The Opel quest for interior fulfillment

First off, a small disclaimer. I live in continental Europe, so there’s no such thing as Vauxhall, only Opel. However, this being an English-language blog, it’ll be confusing to readers from English-speaking lands, where there’s no such thing as Opel, who show up and don’t fathom what I’m on about. To make matters worse, some of these Opels may have been commercialised under the name Holden, Buick, Saturn or Chevrolet. So when I mention Opel, you can translate into your minds whatever corresponding brand suits your fancy.

The first car I ever drove in my life was a 1981 Opel Kadett (Vauxhall Astra in Britain). It was a rickety, ugly thing, but what really stuck in my mind was how unwelcoming the interior was. The central panel was spartan and a horror to behold. Having practically grown up beholding the classy, comfy, space-age-like insides of Citroen CXs, the contrast was stark, to say the least.

This tendency for making the cabin look crap was a constant for Opel practically up to the present day. For example, the Opel Vectra B was definitely a nice car to look at from the outside, with its shapely curves, well-proportioned profile, and that fantastic detail of how the ‘V’ on the bonnet continued backwards into the side rear-view mirrors. But it contrasted this with a pathetic interior, that made it seem outdated from the moment it was was introduced. The ugly dials, the feeling of the centre console having been designed by amateurs as an afterthought, all contribute to this feeling of discomfort and all the effort in the design department was spent on the exterior and none on the inside. A good friend of mine had one, and when I rode around in it, I had the sensation that it must have looked great if this were the mid-80’s, not the 21st century. Then there was the Astra H, another car that made heads turn when it came out, especially the GTC version. I seriously like this car (not the four-door, though, the way its back lights are fitted looks like it has trousers with no belt, and they’re slipping). The interior, however, was a collection of bad ideas, from the horrid fake plastic-aluminium centre console, to the melted-toilet seat quality of the materials to the awful angular design. I’ve been inside many an Astra, and I’m always tempted to rap my knuckles on the centre console to check how awful, cheap and nasty it is.

I suspect someone must have told someone else who has some clout at Opel, “Man, why do your cars’ innards always look like they were dreamt up and put together by members of the extinct Australopithecus genus?” And so, said man with clout must’ve taken heed, summoned together other bigwigs and all vowed to make their cars look properly nice on the inside. And they’ve managed to pull it off, quite amazingly. For the first time, Opels have interiors so pleasant it makes you want to move in. The new Insignia is another looker from the outside, one of the nicest cars in its segment. It’s jumped onto the “four-door-coupé-look” bandwagon, and executed it better than anyone, except perhaps for the VW Passat CC. But the inside… what a revolution. The layout, the colours and the materials are all bang on, and that centre console, from the sat-nav screen to the arm-rest, is a piece of art. The latest Astra’s cues are exactly the same, with little to distinguish between it and the Insignia. I’m not a big fan of the current trend that’s gripped most car brands, of making all cars across the range not just have similar design cues, but to be hard to tell apart in some areas, as the example of the Astra’s and Insignia’s interiors emphasize. But it’s a good idea nonetheless, since it’s a properly cool interior to copy.

What I really like about it is how it’s completely different to most of the interiors today. Many cars have an upright central console, that abruptly shifts at an angle when the console becomes horizontal around the gearstick. These consoles flow, and have the arrangement of those buttons lovingly crafted into a unit below the sat-nav screen instead of looking that they were plonked there with no particular criteria (as was the case in their predecessors). Well done, Opel (or Vauxhall, or Holden or whoever designs these things).

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