Less is more as smaller As­tra gets big­ger in­side

Macclesfield Express - - MOTORS -

IT was prob­a­bly one of the most im­por­tant new car launches this year – es­pe­cially for man­u­fac­turer Vaux­hall who are ex­pect­ing big things from the lat­est version of their best-seller, the As­tra.

Many years ago I drove As­tras on and off, both as com­pany pool cars and my own trans­port, and was once the proud owner of a 1986 As­tra GTE. It was very quick and very white with great big al­loys, a big rear spoiler and a dig­i­tal dash – very cut­ting edge for the 1980s – and I loved it.

Back then al­most ev­ery other car seemed to be a (more ba­sic) As­tra or Es­cort and I am sure Vaux­hall would love to get back to hav­ing such a big mar­ket share. They have sold al­most three mil­lion As­tras in the UK since 1979.

So en­ter the sev­enth gen­er­a­tion 2015 version – and our test car this week is what will prob­a­bly be one of the best-sell­ers of the As­tra range, the Tech Line 1.0i turbo ecoFLEX man­ual.

With just three cylin­ders in its will­ing lit­tle 103bhp power plant, the car goes as well as the big­ger-en­gined diesel version I tried a few weeks ago and is also not as ‘thrummy’ as other three-cylin­der cars I have driven.

Al­though it does not look rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent from the out­go­ing model, the 2015 As­tra is ‘all new’ say Vaux­hall. Across the range it is more fuel ef­fi­cient, has a new and un­clut­tered dash­board lay­out, has im­proved han­dling and is bet­ter equipped yet is con­sid­er­ably lighter (around 200kg). The cars have also lost a few pounds of a dif­fer­ent sort as the en­try level model is over £2,000 cheaper than the one it re­places!

On my test of the pre­vi­ous As­tra a couple of years ago I crit­i­cised Vaux­hall for the fussy dash, with al­most 50 dif­fer­ent switches, and the fact the car seemed over­priced… so per­haps they were lis­ten­ing?

The new As­tra also gets a sportier pro­file and re­designed front-end with LED head­lamps that are a Vaux­hall first and con­stantly adapt to traf­fic sit­u­a­tions us­ing a front-mounted cam­era to ad­just the beam.

That diminu­tive petrol en­gine, which can also be found in the Viva and Adam, re­turns diesel-like fuel econ­omy, with up to 72 on a run and over 54 around town (com­bined 64), yet can de­liver 0-60 in 10.5 sec­onds and hit a top speed of 124.

There are also en­trylevel 1.4 non-turbo, 1.4-litre ECOTEC turbo and 1.6 petrol units plus a new, 1.6-litre ‘whis­per’ diesel avail­able in three power out­puts rang­ing from 108 to 158bhp.

In­side there is a more up­mar­ket feel, im­proved sound­proof­ing with re­duced wind and en­gine noise and the large touch screen with sat nav is much less fid­dly than the old sys­tem (8” screen on tech line model and above). There is also lots of room (it’s big­ger in­side yet smaller out­side than out­go­ing model) and has a large deep boot – also big­ger than the old As­tra.

Our Tech Line model was very well equipped de­spite the rea­son­able £16,695 OTR price boast­ing a long list of stan­dard fea­tures in­clud­ing air con, sat-nav, cruise con­trol and lim­iter, auto lights and wipers, ESP, ABS, hill start as­sist, tyre pres­sure mon­i­tor­ing and it had smart, op­tional, larger 17” al­loys which at £395 took the to­tal cost to a shade over £17k.

One of the big­gest devel­op­ments is the launch of Vaux­hall’s OnS­tar road as­sis­tance con­nec­tiv­ity on the As­tra. More com­pre­hen­sive than sim­i­lar sys­tems on Volvos and BMWs, the sys­tem is able to au­to­mat­i­cally con­tact Vaux­hall if an airbag is de­ployed and alerts the emer­gency ser­vices if it can’t com­mu­ni­cate with the driver.

Own­ers can also use OnS­tar as a kind of concierge ser­vice with a team of ded­i­cated op­er­a­tors to search the web and wire­lessly in­put des­ti­na­tions into the car’s sat-nav. I tried it out and it worked really well.

And, if the car is stolen, not only can a GPS sys­tem tell you (or the po­lice) where it is but the OnS­tar team can re­motely dis­able the ve­hi­cle.

There is also a 4G mo­bile data hotspot, al­low­ing up to seven smart­phones to be con­nected at once – you can even lock the car you left at Manch­ester Air­port from Florida via your smart­phone.

Other new tech in­cludes Vaux­hall’s In­tel­lilink in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem, which is com­pat­i­ble with Ap­ple and An­droid sys­tems and has apps in­clud­ing Google Maps, Skype, What­sapp and Spo­tify, which can be con­trolled through the car’s in­ter­face or by voice recog­ni­tion. Clever stuff.

Other good points are great brakes (no doubt helped by the car’s weight loss) and a com­fort­able ride but I was sur­prised at no sixth gear or key­less en­try/start.

Vaux­hall are promis­ing hot­ter ver­sions and a sports tourer for March 2016 and the range starts with the De­sign non­turbo 1.4 petrol at £15,295 through four more trim lev­els – Tech Line (our test car), En­ergy, SRi – up to Elite (from £19,315),

More info at www. vaux­hall.co.uk

●» The 2015 As­tra is ‘all new’ say Vaux­hall with sharper styling all round. It has had a sig­nif­i­cant weight loss but gains more in­te­rior space and stan­dard equip­ment

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