New Vauxhall Astra is an OnStar, on-target triumph

THE Vauxhall Astra, in previous incarnations, has always been a bit of an “also ran” in the world of medium sized family hatchbacks – losing out to the like of the Ford Focus, Volkswagen Golf and SEAT Leon when it came to . . . well, anything really; looks, space and driver satisfaction.

But all that has now changed with the seventh generation Vauxhall Astra which won the European Car of The Year award 2016.

Vauxhall have managed to create more interior space in a slightly smaller body than the Mk.6 Astra and through use of lighter materials has shed 200kg of weight which adds up to a much finer performing and frugal car.

There are also some new engines on offer which include a 1.6 “whisper” diesel with power outputs of 110PS, 136PS or 160PS with lowly CO2 emissions of between 91 and 119g/km.

Vauxhall recognise that not everyone wants to burn oil though and there are four petrol engines available which start with the non-turbo 1.4 (100PS) and go right up to the thrilling 200PS 1.6 Turbo with a 1.0 turbo (105PS) and 1.4 turbo (150PS) thrown in there for good measure.

Take a walk around the new Astra and you won’t be disappointed with how it looks. Gone is the flab of old now replaced with fab new lines that give the Astra a coupe look with that steeply-raked, pointier front end and rear wrap-around lights that give the rear end a look that is not unlike the Alfa Romeo Giulietta. No bad thing.

Inside is just as much a revolution as the outside with a swooping dash, housing an all-new TFT infotainment screen that is a sizeable 7in on lower-spec models but 8in on the Tech Line and above.

Trim materials are all of a decent quality – even in the lowly Design spec – although you’ll want to move up to the Tech Line spec if you want to hit the sweet-spot when it comes to value for money.

Standard spec for the Tech Line, which starts at just £16,615, is impressive and includes European Sat Nav, six speakers, leather covered steering wheel, Air Con, Cruise Control, Electric windows front and rear, Hill Start Assist, a DAB Radio, Bluetooth Audio and Phone and USB connection. 16in Alloy wheels are also standard.

Driving position is excellent and with rake and reach adjustment on the steering wheel it’s easy to get comfortable.

Rear passengers fare well too with good leg and head room that matches the VW Golf and is somewhat better than the Ford Focus. It’s also good to see rear doors that open very wide to make getting in and out easier. Pity there is no rear folding armrest/cup-holder though – the kids might not be too happy.

The rear seats do split and fold though and the resultant space is very large at 1,210 litres (370 litres with the seats upright).

The Astra Elite Nav I’ve been driving came with the 160PS BiTurbo diesel engine which proved to have plenty of poke when I took a trip down to Wolverhampton carrying 3 passengers.

It was also well equipped – as you would expect on the highest spec model – but rather bizarrely didn’t include any parking sensors or parking camera. Front and rear sensors are a £460 option even at this level which is overly mean of Vauxhall.

My car did come with the Driving Assistance Pack which includes LED headlights (£1,570), tinted windows (£285), Fragrance Diffuser (I’m not kidding – £55), PowerFlex Bar (£55) and Metallic Paint (£555) which saw the OTR Price rise from £23,435 to £25,995.

The heated leather seats are standard on the Elite as is the excellent OnStar “Personal Connectivity” pack which includes an on-board 4G Wi-Fi hotspot for up to 7 connections.

OnStar also offers some very useful services such as Automatic Crash Response which will alert an OnStar advisor in the event of a crash who can then notify emergency services if you are unable to do so.

It can also help get your vehicle back if it is stolen, run diagnostics remotely on engine and transmission as well as call roadside assistance if needed.

It’s smartphone app allows you to check your tyre pressures, lock and unlock the car and locate your car – all remotely, via your phone (handy when you’re parked at the Trafford Centre!) It will also sound the alarm and flash lights remotely if you wish to draw attention to the car.

But how does it drive? Very well actually. It definitely feels more sporty than Astras of old and is certainly more engaging. Steering may be a little on the light side but that is becoming the norm these days with electric power steering and the Astra is no worse than rivals.

Body roll is very well controlled around quick corners and the Astra does encourage you to push-on a little, especially on A-roads where the Astra feels quite at home and even rougher roads don’t seem to upset the ride too much.

The manual gear change is slick and brake feel is right up there with rivals from VW and Ford.

I didn’t notice any undue noise pollution even at motorway speeds and a 4-way conversation could be easily held in the cabin. There were no complaints from any of my passengers, including the 6-footer sat in the back and all enjoyed wireless connections on their phones with no problems whatsoever. I averaged a respectable 58mpg – not bad with 4-up.

Vauxhall should be congratulated for getting it so right with this latest version of the Astra which is roomy, stylish and decent to drive. Standard spec is also very good – if you ignore the lack of parking sensors – and running costs are as good as if not better than the main rivals making the Astra a real contender and not just an afterthought.

VERDICT: *****


OTR Price: £23,435

Engine: 1.6 BiTurbo diesel

Power: 160 PS

Transmission: 6-speed Manual

0-62mph: 8.1 secs

Top Speed: 137 mph

Combined Economy: 68.9 mpg

CO2: 109 g/km

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