Less is more as smaller Astra gets bigger inside
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