The Insignia was the car that set Vauxhall on its new course of focusing on quality; the Astra helped to maintain that course in preparation for the series of new mode launches over the next 18 months that will lift the brand into new territories.
Having spent a week in the Astra 2.0-litre TDI 160bhp, it’s my opinion that it is this car that is paving the way for the future model launches: the interior quality, the soft touch buttons, the driveability – all are a noticeable and sizeable step forward for Vauxhall.
This car is simply a joy to drive. The steering is perfectly weighted and laser accurate, effortlessly dispatching winding B-roads; the diesel engine is eager to please and, despite some roughness at higher revs, generally refined. On motorway hauls, the comfort of the chassis and supportive seats help the miles to fly by.
Big ticks, so far. It’s not all good news for the Astra, however. The stop-start system feels like old technology; it takes too long to re-start and you can hear the alternator turning over in contrast to competitor systems were their instantaneous, near silent re-starts.
Stop-start, part of the EcoFlex technology, helps to elevate the official fuel consumption figures to 62.8mpg. We got nowhere near that figure with most journeys ending in the mid-to-high 40s. Even some particularly conservative driving struggled to get mpg much into the 50s.
This electronic braking system has automatic release as you pull away, but it seems to help just a fraction too long at times, which is a bit disconcerting – certainly the P light takes a few seconds to dim.
Inside, the materials used in the instrument panels and door surrounds is excellent quality. But the dashboard resembles an aircraft cockpit with its jumble of buttons (again, all soft touch, high quality) seemingly sprayed at random below the sat-nav screen.
But the biggest issue with this model is the price - £23,135. This is deep into Golf territory (the 2.0-litre TDI 140 Bluemotion Tech GD is £22,460, with 65.7mpg) and despite the improvements made by Vauxhall, the Astra doesn’t have the brand strength or equity to stand out in this company.
However, it’s worth noting that fleets will be able to negotiate good discounts from both Vauxhall and dealer, slicing a sizeable chunk of the list price.