More chunky and funky than its predecessor, Vauxhall bosses are confident the new Astra will hold its own against stiff competition when it is launched next year. As one of 2004's most important new cars, the Astra will do battle with the likes of the new Ford Focus and the Volkswagen Golf.
At the car's official unveiling at Vauxhall's Russelsheim headquarters in Germany, company bosses stressed their goal was to again top the European car design league and are confident its looks will appeal to the car buying masses – both in retail and fleet.
The five-door version of the car is due for a May launch and will be followed by an estate in the autumn and a three-door in the spring of 2005.
Sales next year in the UK for retail and fleet are likely to reach about 50,000 units, increasing to 75,000 units in a full year of sales.
Executives estimate that UK fleets will account for about 60% of total sales.
As reported on Fleet NewsNet last week, pricing has yet to be decided and will be announced early next year. Although pitched against the Ford Focus, Vauxhall bosses stress that at launch the Astra will be better equipped and will include features such as side airbags and ABS brakes as standard.
Five petrol and three diesel engines will be available with capacities varying from 1.4 to 2.0-litres and power outputs from 80bhp to 200bhp. All engines will be Euro IV compliant.
At the car's unveiling, executive director of sales and services, Dr Uhland Burkart, said: 'Our goal is to be one of the leaders in European car design again. With our new design language, we aim to offer eye-catching, dynamic and expressive models in every market segment. This will help us become more competitive in this increasingly tough business and bring us even more success in the future.
'I'm convinced the new Astra will appeal strongly to many drivers. Its progressive, dynamic styling sets it clearly apart from its many competitors.
'We believe this will secure the Astra a special, strong position in a segment that still has the largest share of the market at 25%.'
One of the many features of the new car is Vauxhall's AFL (Adaptive Forward Lighting) headlamp system that is offered for the first time in the Astra-size segment. When the car takes a corner, the bi-xenon headlamps turn by up to 15 degrees so that the beams follow the bend in the road.
The manufacturer cites its optional twin audio system as another first for this class of car. It means rear seat passengers, with the use of headphones, can listen to different music from those in the front.
Another highlight of the car is its optional IDS Plus suspension (Interactive Driving System) with electronic continuous damping control (CDC), usually available on larger cars and sports cars. The company says that through the linking of sensors and control units for ESP, ABS and CDC, the Astra is the first production car in the world with electronically-integrated chassis control.
Sport mode is available by selecting suspension settings that adapt the steering and accelerator response.
Vauxhall will build the new car at its Ellesmere Port plant on Merseyside as part of an £80 million investment. The factory already makes the current Astra and the Vectra.
Commenting on the launch, General Motors Europe vice-president and Opel managing director Carl-Peter Forster, said: 'With this combination of dynamic styling, agile handling, many practical innovations and a wide range of model versions, the new Astra is just the car that many buyers of compact cars have been waiting for.'
|New Astra fact file|
|1.4 Twinport||1.6 Twinport||1.8||2.0 Turbo||2.0 Turbo||Max power (bhp/rpm):||90||105||125||170||200|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||92/4,000||111/3,900||125/3,800||184/1,950||193/4,000|
|Transmission:||5-sp man||5-sp man||5-sp man||5-sp man||6-sp man|
|1.7 CDTi||1.7 CDTi||1.9 CDTi|
|Transmission:||5-sp man||5-sp man||6-sp man|
Interior and exterior styling
WITH its high shoulder line, pronounced wheel arches and sloping roof, the Astra proudly displays Vauxhall's new design cues.
One of the first aspects you notice about the car is the crease line that stretches from the front bonnet and through into the interior and down the audio system. In fact, there are lots of lines on this car, a move, its designers will tell you, that gives it a low, sporty appearance.
It boasts an all-new infotainment system which will be available with MP3 function, digital radio and a six-CD changer integrated into the front panel.
Vauxhall says the new car will feature elements in its interior that are normally only found in the luxury sector. There are new steering wheel remote controls with buttons and turn-press wheels similar to those on a computer mouse for, its makers say, safe and comfortable selection of functions.
A 6.5-inch screen shows details such as time, date and radio station and houses the satellite navigation display on higher-spec variants.
Martin Smith, Vauxhall's executive director of design, said: 'Astra's interior demonstrates the importance we attach to quality appearance and ease of operation when designing the interior of our cars.'
The rear doors are wider at the top than the bottom, offering rear seat passengers better ease of access. It also serves to make the Astra airy and light in the rear and legroom is impressive. It has more passenger space than its predecessor, due to its slightly increased overall dimensions.
Wheel sizes will vary from 15-inch to 18-inch, with the larger versions adding to the imposing appearance of what is already a stylish car.
The same design team was responsible for both the car's exterior and interior, ensuring a consistent look and feel both inside and out.