Sound the fanfares and break out the bunting – for the new Vauxhall Astra has arrived. And right from the start of the launch event at Ellesmere Port – where those attending were served fish and chips from a waiting van – Vauxhall were keen to emphasise the Britishness of its credentials.
There’s no doubt that the new Astra is vital to the Vauxhall brand – as Tim Tozer, chairman and managing director of Vauxhall Motors was keen to stress: “The new Astra is in response to customers’ wants and needs for family motoring. This is a British family car. This is the heartland of the market.”
Compared to its predecessor, the new five-door Astra is smaller on the outside, yet – like the Tardis – larger on the inside, with improved legroom and headroom for passengers too. The all-new design has led to considerable savings in weight – depending on the model, up to 200kg lighter than the old Astra – and it shows in performance, handling and efficiency.
With its improved handling and ride comfort, the new Astra offers relaxed motorway driving, but is equally comfortable in and around town. The petrol variants are responsive and nimble, while the new “Whisper Diesels” are just that – whisper quiet. The six-speed gearbox is smooth and responsive, and there’s a Sport button option on the upper level models which sharpens the throttle and steering.
Inside, there’s a classy feel to the dashboard and controls, which are laid out in a logical and easy-to-use fashion. Air conditioning, electric windows all round, cruise control and a seven-inch colour touchscreen come as standard.
The new Astra is the first Vauxhall to benefit from the new IntelliLux LED Matrix headlight system, which consists of 16 LED segments which automatically and constantly adapt the length and distribution of the light beam to every traffic situation. It works in conjunction with the front camera system, detecting other vehicles and then switches off individual LED segments, preventing other road users from being dazzled.
But the biggest innovation on the new Astra is OnStar – which effectively turns the car into a mobile 4G Wi-Fi hotspot. Accessed through three buttons located beside the rear view mirror – at the touch of a button, you are connected to an OnStar advisor who can direct you to the nearest petrol station or restaurant, for instance – and programme that location into the sat-nav. Vehicle diagnostics can also be carried out, and in the event of an accident, it will automatically direct the emergency services to your exact location. You get one year’s subscription free, then it’s £79 a year, which includes pan-European breakdown cover. You can also download an app to your smartphone to allow you to do things such as remotely locking or unlocking the car.
In summary, it’s hard to find much to fault about the new Astra – it’s certainly a vast improvement on its predecessor. Yes, it’s competing with some fairly hefty rivals such as the Ford Focus and VW Golf, but there’s every sign that the new Astra will be a stellar performer for Vauxhall.
Car in facts
Engine: 1.6-litre turbodiesel producing 134bhp, 236lb/ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual driving the front wheels
Performance: Top speed 124mph