The first generation Vectra, known as the Vectra A, was introduced in October 1988, as a four-door notchback saloon and a five-door hatchback, replacing the Opel Ascona C. A coupé based on the Vectra, called the Calibra, was introduced the following year. Both cars were designed by the Opel design chief at the time, Wayne Cherry. Vauxhall Motors, the British GM subsidiary that shared most of its models with Opel, did not use the "Vectra" model name until Vauxhall introduced the name into the United Kingdom in August 1995. The 1989 Vectra came in Base, LS, GL, GLS, CD, and GT models, its sister model was the third generation Cavalier.
Engines ranged initially from a 75 PS (55 kW) 1.4 L to a 130 PS (96 kW) 2.0 L Family II. With the introduction of Euro I emissions regulations, the base model was replaced by a 1.6 L with the same output, while the top of the line was given to a 16-valve version of the 2.0 L engine, which powered the GT (GSI) version, and had 150 PS (110 kW). Four-wheel drive versions were added to the lineup in 1990, and in 1993, the car received a limited edition turbocharged version, with 204 PS (150 kW). The 1.4-litre engine was not available in all markets, and even then, it was only available in basic trims (Base/L in United Kingdom, LS/GL in Europe). A 2.5 L V6 engine appeared towards the later stages of the Vectra's life, developing 170 PS (125 kW), turning the car into a relaxed motorway cruiser rather than giving it sporty pretensions.
There were a choice of two diesel engines; one was an Isuzu 1.7 L 4EE1 inline-four unit, in both naturally aspirated and turbocharged form (1,686 cc), this one capable of achieving 82 PS (60 kW), and an Opel designed 1.7 "low blow" turbodiesel (1,699 cc), and naturally aspirated diesel unit, delivering up to 68 PS (50 kW; 67 hp).
The front suspension was fully independent, with MacPherson struts, pressed steel lower control arms, and an anti-roll bar. The front suspension, together with the major mechanicals (engine and transmission) is remotely mounted on a front subframe. On front wheel drive models, the rear suspension is semi-independent, consisting of a torsion beam axle linked to trailing arms, with double conical coil springs and direct acting telescopic hydraulic shock absorbers, with certain models also having an anti-roll bar. On the four wheel drive GSi, 4x4 and Turbo models, the rear suspension is a subframe-mounted fully independent design, with semi-trailing arms, double conical coil springs, direct acting gas-assisted telescopic shock absorbers, and an anti-roll bar. Steering gear is a rack and pinion type (manual or power assisted, depending on model), mounted on the bulkhead (firewall), with a telescopically deformable steering column.
The Vectra also received a refresh in September 1992. The range received new front grilles and a black plastic strip above the rear tail lights, along with an upgrade to the structure for improved crashworthiness. Airbags became available from 1993 onward. The Vectra gave birth to a coupé version, the Opel Calibra, which shared the Vectra's platform, gearbox and several engines.
In New Zealand, the Vectra A was offered initially as an Opel between 1989 and 1994, but it wore Holden badges between 1994 and 1996 until the introduction of the Vectra B. It was not sold in Australia, where Holden instead offered a rebadged Toyota Camry called Apollo until 1997. In Brazil, the Chevrolet-badged Vectra A was not introduced until 1993, when it replaced the Chevrolet Monza, a restyled version of the Ascona C.
In Egypt, the Opel Vectra A was not introduced until 1994 through GM Egypt Dealerships, and started production in late 1994 by GM Egypt through early 1996 with a range of 1.6 GL, 2.0 GL trim and 2.0 GLS trim and only Saloon body style boosting strong sales during this short run. This was similar to the Opel Kadett
In 1994, the European Turbo 4x4 version of the Vectra was used in Formula One as its Safety Car. Most notably, it was deployed at the San Marino Grand Prix.
The second model, the Vectra B, was introduced in October 1995, at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and the model range included an five-door estate version for the first time. This model replaced the Vauxhall Cavalier in the United Kingdom. The Vauxhall badged Vectra B was the last Vauxhall to be produced at the company's Luton plant, where the end of automobile production was announced in December 2000, taking effect just over a year later. In March 2004, car production at the site finished,although production of commercial vehicles continued.
In September 1996, the five-door estate version premiered. In September 2002, the Vectra B was succeeded with the Vectra C. The model was badged as the Holden Vectra in Australia and New Zealand. In 1998, Holden began assembly of the Vectra for export to other RHD markets in the region, although this was adversely affected by the Asian economic crisis, and ended in 2001.
Engines started from the 75 PS (55 kW) 1.6 L, Family 1 but eventually the 8-valve engines were all replaced by 16-valve powerplants. The 2.0 L Family II engine, with 136 PS (100 kW) was developed as a basis for touring car racing (later in Australia, 2.2 L 108 kW), but the top of the line was a 2.5 L V6 with 170 PS (125 kW). Diesel power came once again from Isuzu, with 1.7 L 82 PS, also 2.0 L Ecotec with 82 PS or 101 PS and 2.2 L Ecotec with 125 PS. In 2001 the all new 2.2 L petrol engine, as carried over to the Vectra C, was introduced with the 2.5 L petrol in its last incarnation being upgraded to a 2.6 L to accommodate emissions improvements.
In February 1999, the Vectra was updated, receiving a mildly modified body (that can be identified by the single piece headlight units and body-coloured bumpers) together with somewhat improved handling and better equipment.
Sporting limited edition models included the touring car championship inspired i500, Super Touring and GSi. The first model was developed in Germany by Opel Motorsport, with the V6 engine's power increased to 195 PS (143 kW), and the other two were created in Milton Keynes by Motor Sport Developments. Only 3900 2.5 GSi models were ever produced, mostly in saloon and hatchback guise. With only 317 estate versions produced during this time, they became one of the rarest production Vauxhalls ever.
On model years 2001 and 2002, a last of the line 2.6 GSi was made also but these were limited to 500 cars. These were again mostly saloons and hatchbacks however 37 estates were made. These models received a host of extra upgrades including but not limited to Xenon headlights and larger front brakes.
In Egypt, the production of the Opel Vectra B continued in mid-1996 with two models, initially a 1.6l 8v GLS trim with manual transmission and a 2.0l 8v CD trim with automatic transmission. Later in 2000 the revised model was produced with three models 1.6 8v GLS trim with manual transmission (later replaced by the 1.6 16v GLS trim with automatic transmission), 2.0 16v CD trim with automatic transmission, and a 2.0 CDX trim automatic transmission and all with saloon body style. In 2002 local production of the Opel Vectra ceased in favour of the Opel Corsa Sedan and Opel Astra Sedan.
A related model sold in North America was the Saturn L-Series, introduced in 2000, but dropped from the line-up in 2005. It was replaced by the 2007 Saturn Aura, which was built around GM's Epsilon architecture, as the Vectra C is.
In October 2013, Top Gear Magazine placed the 1995 Vectra on its list of "The 13 worst cars of the last 20 years", describing the car as "so mediocre that Jeremy Clarkson refused to drive it."
Built on the Epsilon platform, the Opel Vectra C of March 2002 was initially available as a four-door notchback saloon and a five-door hatchback, known as the GTS. A five-door estate was added in 2003. The Vectra C's official début was at the 2002 Geneva Motor Show. Originally, the Vectra C was due to début with the Saab 9-3 in October 2001, at the Frankfurt Motor Show, but in July 2001, it was announced that delays had forced General Motors to postpone the introduction. In September 2002, the hatchback version premièred. The four-door notchback saloon version of the Vectra C almost resembled a two-box 4-door fastback saloon.
The Vectra C was first seen in November 1999, in a copy of Auto Express. In October 2003, at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the estate version premièred, which had a slightly longer wheelbase than the hatchback and saloon versions. Sharing the 2,830 millimetres (111 in) wheelbase of the estate, an "executive hatchback" sold under the Opel/Vauxhall Signum nameplate. The Signum, which was based partly on the Vectra C, featured a completely different layout in the rear.
The engine range was substantially modified to account for the increased curb weight of the Vectra C. The 90 kW (121 hp) 1.8-litre Family 1 Ecotec engine was reserved for the base model, with the main petrol engine for the Vectra C, making up the vast bulk of production, being the Ecotec 2.2-litre chain driven unit producing 108 Kw (145 bhp); along with a new range topping 3.2-litre 54-Degree V6, with 155 kW (208 hp). In 2003 a 2.0-litre turbocharged Ecotec engine with 129 kW (173 hp) was also notionally offered but was only produced in tiny numbers, rather it being a main engine for another GM brand, Saab. The 2.2-litre was upgraded in 2004 with the 'Direct' name added to the model line indicating the new high pressure direct injection update that increased power output to 115Kw (152 BHP) with improved emissions.
Diesel power, which had become important for commercial success in Europe, is provided by an Isuzu-sourced 3.0-litre DMAX V6 outputting 132 kW (177 hp).
In October 2004, the four-cylinder diesel engine was replaced with a Fiat-designed 1.9-litre Ecotec CDTI engine capable of producing 89 kW (119 hp) in 8v form and 110 kW (148 hp) in 16v form. Handling was reported to be much better than the previous Vectra, but reviews still criticise the overlight feel of the steering, fussy one touch indicator switches, and the ungainly styling of the sedan version.
The Vectra C received a facelift in September 2005, with the début at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and it retained a similar line of engines. However, the power of the 3.0 diesel was increased to 137 kW (184 hp), and the petrol 3.2-litre V6 engine was replaced by an Australian-built turbocharged 2.8-litre High Feature V6 unit. This Saab co-developed motor could produce 170 kW (228 hp). Opel installed the twin scroll turbo engine in its Signum productline with 185 kW (248 hp) output.
The 185 kW (248 hp) version was available for the Vectra later in 2006. Opel also introduced – for the first time – an OPC version of the Vectra, using the VXR name in the United Kingdom. These high-performance variants were only available as hatchbacks and station wagons. In the United Kingdom the power of the High Feature V6 engine was increased to 188 kW (252 hp), giving a maximum speed approaching 250 km/h (155 mph). In Australia and New Zealand, the Holden Vectra ZC series was only available as a saloon and hatchback - Holden did not offer the Vectra C estate due to the presence of the Astra and later Holden Viva (Daewoo Lacetti) estates. The Vectra was dropped and replaced by the Holden Epica, a badge-engineered Daewoo Tosca early in 2007.
Due to stockpiling of 2005 model Vectras for the Australasian market, there was enough supply of the car for deliveries to last through to 2007. As a result, facelifted Vectra Cs were not sold in those markets. In 2008, Vectra OPC was available with either 6 speed manual or 6 speed automatic transmission (Previous Vectra OPC had manual gearbox only). The 2.8L DOHC V6 turbo engine could generate 206 kW (276 hp).
Sales of the Vectra C in the United Kingdom were not as strong as those of its predecessors. For much of its production life, the original Vectra was the fourth best selling car in the country, but the Vectra C never came higher than tenth in the country's car sales charts, though within its own market-sector it held on to second place, behind the Ford Mondeo. In 2007, it finally made the top 10 of Britain's car sales charts, being the nation's tenth most popular new car with over 50,000 sales, outselling the Ford Mondeo for the first time since 1999.
Also, in January 2007, the station wagon variant was awarded Estate Car of the Year 2007, by What Car? magazine. While the Vectra C has been sold in Mexico and Chile as the Chevrolet Vectra, it is not marketed in Brazil, where Chevrolet opted to sell the Astra H under the Vectra brand from 2006 to 2011. Both local-spec cars are powered by the FlexPower SOHC engine originally introduced in 1982 in the Chevrolet Monza.
The Vectra was used in several touring car racing series. In the 1990s and early 2000s, the Vectra B Super Touring took part in the British Touring Car Championship, the Asia-Pacific Touring Car Championship, the German Super Tourenwagen Cup, the Australian Super Touring Championship, the Japanese Touring Car Championship, the Italian Superturismo Championship, the French Supertouring Championship and the Swedish Touring Car Championship. Uwe Alzen was third in Super Tourenwagen Cup in 1997 and 1998 and second in 1999; John Henderson was runner-up in the 2000/2001 Australian Super Touring Championship; John Cleland was British Touring Car Champion in 1995 and finished third in 1992 and fourth in 1993 and 1994; Yvan Muller was sixth in the 1999 British Touring Car Championship and fourth in 2000; and Nicklas Karlsson was third in the 2002 Swedish Touring Car Championship.
A prototype Vectra B was built to the BTC Touring specifications in 2003 by Triple Eight Race Engineering, with the view to using it in the 2004 BTCC, but it was never raced, despite being shown publicly at the 2004 Birmingham Motor Show as the 'Vectra Diesel Concept'.
After being replaced by the Astra H in the British Touring Car Championship, the Vauxhall Vectra was introduced in 2007. Fabrizio Giovanardi was champion in 2007 and 2008. VX Racing competed in the 2009 season with three Vectras, driven by Giovanardi, Matt Neal and Andrew Jordan.
The Vectra has been used as a silhouette racing car: in the Stock Car Brasil in 2000 to 2003 (it was the champion for four seasons) and 2009, in the Argentine Top Race V6 since 2005 (Guillermo Ortelli was 2005 champion), and in the Deutsche Tourenwagen Masters in 2004 and 2005 with little success.