a Teutonic feel about it, particularly in its taut handling and firm ride. Vauxhall solved the saloon versus hatchback conundrum by offering the Cavalier in both styles, making Cavalier, in sales terms, the one to beat.

It was against this background, two well-entrenched models with a near monopoly, that Austin Rover last year launched the Montego. However good the car, it had to force a way into a field where previously it could offer only the unreliable Princess/Ambassador, and the dreary Marina/Ital lower down. The Montego, therefore, will be the company’s make-or- break car. So far, it has had a rough time.

By the end of last year, it had sold only 34,700 units. The car’s slow start, though, has nothing to do with its design. In most of the important areas, handling, performance, economy, comfort – it can match its two rivals; while on interior and boot space it is clearly the best of the three – and unlike the Sierra, it has. front-wheel drive. Conservatively, yet not unattractively styled, with a large glass area ensuring excellent visibility, the Montego may be at a disadvantage in not offering a diesel.

But when its virtues begin to assert themselves, it must climb up the charts. A good January, during which it nearly overtook the Sierra, may be an omen.

Keith Adams

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