Whilst the Sintra was equipped with a generous level of equipment, it wasn't really what the UK was looking for in terms of refinement and sophistication. Referred to as MPVs in this country and minivans in the States, the Atlanta-built Sintra had just a little too much van about it for its own good.
The Sintra pioneered an interesting engineering technique known as 'shrink wrapping'. Here, the interior trim is fitted more tightly against the body structure, increasing cabin space and reducing the need for van-like dimensions.Another useful by-product of this approach is the way that it freed up extra luggage space behind the third row of seats. The cabin can accommodate up to seven people with the usual MPV complaint that they then have nowhere to put their luggage. There is, however, more than is the case in nearly all the competition; impressive when you consider that at the time the Sintra was the smallest seven-seater MPV you can buy. How things change.
When it comes to equipment, the car's American parentage has very firmly worked in its favour. US-built cars are usually better value than their European and Japanese counterparts - and this one is no exception. Despite the bargain basement new pricing, the Sintra was one of the best-equipped cars in the sector, with twin airbags, ABS, alloy wheels and (most crucially given that great glass area) air conditioning fitted as standard.
You'll find these on the entry-level CD model, but should you opt for the flagship V6 CDX and you can also expect a CD auto-changer with steering wheel controls, cruise control, an electric sunroof and the tilt-adjustable steering wheel missing from the baseline model. You also get power adjustment for the front seats, but the downside is that this prevents them from swivelling 180 degrees like those in the CD.
The Sintra can be a five-seater, with three-bucket seats in the second row, or a seven-seater, with two additional bucket seats in row three. Entry and exit for all passengers is aided by sliding doors on both sides, more convenient in tight car parks than the Galaxy's more conventional arrangement, but at the same time having a distinct commercial vehicle feel. The Sintra's most interesting interior feature were the lightweight magnesium seats which didn't require a fitness course before you could remove them.
A Renault Espace, a Ford Galaxy, a Fiat Ulysse, anything but a Sintra. It would be negligent not to report that owners have almost universally slated the Sintra as being chronically unreliable. Being voted the worst car in Britain probably takes some doing, but the Sintra manages it with some elan. Problems have been reported virtually everywhere. Electrics, rust, CV joints, driveshafts, seat mountings, paint finish, and steering systems have all been reported as problematic. If you enjoy home maintenance, a Sintra could well make you a very happy customer.
(approx based on a 1998 Sintra 2.2i) Consumables for the Sintra are reasonably priced, with an air filter retailing at £15, spark plugs £13, and oil filter at around £4 and a cam belt around £40. A new clutch assembly will retail at around £375, whilst an exhaust system, including catalyst, is a very reasonable £380. Front brake pads are £80 a pair, whilst rear pads are around £45 a set. An exchange alternator will set you back the best part of £300, and for an exchange starter motor you'll be looking at £160. A headlamp? That'll be around £140.
With a range of lively engines and a firmer ride than its US forebears, the Sintra promised something above the usual MPV float and wallow. Unfortunately the engines seem a little bit too good for the chassis and brakes. The trim feels cheap and ill-fitting, reinforcing the van-like driving impression. These facts are of secondary concern to the Sintra's crash performance. With a worst in class rating for head-on impact in the Euro-NCAP test, the Sintra was said to have been 'overwhelmed' by the standard test impact, with the steering wheel ripping off its column. Worse was to come. The Sintra was the only MPV tested to get one of its stars flagged, indicating that Euro-NCAP felt there is a very serious problem with the car. In this case, the detrimental mark was given because the driver's head was forced back and up by the smash, threatening serious neck injury, if not a fatality. Overall, however, the car's entire passenger compartment was judged unstable in a head-on smash.
Most cars have an audience, however small, to which they could safely be recommended. In a sector as competitive as the full size MPV class it appears difficult, possibly even unethical, to recommend the Vauxhall Sintra. Its combination of woeful crashworthiness and wretched reliability condemn it as probably the worst car launched in the past ten years. One to avoid.