Opel Vectra arrived in 1988 to replace the successful Ascona, which was introduced in 1970 and had evolved through three model generations. Everything about Vectra was new. Only Ascona’s front-wheel drive layout and size was carried over, while space was dramatically increased. With five seats and 530 liters of trunk volume, the new Vectra rivaled Opel’s high-end Senator model. And when the rear seatbacks were folded down, load volume increased to 840 liters.
Opel invested over five million hours of development time in creating the Opel Vectra, with 20,000 hours alone devoted to perfecting the aerodynamics of its slippery new body shape. Boasting an impressive drag coefficient of just 0.29, the Vectra was one of the most aerodynamic cars in its class, just like its role model, the Omega.
Changes in construction were numerous. In addition to an optional, newly developed, electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission with three driving modes (economy, sport and winter), Opel Vectra was the first Opel passenger car available with a factory-fitted all-wheel drive system. Developed in co-operation with Steyr-Daimler-Puch, the system featured a viscous coupling that enabled variable power distribution to the rear axle according to driving and road conditions, and a multi-disk clutch that decoupled the rear axle during braking, thus guaranteeing high directional stability.
Optional all-wheel drive was available for the Opel Vectra with 1.8 or 2.0-liter engines. The top-of-the-line model was the four-door Vectra 2000 16V 4×4, with a 150 hp, 2.0-liter DOHC four-cylinder unit with four-valve technology, all-wheel drive, electronically controlled ABS, a semi-trailing-arm rear axle with independent rear suspension from the Omega, and disc brakes fitted all-round. The 215 km/h Vectra 2000 16V was also available only with front-wheel drive, and it occupied a special place in the Opel Vectra range, with a sporty character similar to the Kadett GSi and Omega 3000 models.
The Opel Vectra came standard with a 75 hp, four-cylinder 1.6-liter OHC engine and a lambda-probe-equipped three-way catalyst. More powerful models were the four-cylinder with 1.8 liters and 88 hp and the 2.0 i CAT engine with 115 hp. The 1.7-liter diesel with 57 hp was new to the range. The Vectra was offered in two body styles – as a classic, four-door notchback and as a five-door hatchback model – and four equipment lines. The notchback was available as a GL, GLS or luxury CD, and the hatchback in GL and sporty GT versions. A dynamic lifestyle station wagon like the Voyage from the first Ascona generation was not offered.
In 1990 the powertrain portfolio was expanded with a newly developed 1.8-liter four-cylinder with fuel injection and lambda-probe-equipped catalyst (90 hp) as well as a 1.7-liter turbo diesel (82 hp). From June 1992 the Vectra was the only car in its class in Europe to feature ABS as standard, and in August 1992 the bestseller was given a more modern look with a newly designed front, color-coded bumpers as well as optimized safety equipment with standard seat-belt pretensioners and side impact protection in the doors.
In 1993 the model line got two completely new, innovative and very differently designed top models within just six months. In the spring of 1993 the luxurious Vectra V6 was introduced, the first Opel model in its class offered with a six-cylinder engine. The V6 power plant was also a premiere for the company: the 2.5-liter, 170 hp 24V ECOTEC unit was the first Opel engine with V-cylinder arrangement. The Vectra GT 16V with 150 hp replaced the Vectra 2000 as the model line’s sporty spearhead.
In the fall of 1993 the Vectra family grew again with the Vectra turbo. It featured the top Calibra model’s propulsion technology and combined the established all-wheel drive with a standard six-speed manual transmission and a supercharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with 204 hp. The turbo was the only member of the first Vectra generation to reach a top speed of 240 km/h and come with 6 J x 16 light alloy wheels as standard.
The last update already anticipated the future. In the spring of 1994 the Opel Vectra CDX was presented with a newly-developed 2.0-liter 16 V four-cylinder engine with 136 hp that was also used in the successor Vectra B model. At this time in its seventh year of production, the Vectra A was number 2 in European registration statistics. When it was replaced in model year 1996, around 2.5 million units had been sold, making it the most successful car in the mid-size class at the time.