Re­fined reign­ing champ As­tra is sharp, smart de­light to drive

Yorkshire Post - Motoring - - MOTORING - Fred­eric Manby Road test RE­GIONAL AU­TO­MO­TIVE JOUR­NAL­IST OF THE YEAR

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).

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.

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-wheeldrive op­tion, and eight speed au­to­matic gear­box with petrol or diesel power.

Con­sider that only eight in a hun­dred 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 say 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. Com­ing next this year are two more SUvs, the Cross­land X which is marginally big­ger than Mokka X and, a size larger than Mokka X, the (sic) Grand­land X. Buy­ers

CAR OF THE YEAR 2016: may be spoilt for show­room choice. Unique to Vaux­hall and Opel in Europe is Gen­eral Mo­tors Ons­tar car to base com­mu­ni­ca­tions – set up in the USA 20 years ago and avail­able here for a year.

The Euro­pean base is Lu­ton where a 20-lan­guages 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, will track your Vaux­hall if you say it has been stolen. 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.

The 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 short lists 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 there’s no 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 kerb­soft­en­ing 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.

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 how­ever brings a new look to the brand.

Vaux­hall As­tra Tech Line hatch­back, main im­age. Above, Vaux­hall Mokka X is the new ver­sion to hit UK roads.

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