How has the new Vauxhall Astra been received so far?
There are two approaches to this. From the US, motoring scribes are asking what the new Astra means for Buick since the Astra-platform is going to be used as a basis for forthcoming Tri-Shield cars. The European view is more direct since we get the Astra without American make-up. Doubtless the Chinese are also asking about the Astra. It is sold there as the Buick Excelle XT. It’s the platform that matters rather than the dressing on top. The view is that the Astra had outgrown its class (whatever that really means).
I was intrigued by Car and Driver’s view that the outgoing was bloated. I say intrigued when I mean puzzled. The current Astra is in my view a very pretty car and the more so by the low standards prevalent in the sector. It’s the new styling I don’t care for but I will have to get used to it as it comes with a useful 130 kilo saving over the outgoing car.
Both Autocar and the Daily Telegraph have had punts in the Astra. The article says the car has been engineered in Germany and built and “polished” in the UK. This might mean the suspension settings and trim hierarchy has been adjusted to suit the UK. Out with warm colours and in with big wheels, I would suppose. And a Vauxhall badge had to be run up. It would be fascinating to know where that badge was designed and where it is made.
An interesting point made in the Telegraph is that the Astra is not based on an MPV platform in the way the Renault Megane is derived from a platform specced to suit the Scenic. Good news for Opel is that the Telegraph feels the weight savings have had a noticeable beneficial effects on the car’s acceleration, steering and braking. “Adjustable” and “quite sporty” are other ways they have chosen to describe the car. And the boot is a bit bigger as well. In typical UK journo style, the conclusion is that the new Astra, despite all the improvements is still only quite good or not bad at all. It’s not as well-made as a Golf and not as fun to drive as a Ford, but somewhere in between. Which makes it better to drive than a Golf and nicer made than a Focus. Would that be a good advertising pitch?
If we turn to Autocar who tested a prototype we can read about some of the ways the car was made lighter and simpler: the car is above all a bit smaller, manufacturing processes have been changed, incremental changes are systematic and the fancy suspension is out. Gone is the “HiPer strut” and in is rigid attachment to the body. That the new car is not noisier and rougher than the outgoing car is quite some achievement then.
Autocar go further about the models the Astra will not have to work with: Zafira, for example. The engine range has been reduced in scope. Whether this is a good move only time will tell. One view is that the majority of sales comes from a few engines and why compromise the car overall to adjust the body to take engines seldom sold? The other view is that a broad range of engines is the secret to cracking a market as hard as the Focus/Golf/Astra class. People, it is said, want to fine tune their otherwise quite impersonal car in a way they think suits their driving needs.
Autocar is pleased with the rear accommodation. DTW asks about the rear arm-rest and the height and depth of the door arm-rest. Rest assured, readers, you will be told. Autocar goes with the Telegraph and calls the car “agile”. They say the previous car was “muted and mature sometimes heavy”. If I go to root around in my reviews of the last Astra I bet I can find someone from the press or Vauxhall saying the outgoing Astra was “more mature.” We can’t have it both ways. At the moment the pendulum is swinging away from maturity and more towards agility. Good, for now.
Again, the Opel is pitched between the Golf and Focus in terms of smoothness and handling: less smooth than a Golf, less agile than a Focus or more agile than a Golf and smoother than a Focus. This car has been triangulated. I remember writers saying the 604 was not as sporty as a BMW and not as smooth as Jaguar but it was sportier than a Jag and more refined than a 5. Which is the right interpretation?
Having written all of this, I am slightly aware that this is the week the Tesla X was reviewed in the press as a driving-proposition and VW is still going up in some sort of smoke (with too many particulates). Still, we need to keep calm and carry on.