Unveiled at the Chicago Motor Show comes an all-new eco-warrior
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The Top Gear car review:Vauxhall Astra
For:Composed to drive. OnStar is versatile, well-connected and easy to use
Against:Could be more engaging and roomier
1.4T 16V 150 SRi Nav 5dr
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Too much power...
What we say:
Hold the front page: Focus and Golf drivers, here’s an Astra you may actually like
What is it?
The Astra is part of Britain’s motoring staple diet. A new generation is therefore inevitably an event. Doubly so with this one because it’s very new indeed – almost everything has been redesigned and re-engineered. It’s a lot lighter, a little smaller (though just as roomy), and prettier. One of the main draws on most versions is OnStar, GM’s highly impressive and easy-to-use connected car system.
The new Astra launches as a five-door hatch and Sports Tourer estate. The previous-gen three-door, including the GTC and VXR, continues for the time being.
The newfound lightness makes itself felt behind the wheel. Handling has a nimbleness previously unknown to Vauxhall. A nice instinctive set of reactions from steering and brakes makes it relaxing, if not vastly engaging, to thread down a winding road. The ride is a little knobbly at town speed, but soon gets supple once you’re moving: it’s a tuning balance that means there’s little body roll when you’re pressing on.
The sweet 1.0-litre 105bhp turbo petrol engine should be enough, but is hampered by long gearing, so you want the lively 1.4-litre turbo in 125, 150 or 200bhp tunes. There’s a range of surprisingly quiet 1.6-litre CDTi turbodiesels: the choice 136bhp motor achieves 0-62 in 9.0sec.
On the inside
The basics for a mid-size hatchback are all in place. The Astra’s cabin style and materials are comfortably above class average, and its controls and instruments are clear and well ordered. Cabin room matches rivals too, but you won’t find any complex MPV-style seat-fold/slide mechanisms – few people really use them and they only add weight and cost.
Beyond those basics, the killer app is OnStar, a high-bandwidth connection and full-time link to a call centre and tracking system. (Sounds Orwellian, but it does have a privacy button to mask your location.) Call the human operator and they’ll give traffic info, or download an address or POI to your satnav: no more jabbing at a screen. The powerful antenna and 4G connection give you a wi-fi hotspot in the car. If you crash, the control room summons help; if you forget to lock it you can do so from your phone. It’s a real class differentiator.
If you can endure the social death of 16-inch wheels, even the mid-power 136bhp diesel is a 99g/km car and, impressively, so’s the 105bhp 1.0-litre petrol turbo, so it’s easy to keep your tax low. Equipment levels are pretty strong so you won’t need to climb too high up the price list to get a habitable spec (after the previous deluge of meaningless names, Vauxhall has kept the range simple). Insurance is a group or three below rivals, but residuals aren’t up to Golf levels. A 20k mile service interval is handy.