IN the world of crossovers and off roaders, the Vauxhall Antara is the motoring equivalent of the Beast of Bodmin.

We are told it is out there, but just how many of us have seen it?

At least the beast is reckoned to have left some footprints.

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Seriously, I think I could count on two or maybe even the one hand just how many I have spotted on the road in the last 12 months.

To my mind, that, for a great many people, represents a missed opportunity.

Not like missing the Beatles playing atop the Apple Building in London in1969 or even Clive Mendonca's hat-trick in the 1998 play-off final, I grant you, but still something that might be regretted all the same.

You see, while the Antara might not be the best car in its class, it is also a long way off being the worst.

Given an overhaul last year, there's a new look on the outside and new equipment on the inside. Admittedly, it's not been subjected to the major surgery, but there's a new grille, fog lights, rear lights and a panel to protect the front and rear while off-roading.

Under the bonnet are two new diesel engines, both 2.2 CDTi units, but with differing levels of performance. The lesser of the two puts out 161bhp, while its bigger sibling offers 182bhp.

We were given the keys to the bigger of the two. Smooth and powerful, it had grunt both low down and high up the range, but I am sure I could have got by just as well with the smaller one.

What I couldn't get by with, however, was the gearbox, which wore me out every time I used it. I've heard it described as notchy, but to me it was like to hadn't ever seen a drop of oil. It's no exaggeration to say I felt physically exhausted after a trip to town and back.

The Antara’s steering’s a little light and the ride won’t be to everyone’s liking, but while it is true it’s a little on the firm side, it’s not exactly jarring. The car’s 4x4 system ensures there’s plenty of grip to be had and you can get a little playful with it if the mood takes you.

The interior, meanwhile, is nice to look at it, but investigate it a little closer and the quality lets it down a little, when compared with some of its rivals.

Things aren’t exactly going to fall off in your hands, but the likes of the heater controls and a few of the other switches are a little lightweight in their construction.

The Antara has a decent sound system, which combines a bright and modern-looking satellite navigation system. However, the unit itself, a touchscreen affair, is a little overly-complicated to operate.

When it comes to space, you can seat five in comfort. We went on quite a long journey with my two kids and mother-in-law in the rear and, unlike with some other cars, where the middle seat is just for decoration, she never complained once about being poked in the ribs by the little ones.

The boot has quite a high floor, so that impinges on the amount and size of things you can load up with, but we still managed to get two bikes and related paraphernalia in without much fuss. In any case, if you need extra room, you can just drop the seats down, as was the case when I took a washing machine to the dump.

While the Antara doesn’t tick all the boxes in the way some of its rivals might, if you want something a little different that has more pluses than minuses then I don’t think you would have any real regrets. The only issue might be tracking one down first.


ENGINE: 2.2 CDTi MAX POWER: 184bhp MAX TORQUE: 295lb/ft MAX SPEED: 124mph 0-60MPH: 9.6 secs AVERAGE FUEL CONSUMPTION: 42.8mpg (combined) CO2: 175g/km EQUIPMENT (includes): Switchable Electronic Stability Programme (ESP); Anti-lock Braking System (ABS); Descent Control System (DCS); Traction Control (TC); Hill Start Assist (HSA); Airbags; Electronic climate control; Electrically heated front seats; Three-spoke leather steering wheel; Front fog lights; Dark-tinted glass; Automatic self-levelling suspension; Electric parking brake; Touchscreen MP3 compatible CD player with satellite navigation; 19ins alloys; Remote control alarm; Xenon headlights; Leather seat facings.