It’s one of Vauxhall’s best-ever cars. But will the Astra be GM’s star performer?
MILES PER GALLON: 51.4
CO2 PER KM: 129 GRAMS
GOOD FOR: OPENING UP
BAD FOR: CLOSING DOWN
They say it’s usually darkest just before dawn. And the past six months have certainly seen Vauxhall and its parent company General Motors face some of their darkest hours. Yet as management has fought to keep its stricken ship afloat, the designers and mechanics have kept their heads down and responded in the only way they could – they’ve built what some critics are hailing as their best car ever. Hyperbole? I don’t think so. This latest generation Astra, the sixth since it first hit our roads, is the real deal. The only question is: is it the 70th-minute impact sub GM needs it to be?
The Astra has a colossal battle on its hands. The hatchback segment of the market is one of the most fiercely contested in the UK, accounting for almost a fifth of all car sales. Worse still, the Astra goes toe-to-toe with two of the best vehicles on the road – Ford’s Focus (the bestselling car in Europe for the past decade) and VW’s Golf (Top Gear magazine recently hailed the GTi as “the most complete motoring package on the planet”). Neither will be in any mood to relinquish their titles. If the Astra were a rugby player it would be time to reach for the fake blood capsules…
Britain has had a long affair with Vauxhall – though it’s mostly been an affair of convenience and economy rather than passion. Vauxhalls are cheap, available and rewarding in a workmanlike way. They are the most-stolen cars on our roads and the most popular in the second-hand market. But hardly your heart’s desire. This new Astra, however, will push all your buttons. For a start it doesn’t really look like an Astra; it looks more like an Alfa Romeo – particularly in lipstick red. It’s sleek, smooth and curvy. The old Astras were all about sharp edges and flat panels. But it is on the inside that Vauxhall has really upped its game, swapping dull dependability for a lacquering of everyday luxury. It’s roomy, comfortable and usable, of course, but there’s a patina of posh about the whole operation. And everything from the “gooseneck” door handles to the embedded uplighters round the gear stick and the glowing tips on instrument needles reveals that Vauxhall has gone the extra mile.
The design team has also thought about the needs of real drivers. Crash dummies don’t worry about where to put their loose change or that tattered road atlas. But the Astra comes with a bucketload of simple, effective storage solutions: a hard-shelled sunglasses case above the door; moulded coin slots and pen holders; a centre console for CD cases; large cup holders that’ll fit a drinks bottle and even an under-seat drawer big enough to hold a spare pair of shoes. It drives well, a new chassis and suspension means it tackles our dreadful roads with all the vigour of Joe Worsley hunting down a wild-eyed fly half, and, among a comprehensive range of engines, a 1.4-litre turbo petrol knocks out more than 50 miles to the gallon.
It’s built in Britain, too, at Ellesmere Port, which first built the Vauxhall Viva in 1963 and can now turn out more than 500 Astras a day. All you need to do is buy one of them – soon.?