Review: Vauxhall Astra

Vauxhall ended the year with the Corsa and Astra in the sales Top Ten '“ though significantly behind the Ford Fiesta and Focus. Ford sales and Vauxhall sales fell in 2016 by around 17,000 and 19,000 respectively(Figures SMMT).
The Vauxhall Astra Tech LineThe Vauxhall Astra Tech Line
The Vauxhall Astra Tech Line

However, Audi (up 10,600), Jaguar (11,000), BMW (15,000) and Mercedes-Benz (24,500) show which cats are getting the cream. (Figures rounded).

The bottom has dropped out of middle market executive saloons like the Ford Mondeo and Vauxhall Insignia. There’s not much wrong, just that the prestige brands are affordable on purchase plans and have a better resale value.

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Vauxhall can at least have the solace of outselling the Mondeo but both are strangers to the Top Ten these days – where we find the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A3.

Insignia is being re-born this year as the Insignia Grand Sport, a much sleeker hatchback with up to 175kg knocked off the scales, and as a Sports Tourer estate with potentially more weight loss. The wheelbase is stretched, on a wider track and a lower roof line. The driver sits 30mm lower in a car which is said to be roomier – and larger than Skoda’s Superb.

There will be an all-wheel-drive option, and eight-speed automatic gearbox with petrol or diesel power.

Consider that only eight in 100 will be bought privately and only seven in a hundred will have petrol engines and you might think that the company driver will be doing their bit to pollute the streets with diesel toxins.

Will 2017 be the year we fall out with diesel, as cities threaten to outlaw or restrict diesel traffic? Paris, Athens, Madrid and Mexico City have said they will. Carmakers are sensing a big dive in demand with private buyers but fleet users need weaning off the mileage and tax appeal of dirtier fuel.

Vauxhall says the Insignia has been tuned for British roads but it said that about the Mokka and the Adam. Fortunately, they have now been acclimatised to our roads. The Mokka X is the new iteration, with smarter dashboards – shared by the latest Zafira 7-seater.

Unique to Vauxhall and Opel in Europe is General Motors OnStar car-to-base communications – set up in the US 20 years ago and available here for a year. The European base is Luton where a 20-language team is on duty round the clock. They handled a million calls in year one including 120 responses to crashes.

As well as helping with general inquiries from the driver they will call out emergency teams if you have crashed, and will track your Vauxhall if you say it has been stolen.

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The most common call is “find my vehicle” from drivers who can’t remember where it was parked. OnStar is free for the first year.

Its Astra goes into 2017 as the reigning 2016 European Car of the Year, beating in order of the vote the Volvo XC90, a close second, Mazda MX-5, Audi A4, Jaguar XE, Skoda Superb and BMW 7-series. This is one of the strongest shortlists in years.

I spent a week at the end of 2016 with the reigning champ, the Astra – most of which are sold with the Opel branding of the GM German marque.

The test car was the Tech Line 1.6CDTI 110ps s/s ecoFlex – quite a mouthful in any language. It translates to the 108.5bhp diesel with 221 lb ft of torque, auto engine stop and start at halts, and Vauxhall’s other economy tuning.

Basic stats are 124mph, 0-62mph in 10.2 seconds, and 91g CO2. Catalogue mpg figures are (rounded off) 72 urban, 88 extra urban and 83 combined. Prices start at £18,815 and bring alloy 16s, leather wheel rim, navigation, cruise control with a speed limiter, tyre pressure monitoring, air con, automatic lights etc. Extras were OnStar (£405), alloy 17s (another £405) and the summit white paint (£285).

What I missed were parking sensors, which do help with judging gaps, and a reversing camera – another item which reduces the risk of a red face.

The mechanical refinement was very good – as smooth and quiet as anything at a similar price or aspiration, and up with the standards of German premium brands.

The handling is delightful, with a chuckable feel should you be feeling nippy. Its suspension has a kerb-softening comfort, even on the larger wheels – running on Michelin rubber and with some roar on coarser roads. The navigation worked well, with clear mapping and easy input.

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Body style is sharp and smart but I do not like the Astra grille. It lacks the sexy bait of Ford’s pseudo Aston Martin face. The face of the new Insignia brings a new look to the brand.

Verdict: A worthy car of the year.