Impressive Astra falls just short

Impressive Astra falls just short

By Tom Sharpe | 29/03/2010 0 comments

Impressive Astra falls just short

AFTER growing immediately sick of Vauxhall’s half-hearted movie trailer-style TV ad campaign, I was left hoping, for the Astra’s sake, that the car was not quite so naff.

In case you haven't seen it, the ad is a James Bond-style film featuring shots of glamorous women at the roulette wheel. It's a crass attempt to associate this mass market mainly fleet motor with a world of jet-setters and high-rollers.

For all its slick production and dramatic settings, the ad fails largely because the Vauxhall marketing team forgot the one thing any good movie trailer needs - a suitably gruff voice-over.

The car I drove - an SRI from near the top of the range - was as packed with technology as any Bond film but like the ad it failed to hit the spot, with a array of warning lights marring my attempts to enjoy driving it.

Starting at £15,675 for the 86bhp 1.4-litre Exclusiv, prices for the new Astra extend to £23,695 for the luxurious 2-litre CDTi 158bhp Elite automatic.

A choice of eight engines - five petrol and two diesel - and five specifications (S, Exclusiv, SRI, SE and Elite) each boast elements of a technology-packed inventory of driver aids. Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control, Cornering Brake Control, Cornering Torque Control, Hydraulic Brake Fade Assist and Trailer Stability Assist form just a portion of the standard set-up.

There’s also Vauxhall’s adaptive FlexRide system which continually matches the Astra’s set-up to the road conditions and allows the driver to switch between Standard, Sport and Tour settings for suspension, throttle, steering. It even adjusts the reactions of the optional (£750) cornering Advanced Forward Lighting system.

Set to “Sport” mode, the FlexRide system also turns the soft blue ambient lighting of the interior to red, allegedly heightening the driver’s heart rate and sense of excitement (ooh-err!).

The SRI 1.7-litre CDTi diesel tested here comes in at £20,560, roughly the same as my current crowned king of the premium hatchbacks, Volkswagen’s excellent Golf GT TDI.

With 123bhp and 206lb ft of torque, the 1.7CDTi Astra will accelerate to 62mph in a respectable 10.7 seconds and on to 122mph.

A prod of FlexRide’s Sport button makes the SRI feel more rapid than the figures suggest.

The power delivery is pleasingly progressive and, after an initial chunter as the engine warms through, cabin refinement is impressive.

Somewhat heavy steering at manoeuvring speeds translates to weighty reassurance as the pace rises.

An over-riding sense of stability pervades the Astra but its mix of poise and agility, with a surprising degree of pliancy, never truly translates to driving thrills.

Vauxhall claims of 60mpg seemed a long way off as I saw little above 42mpg but emissions of 124g/km ensure an acceptable £120 tax bill.

Coupe styling and hatchback practicality was the aim of the Astra’s design team and it’s a balance that seems well struck.

There are design cues from the Insignia in the front end and general smooth finish, while the powerful, low and broad rear three-quarters are similar to a Volkswagen Scirocco.

But the sleek shape has its drawbacks.

Thick pillars either side of the windscreen restrict your view at junctions and there’s also dire rear three-quarter visibility. Parking sensors are an essential £365 option.

These are fairly major drawbacks of an otherwise impressive premium quality interior.

Up there with the likes of Volkswagen’s Golf in terms of style and build quality, the general standard is better than that found in its larger saloon sibling, the Insignia.

Some unusual cabin ergonomic thinking places the central arm rest and gear lever a little too far back to be of great use to shorter drivers, however.

That and the array of flashing warnings spoiled an otherwise enjoyable time with the mid-size Vauxhall.

“Self Levelling Levelling Headlight Malfunction” and “AFL Lamp Failure - Contact Service” warnings right in my eyeline clearly indicated that something was amiss with those expensive AFL lights. All seemed well, though.

Another warning message then began telling me that I was almost out of washer fluid.

The only warning missing was one to warn me of all the possible distractions caused by the various warnings.

Despite these hiccups, I was genuinely impressed by the Astra’s blend of style, build quality and grown-up driving dynamics.

It boasts an interior and appearance which places it several rungs up the ladder from its predecessor.

The crown is still well and truly lodged on the Golf’s cranium, however. Sadly, a few ergonomic failings, including that awkward visibility and those flashing warning lights, stood between the impressive new Astra and the overall honours.

Vauxhall Astra SRI
Engine: 1.7-litre, four-cylinder, turbodiesel.
Power: 123bhp and 206lb.ft.
Performance: 0 to 62mph in 10.7 seconds and 122mph
Fuel economy: 60.1mpg (combined)
CO2 emissions: 124g/km
Price: £20,560 (basic)
For: Coupe looks. Premium quality feel. An enjoyable drive.
Against: Not the quickest or most frugal diesel hatch. Visibility. Those warning signs...

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