Cars and Car Conversions - Group Test: Fiesta XR2
"The Pretenders...."
May 1982



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Group Test: Fiesta XR2

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The Pretenders.... the open Golf tournament reviewed on page 48. Now that GM has finally screwed a 1600 engine into the excellent Kadett SR, and Ford's XR2 gets our vote as a more businesslike little machine than the XR3, we have, in theory, two more pretenders to the throne. Ian Sadler reports

CCC last sampled GM's Opel Kadett SR nearly 18 months ago. That car was the 1.3SR, developing 75bhp. We said then that it needed "an additional 20/25bhp, and o perhaps some extra cylinder capacity". Well, GM finally got off its corporate backside and dropped the 90bhp 1.6 litre Cavalier/Ascona/Astra engine into the car. And about time too.

In all other respects GM has left well alone. That is, you take a lighter weight base shell hatchback Kadett, add anti-roll bars front and rear, bolt on some alloy wheels fitted with low profile tyres (French Firestones in this instance), screw in a pair of excellent Recaro high-backed recliners, fit the almost mandatory front/rear spoilers and side valance extensions, tone the lower body sides with chip-resistant matt black and whack-on SR decals and transfers. Job done.

Looking back to that original 1.3SR, we were delighted by the handling - particularly by the way in which the chassis appeared to be almost perfectly matched to the broad, square-shouldered 185/60 tyres. This time around, the handling remains just as delightful as we first remembered it to be. A combination of superb agility and utterly fail-safe responses places it at the top of our points tables. (To see how we placed the XR3, Fiat Strada 105TC and Golf GTi, turn to page 48).

Of that original 1.3SR, we, by the way of paying it a back-handed compliment, complained that it "lacked character", and with the 1.6 litre car, and an arguably more personalised market, this would appear to be an even more tangible problem. As PN commented after driving the car to our test track: "Rather bland".

Now, and without wishing to be hypercritical, we have to report that it still needs anof/?er20bhp. Our acceleration times place the Opel towards the bottom of our five hot fun-boxes. But that is not the problem, for it can hold the 105bhp Fiat with just 90 cooking bhp. We would suggest that it is a problem of marketing rather than engineering, for we are convinced that it has the finest chassis in its oclass - easily capable of handling considerably more power without the suspension or brakes requiring to be touched.

Just why GM doesn't copy VAG and use fuel injection as a means of achieving equality is a mystery. It ought to be challenging the Golf GTi as brand-leader. It is the most comfqrtable. It has the best visibility and it is superior, even to the excel jent VW, in ride and handling. This Kadett is a fine testimony to the art of making a good car into a performance car by means other than increasing the engine performance - the tyres and Recaro seats take care of that, but it is also a major missed opportunity: almost as if GM doesn't want the publicity that would come its way if the marketing department decided to take VAG on at their own lucrative game.

Regrettably, it was a teemmg-wet-April-showers sort of a day while we were at the track evaluating the Kadett's performance. But we have no reason to believe that the 1.6SR would have been any less satisfactory on a dry handling circuit than its smaller-engined brother. An extra 15bhp would have made it even more responsive. As it was, the SR's wet road manners were beyond reproach. It will take any amount of mishandling and come back for more. It was possible, on a constant radius steering pad, to slam the brakes on, with or without power applied, assist the back end to break away by tugging at the handbrake, or provoke the car to change attitude deliberately without applying any corrective lock, and still not spin.....