Rest assured: the all-new Vauxhall Astra is still a mid-sized car with a mid-sized price tag. Vauxhall didn't switch to building premium cars. The eleventh generation of the Astra does look slimmer and more athletic than before.
The car is shorter (-50 mm), lower (-25 mm) and yet more spacious. That is thanks to modern technology, because electrical components get smaller and lighter. The cabin looks elegant and "all cleaned up". The number of switches and levers is limited because many functions are now operated via the central touch screen. Do mind the details: the actual screen goes all the way to the chrome bevels and underneath is a little support for the thumb, making it a bit easier to operate.
The Astra really makes a difference when it comes to the seats. The optional AGR seats can be adjusted in many directions. For example, the length of the seat and the width of the backrest can be adjusted. Also very nice: next to seat heating, seat cooling is available.
The "VauxhallEye" is a camera that looks ahead with the driver. This camera reads traffic signs and shows those as a reminder underneath the speedometer.
The VauxhallEye also tries to determine the distance to other cars. When the distance or relative speed gets dangerously small, the computer can brake automatically (up to speeds of 60 km/h (38 mph)) or warn the driver (above 60 km/h (38 mph)). Because the VauxhallEye is based on a single camera without the aid of radar, the reliability is less than that of several systems from other brands that do use stereo cameras and/or radar.
The "infotainment" system is modern and advanced. For example, AppleCar and Android Auto are already being supported and the sound quality of the base sound system is above average for a car in this price range.
The previous Astra was already available with automatic highbeam. That means: the high beam is automatically dimmed when the camera detects other cars. Vauxhall now takes it one step further with "IntelliLux LED" which only dims the part of the highbeam that would blind other drivers. A test drive in the dark proves the effect of this technology is significant. For those who drive on rural roads in the dark regularly, IntelliLux is certainly worth the price.
Vauxhall's new pride and joy "OnStar". Using this technology the Astra driver can contact a personal assistant (human) to programme the satnav and inform about the technical condition of the car. Other than that, the assistant can answer just about any question to which the answer can be found online.
During the test drive OnStar did everything it promises. However, with the current generation of smartphones OnStar seems to be outdated even before it is introduced. What is useful, is the emergency function which automatically calls for help when an accident is detected (i.e. the airbags are inflated).
For the rear passengers the Astra offers two extra USB connectors and a 4G Internet connection so tablets can be used in the back. The last test car that offered those features was a stretched limousine which cost about the same as a whole car park full of Astras!
Amidst all these new features an old one is missing: "FlexRide". The previous Astra was either sporty or comfortable at the touch of a button. According to Vauxhall the option wasn't popular and therefore was discontinued.
The "FlexFix" has also been discontinued to save weight and because this extendible bicycle carrier required a complicated and expensive rear axle.
To please a broad audience, the all-new, lightweight Astra doesn't have an outspoken sporty or comfortable character. Handling is just fine, but Vauxhall trades in driving fun for safety. Even when turning too late or at a high speed, the suspension doesn't budge.
Steering isn't light or heavy, yet the necessary feedback lacks so the driver isn't aware which forces are applied on the front wheels. No matter how capable the Astra is, the driver never feels connected and therefore doesn't appreciate those capabilities. Compared to other cars in this segment, the Astra is a bit more susceptible to side winds.
While the electronics are innovative, the engines are rather conservative. Vauxhall only offers regular petrol and diesel engines. When asked about hybrids or electric vehicles, Vauxhall doesn't give a clear answer.
Of course, the engines on offer are of the latest generation. The 1.0-litre three-cylinder engine, that's so successful in the Vauxhall Corsa and Adam, is now available in the Astra. Despite the fact that the Astra is bigger, the small engine doesn't disappoint.
In city traffic the Astra 1.0 performs adequately. It is noticeable that this is the entry level model, because the small engine has to be provoked to perform well. As soon as the turbo kicks in, the 1.0 is torque strong and spritely. Quickly merging on a busy road is no problem, nor is safely passing other cars on rural roads.
Vauxhall managed to suppress the known disadvantages of a three-cylinder engine pretty well. This three-cylinder runs as smoothly as a four-cylinder. It's only at high revs that the characteristic three cylinder noise is audible. When driving calmly, fuel efficiency is excellent. However, when speeding up, the little engine has to work too hard and gets very thirsty very quickly (fuel economy during test drive: 5.5 litres per 100 km (51 mpg) on a very simple route).
Because the 1.0-litre engine is so successful on the smaller models, Vauxhall added an extra cylinder and made it suitable for larger models. Of course, all trickery to improve fuel efficiency and reduce weight is still in place. The 1.4 Turbo noticeably has a smoother run than the 1.0 and offers more power at low revs.
Because the 1.4 Turbo doesn't have to work so hard to perform, it's easier to drive economically. Even on a highly demanding route (mountains, city traffic) the test car used only 5.8 litres per 100 km (49 mpg).
The strongest engine on the menu is an oldie but a goody: the 1.6-litre turbo which develops 200 PS. Despite this promising figure, the strongest Astra isn't sporty at all. The power is used to offer even more refinement. No matter what engine speed there's always lots of power available, giving the driver that privileged feeling of driving a true top model.
Does the new Opel Astra offer the quality and luxury of a limousine from a premium brand? No, of course not. What the Astra does offer are many of the luxury and safety features of such a car, at a fraction of the price.
Also, the new Astra is more modern than before. The car got lighter and thus more efficient. Although the engines aren't innovative, they do combine fair performance with good fuel economy. Handling is excellent, but the Astra doesn't show it in order to appeal to a broad audience.
While premium brands use advanced technology to make their cars more exciting or desirable, Vauxhall uses modern technology to make the Astra safer, more comfortable and more practical. This means the Astra is still true to the familiar concept while making a big leap ahead at the same time.